Yesterday, one of M’s 4th-grade friends came up to me and gushed, “Mrs. B! You have got to let M see The Hunger Games! It’s so good!” I smiled what I hoped was a pleasant-but-cryptic smile. Another friend backed her up, “Oh, it’s TRUE. It’s so, so good. And it’s hardly even violent. You hardly see anything that’s bad at all. Really, Mrs. B.”
They were both looking at me so expectantly that I gave them the same line I’d used the previous two times that this had come up with these girls. “Well, in our house, we believe in reading the books before seeing the movies.” It’s true. This is a pretty hard-and-fast family rule.
Based on this exchange, you might think that I had forbidden M from seeing The Hunger Games. I absolutely hadn’t. In fact, I knew that the girls had gone to see the movie with their mothers on Friday, and frankly? For my own self, I was jealous. I’ve read and loved all three books, and I thought Jennifer Lawrence was excellent in Winter’s Bone. But I’m sure as heck not taking J, and M is not into The Hunger Games.
M, you may recall, resisted Harry Potter for years. In spite of the enthusiastic recommendations of parents and friends, even though she attended at least three Harry Potter-themed birthday parties and plays Quidditch in gym every year. She has a history of not bending to the will of the crowd, which Cute W and I appreciate. On the other hand, 4th-grade has brought with it closer friendships with a group of (very nice) girls who seem to be on top of every trend, and her attitude has been changing.
Before I realized what a hot topic this book/movie combination was, M asked me about The Hunger Games. Even though she was finishing up on the 6th of 7 Harry Potter books, she asked as if she were thinking about reading it. Inside I was screaming, “Way, way too old for you!!” But I have a policy of not saying that you’re not allowed to read something.
I always remember the time I bought Forever by Judy Blume without having any idea that it was racy. My rat-fink sister (who would tell my mother that I was on the pill 8 or 10 years later, but that’s another story) alerted my mother, who offered to purchase the book from me. I’d bought it for $1.79, I think, and she gave me $2. I used the money to purchase a second copy as soon as possible, because I was convinced that the book must in fact be very interesting. I believe that I even reasoned to myself that my mother had not expressly stated that I was not allowed to read the book. (Sorry, Mom!) The book was interesting, although since I was reading so much, Forever was balanced out that same week with Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, a comically ironic combination (since that book culminated in a first kiss). And both were ridiculously tame by comparison with The Bastard by John Jakes, which my Dad handed me not long afterward. Apparently he’d forgotten the numerous sex scenes, butÂ that series launched a lifelong love of historical fiction, so I remain grateful for the recommendation. In my experience, family censorship is futile, so my kids are allowed to read what they want.
That said, a true master of manipulation can have an impact on a child’s choices. So when M asked, I answered, “Oh, it’s a dystopian novel.” I then launched into an overview of utopian and dystopian novels that, let’s face it, was boring. “Yeah, but what happens in it?” she persisted. “Well, the main character is a girl, and she and a bunch of other kids have to fight to the death.” M wrinkled her nose. “Sounds depressing.” And I agreed: it is depressing. And then, after a pause, honesty compelled me to add, “It’s really good, though.”
But her mind was made up. Sounded depressing, and she had Harry Potters to read.
M’s allowed to read the book, and once she has, I’m sure that she can handle the movie. But when her friends come running over to me to persuade me that I should “let” M read and watch The Hunger Games, I am pretty sure that they’re just assuming that I’m holding M back. Which is fine with me. In fact, just thinking about this has made me realize that it’s so fine with me that I think that I’ll advise her that I forbid her to do anything that her friends are urging but which she doesn’t feel comfortable doing. So if anything comes up in the future, she can just say “My Mom says I’m not allowed.” I’m willing to take that bullet.
Meanwhile, I’m trying not to make a big deal out of it, but I do want to go see the movie. Cute W bought the book thinking that he would read it before the movie came out, but since then, he and I’ve gotten sucked into the Game of Thrones series. So our plan to see it as a date won’t work. Then I had two near-miss chances to go out with friends. At this point, I might just have to sneak to a matinee while the girls are in school.
Today M finished the Harry Potter series, and I asked her, all casual, “So. . . what are you going to read next?” M shrugged.
Later, I saw her launching into A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements.