In the universe of The Hunger Games, only one person is strong enough to stand up to the Capitol and its evil President Snow — teenage pawn-turned-rebel Katniss Everdeen. Katniss’ story has captured the public’s love and adoration by the events in Catching Fire, and the put-upon District members see her as a hope for their eventual rise. In the world of the books and films, she becomes not just the victor of the 74th annual Games, but also the symbol for the future of Panem. Obviously, a pre-revolutionary state needs a certain type of symbol, and Katniss finds herself forced into that mold even when she doesn’t fit inside.
But stepping back into real life, where Hunger Games mania is at critical mass and plenty of tweens, teens, and full-grown adults have fallen in love with the Girl on Fire — is Katniss actually a good role model?
In some ways, of course. She valiantly protects her family and feels a great duty to those smaller and weaker than she. However, she’s also 16 years old, with far too much responsibility on her shoulders, and it’s to writer Suzanne Collins’ credit that she represents that perfectly. Katniss is frequently mean, and lashes out at those she cares about, often citing perceived justifications as fact. She spends plenty of time beating herself up over things she finds embarrassing and even more darkly insisting that things will never improve. In short, Katniss is a teenager. And the rare one who is painted somewhat accurately and yet still appeals to actual teens. Of course, her teeniness is exacerbated by her dire circumstances… but swap murder for 11th grade and you get pretty much every teenager ever.
Katniss, in between punching and climbing her way to Hunger Gamian victory, whines about things not being fair and is too worried about breaking her stony facade to enjoy anything, even her real emotions. And don’t even bring up the love triangle. Only a teenager would be spending any time waffling over Peeta or Gale. Let’s be real — Peeta’s a limp noodle and Gale is a crazy person. But in the eyes of a teenage girl, they’re dreamy. The strange thing, again, is that people are jumping right on board with Katniss to choose sides.
She’s a prototypical teen, and the book is all the more accurate for it. And while that makes it a little strange to see so many gull frown adults yearning to be more like a fictional 16-year-old, perhaps the power of The Hunger Games is that it somehow transforms the reader back into an adolescent, giving a shared emotional experience for the audience to relate to when the real circumstances are otherworldly. So beware — if you know a teen who’s been acting a little impulsive, stubborn, or pining after a big old lame-o, 1) They might be the next Katniss Everdeen, 2) They’re probably just being themselves!