Alyssa Hudson, 11, was thrilled when she saw that the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island was sponsoring a "Hunger Games" trivia challenge. The timing of the event seemed perfect -- tomorrow evening, just before the much-anticipated, nationwide release of the movie at 12:01 a.m.
But Alyssa was crushed when she tried to sign up and was told the competition was open only to students in grades 7 - 12. "They said I couldn't because I'm too young," says Alyssa, a sixth-grader at Longwood Middle School.
How young is too young for "The Hunger Games?" That's a question parents may be asking as children caught up in the hype of the movie launch beg to see it. While it's rated PG-13, the story centers around a brutally violent reality-show-style competition in which 24 teens and tweens are forced to kill each other until only one "winner" is left.
"It's one thing when there's an 11-year-old being shot and dying in a book, and another when you are actually holding that 11-year-old," "Hunger Games" actress Jennifer Lawrence, who plays protagonist Katniss Everdeen, said in an interview in the April edition of Glamour magazine. "Even knowing it's all fake -- it's just horrible. . . . When we shot it, we were like, 'People are going to walk out of the theater.' "
Other gruesome scenes include hand-to-hand knifings to the death, a teen snapping another teen's neck, a fatal attack by killer wasps, and a pack of wild beasts mauling a teenage boy.
'SEE IT TOGETHER'
Fred Zelinger, a Cedarhurst psychologist, loved the book. But he questions whether the story is appropriate for kids to see on the big screen. "I wouldn't let a kid under 12 see it," he says. Even for older kids, "I'd want them to see it with a parent. There's a lot of savagery. I just worry; there's the age-old issue of violence and its impact on kids."
Some of the dark themes may be more difficult for kids to handle than the violence, such as children being torn from their families, he says.
Kathleen Ozimkowski, a psychologist at the Willets Road School in East Williston, agrees. Her school encompasses fifth through seventh grades. She has a fifth-grader herself, and she says she won't allow her child to see the film.
"I found the book to be so captivating and disturbing at the same time," she says. "It tells kids this is a very unsafe world, you're utterly helpless." It might feed into unsettling dreams where they are hunted and unsure whom to trust.
SET IN THE FUTURE
At least the violence in the book isn't just for entertainment's sake, says Laurie Ridgway, teen supervisor at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, but part of the development of the characters' eventual revolution against government tyranny. The story is set in a dystopian future in what is left of the United States. The children are forced into the Hunger Games arena by the government, which requires that each of the 12 regions of the country send two tributes each year for the games. "Some books are antiviolent and antiwar while telling the horrors of war and violence," Ridgway says.
In the book, the teens are angst-ridden. "I hope the movie shows the inner turmoil they are going through, knowing it's going to come down to friend against friend," says Amelia Gagliano, teen services librarian at the Westhampton Free Library.
ALSO A LOVE STORY
Gary Zamek teaches accelerated sixth-graders in Longwood Middle School, including Alyssa Hudson. While Zamek's students didn't read the book as part of the curriculum, many have read it on their own. "I think the love story is what really catches the kids -- Katniss and the two boys," he says. The two other teen protagonists, Gale and Peeta, fight for Katniss' affection.
After Alyssa was denied entrance into the trivia challenge, her grandmother told her that if she believed sixth-graders should participate, she should start a petition. When she asked Zamek to sign, he saw that it was handwritten on loose-leaf paper. He suggested she type it and have signers add their addresses.
Alyssa says she was afraid to give it to Jan Miller, the library's young adult services librarian. "I was hiding down the aisle," Alyssa says. "Ms. Miller said, 'If you feel strongly enough to start a petition about something, you should feel strongly enough to hand it in.' So I went up and shook her hand."
The library changed its age restrictions for the program and is now letting sixth-graders participate. "We're really excited that they cared enough about it and loved the book enough to do this," Miller said.
Alyssa plans to go to the movie with her parents, who also have read the book. She's not worried about seeing violence. Here's what concerns her: "I think the hardest part about watching the movie is you know what is supposed to happen. The thing that gets you mad and upset is when they don't detail the good parts of the book."