18 October 2010

Read This Not That: YA Novels About Young Women with Disturbingly Excellent Survival Skills

Read THIS:


Both books feature interesting, survival-minded young heroines (with names that are a variation of Kat) who could probably kill you in under a minute if they wanted to. Both young women are put in a position of fighting others against their will, both are deadly with bow and arrow, both get crushes on pretty boys who are also talented fighters, and both end up sparking local rebellions when they get grumpy about having to fight people against their will. Both books also have crack in their pages so you won’t be able to stop reading them once you start.

In Graceling, however, Katsa spends her time honestly confused and conflicted about her role, and actively tries to forge her own place in her world, given her abilities and limitations. Even before the book begins, she’s standing up for her own ideas and making a difference. When Katsa is conflicted, the writing is clear and she remains sympathetic. She doesn’t take out her feelings on others, but does her best to take responsibility for herself.

By contrast, Katniss, the main character of The Hunger Games, is pushed into things against her will, and doesn’t have any goals besides staying alive. All her rebellious actions seem to be by accident, she actively tries to go back to her normal life as quickly and easily as possible, and she isn’t above treating other people badly if it means getting her way. She doesn’t seem to have many principles besides the protection of herself and her family, and while her situations are sympathetic, her character isn’t someone you’d want as a friend. 

When Katniss is mad about something, she complains. When Katsa is mad, she actively tries to fix the problem. Both young women are torn about their potential love interests, but Katsa remains honest with herself and the boy in question, even through her confusion. Katniss is a manipulator, and stays self-centered throughout, growing and changing very little.

The Hunger Games isn’t wholly without merit – its world is darker, and its heroine is sometimes realistically confused about adolescent issues. But Katniss doesn’t have the intelligence and drive that make Katsa so memorable.


  1. I feel this is an appropriate moment to tell you that I put a young woman in the Holds queue for Hunger Games today, remembered your booktalk, and gave her Graceling to read while she waited.

  2. Honestly, I did enjoy both books. But with Hunger Games the reader sees a lot of things before Katness realizes them, making her more... "dumb like box of rocks" - whearas I was surprised along with Katsa about everything, and learned everything along with her - I actually gasped out loud at one of the "twists" toward the end of the book.

    It's partly a different narration style, would be my main point.