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Katniss kicks Bella's butt

There are times when your daughter blurts out something that sends your heart soaring, and one of those moments happened for me this past weekend when my 10-year-old rolled over in the middle of reading The Hunger Games and said, "This is so much better than Twilight!"

Yes! It's not just that the writing of author Suzanna Collins in The Hunger Games trilogy is far superior, with its neck-snapping pacing and references to mythology; it's that I'm so relieved my daughter finally has a heroine who doesn't sit in a room for months on end, moping over a boy. Until now, Hermoine, who always played second fiddle to Harry Potter, was as good as it got. Now, thanks to feisty Katniss Everdeen, there's a modern kickass literary figure who doesn't wait for the world to happen to her.

Angst-ridden, angry Katniss is the middle schooler's version of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, trading in computer hacking skills for a bow and arrow, which Katniss wields with ferocious accuracy. (You gotta love a girl who shoots for the heart.) Hair tied purposely back in a single braid, she uses her hunting skills and sharp brain to fight for survival, freedom and justice in an ambiguous, confusing world seemingly bent on using her. (OK, I admit that, as a mom of 2 girls, what I really liked is that this 16-year-old girl has absolutely no interest in boys, her wedding day or sex. It is fiction, after all.)

Tagged as young adult reading, The Hunger Games caught my eye last month, when I bought it for my oldest daughter's 12th birthday. She was still trudging through The Devil's Arithmetic for language arts, so I picked it up. And barely put it down.

Set in a futuristic North America, where the shallow, wealthy Capital controls the 12 deeply impoverished outlying districts, the book focuses on an annual "game" in which two children from each district are selected by lottery and forced by the government to fight to the death on TV. Fiercely protective of her little sister, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Games when the sister's name is chosen. The tale grows progressively more intriguing, violent and reflective of our society's worst traits – our current fascination with watching other people's misfortunes unravel on reality TV … our obsession with achieving "beauty" through plastic surgery to the point of disfigurement … our callous indifference to the widening gap between the haves and have nots … our gorging on excessive amounts of food and wine – until it finally ends with a powerful anti-war statement that leaves you numb for days.

This past weekend, as I lay in bed devouring the final pages of Mockingjay, the last book in the trilogy, my youngest daughter was furiously finishing the first book. Every 20 pages or so, she would pause and look over at me feverishly. "This is sooo good," she would whisper before turning back to the book.

Thank you, Suzanna Collins, for creating a complex female character who isn't co-dependent and catatonic. Nothing against Stephenie Meyer and her popular-yet-clumsy vampire series, but, as a mother, I was mortified by the New Moon scene in which insecure Bella mopes in her room for months over Edward's departure, only emerging from her funk when she connects with another male. ICK!

The Hunger Games may have its flaws, but a helpless female lead isn't one of them.

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