“Battle Royale”

January 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Young Adult Fiction | 2 Comments

Reading with kids is fraught with peril – especially when the book in question is Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.  In what context is it appropriate to expose our kids to violence in media?  Do we want them to read what they like, or like what we read?

Product Details

We have Family Reading Hour during alternate weeks, except when the holidays cause the schedule to be shuffled around.  We happened to have our little bunny for two weeks in a row, including a vacation week, allowing us to get through this 600 page book without a break in between.  First I’m going to talk about what it was like for us to read it, and then I’m going to go into a spoiler-filled review.

We don’t watch TV at our house, and neither does The Mom, so media are limited to YouTube, manga, video games (at Mom’s), and the rare DVD (seemingly Ella Enchanted over and over again).  In that case, we’re generally opposed to anything we find obnoxious.  Is it weird that we find extreme violence less awkward for family entertainment than love scenes?

Regardless, Sweetie Junior’s response to Battle Royale, after the first night of reading, was: “This book is awesome!”  We had already read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire together last year.  I noticed early on that SJ found this book funny, while the Suzanne Collins was not.  She has a strong interest in reading the manga and seeing the film version of the book.  (You’ll often find that kids want the full catalogue relating to whatever entertaining thing they’ve discovered – the whole series and all its accessories, in every format available).

This book would probably not be enjoyable for anyone who is not already a horror fan or who is squeamish about graphic violence.  If you’re not a horror fan, there are elements intrinsic to the genre that are helpful to understand.  First, horror tends to be heavy on the morals.  Any character who exhibits hubris, stupidity, lust, greed, vanity, or other vices is guaranteed to snuff it – and this is usually at least somewhat funny.  Second, there is always going to be an unstoppable dark force that just keeps coming at you, even past the point of credulity.  Horror is definitely not supposed to be believable!  If it’s a scary story and it seems completely plausible, it probably falls under suspense or drama.  Horror tends to have elements of fantasy, dark comedy, and occasionally steamy romance.

There’s a meditation common to Buddhism, yoga, and medieval mysticism in which you are supposed to imagine yourself as a decomposing corpse.  It sounds pretty icky at first.  The purpose, though, is to help us remember that we will die one day – sorry, no exceptions.  This has the twin effect of helping put our trivial quotidian concerns in perspective and helping us remember to appreciate life as much as we can while we’re still here.  There is nothing quite like reading a really gruesome scene in a horror novel and telling yourself, “It’s just a story!” to reinforce how comfortable our own life is in comparison.  Kids, who have relatively less experience with the real horrors of adult life, tend to excel at separating fiction from reality, which is why they are able to get so much enjoyment out of splashing gore and vicarious weaponry.  There’s also a strong undercurrent of “the beast within” that resonates with teenagers as they watch their bodies, friends, and moods metamorphose in front of their very eyes.

Now, for the spoilers.  This is aimed partly at my online book group, whose discussion I missed due to a virus attack – speaking of real-life horror.  First off, it was interesting reading with my husband, who is an engineer and has been firing guns since the age of, wait for it, three.  There were a couple of scenes where he had to interrupt, saying a particular gun didn’t load that way or some other technical observation.  He was incensed about the bulletproof vest; first of all, people can still be killed while wearing them, and would definitely be incapacitated – unconscious and/or very badly hurt.  Second, a gun pressed against something such that the barrel is blocked won’t fire right.  He also wanted to say that there was no way a bunch of teenagers who had never fired a gun would be able to hit their targets so consistently – he says it would be more likely for them to be 90 degrees  off or more, no matter what kind of instruction manual they had.  He wasn’t too impressed that they were supposedly able to drive with one hand and shoot accurately with the other, either, and he thought the idea of being able to dodge bullets in a vehicle was absurd.  I had to argue this book against the various Die Hard movies, and remind him that action scenes aren’t supposed to be believable.  Especially car chases.  Hello, the entire premise is “absurd” from the get-go but it still makes for a rollicking read.

Sweetie Junior found the book a laugh riot.  The part that set her off in particular was that all the girls had a crush on Shuya.  When Yukie made her confession, SJ smacked herself in the face with a pillow and shook her head back and forth.  She laughed over all the inappropriate weapons, especially the fork, and was completely in hysterics over the Ahura Mazda-inspired fantasy sword sequence.

We speculated a lot throughout the book over where we thought the plot was going and how it was going to end.  We figured for quite a while that Kazuo was a cyborg.  Early on, my man Rocket Scientist tried to add the movie to his Netflix queue, and of course the first line of the synopsis has a major planet-killing spoiler.  Rotten, huh?  We were sure Kazuo and Mitsuko were going to have an epic battle at the end, so it was a surprise how that went down.  There was a lot of speculation about Hiroki’s search for Kotohiki, and they settled on him being her long-lost brother.

We enjoy reading together as a family, and it’s given us a lot of inside jokes.  We particularly enjoy picking apart technical issues, trying to figure out whether certain things make sense or what we would have done if we were characters in the book.  Okay, it can be disturbing when what’s under consideration is what to do when you’re faced with being forced to kill a bunch of people.  It does still give us an opportunity to build vocabulary and talk over a number of topics including ethics, geography, linguistics, comparative culture and religion, sociology, history, and… ordnance.

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