More: What appeals to you in Katniss as a heroine? She’s far different from Twilight’s Bella.
N.J.: What I love about Katniss is that she really is not defined by her romantic longings. If anything, the men surrounding her are more prone to romance than she is. She’s prone to survival. She has incredible survival instincts and protective feelings for her sister. What I love about the book is with each book she takes on a concentric circle of concern. It starts with her family, and as it evolves, she embraces Rue, then Peeta, then her District. With each book she takes more responsibility, and yet her instinct is always to fight for herself and her family. I think that’s very human and honest. I love how imperfect she is in that regard. The men in her life are more focused on their romantic feelings for her; that’s not what drives her.
More: Katniss has the two dueling suitors. And Bella has two, the vampire and the werewolf. In True Blood—it’s not a YA book, but a lot of kids read it or watch it—Sookie has two vampires and two werewolves vying for her.
N.J.: Conflct is more interesting than harmony. I think that for Katniss the journey is about learning to trust, to care and put somebody else’s needs ahead of her own family. Her learning to trust supersedes the love triangle. I don’t see it as a love triangle story in the way Twilight is. Largely, Katniss is learning to care about others.
More: What do you think is her prime appeal?
N.J.: She has a nurturing fierceness. When I first met Jennifer Lawrence, she talked about that. We’ve seen the female badass, the woman warrior. Kat’s fitness comes out of protectiveness, nurturing. That’s powerful. She feels like an honest heroine, someone you can relate to. You can feel being in her shoes. She’s not fearless by any stretch; she struggles to step up and take her place. It’s the story of a girl who over time steps up and becomes a revolutionary. She’s a heroine for our times.
More: Our other favorite heroine, Lizbeth Salander in The Dragon Tattoo books, is also ferocious, but she has the Aspergers Syndrome and the rape.
N.J.: The experiences of the books are very different. Lisbeth when you meet her is very damaged already. With Katniss, you see the experience of the Hunger Games leaves a mark. She’s been through a lot, but is not as damaged.
More: Do you know how many adult women have read The Hunger Games series?
N.J.: I don’t know. All the moms on my daughter’s soccer team have read it. It’s absolutely crossed over. What’s unusual is that men can be enthusiastic too…it’s very different from Twilight, which is female driven. It’s more like Harry Potter.
More: Why is YA so hot now? Why do even adults read YA books ? Did Harry Potter start it?
N.J.: Good question. There’s a lot of great writing in YA. It’s a hot growth area for very talented people. Maybe some of us—when you read a book it can take you back to your reading self, not your outer self. I myself read a lot of YA books. There’s an enthusiasm to them and some extraordinary good writing. Harry Potter is still one of the best books you’ll ever read. And for a writer, you have enthusiastic readers, you’re building a young audience, a captive audience, you’ll get read.
More: What led you to cast Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss?