Moth: Darker, Realer, and (Way) Gayer than The Hunger Games
“Five years ago, I wrote a YA novel. Like all my novels, it had a lesbian MC. But this one was different from anything I’d done before. With this novel, I got an agent. It was put out on submission & every editor who read it said it was awesome. But. Well written. But. It was too controversial. Something that they said, and I quote, “American kids wouldn’t believe.” … I wrote it because I was angry. And anger, right now, is SO important. Anger will save us. Anger will give us strength, help keep us brave. I’m releasing the book editors said was too controversial. The book that made them uncomfortable. The book American kids “wouldn’t believe.” I told this story for all of us. For every pain I’ve suffered. For every pain you’ve suffered. Stay angry. Stay brave. Don’t fall asleep.” – S.E. Diemer
Back when The Hunger Games fandom first exploded, the books were recommended to me by my sister when I told her I was looking for more fiction with “badass women”. I read the books, mildly enjoyed the first two, and rolled my eyes through much of the third. I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t speak to me like they did to so many others. In the end, I think that’s because the world they’re set in, an unspoken but clearly post-apocalyptic-style future North America, didn’t feel realistic. The story was good – dark, but full of hope; real, but just fantastical enough to keep you reading – but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe Panem was once my America, and so the terrible future in the books never felt like a real threat.
Cut to the recent US election. Cut to the quote I shared above. Cut to Moth, a book about a future America where being black, queer, non-Christian, dissenting, outspoken, even just a little too rebellious can get you sent to re-education camps to be burned, electrocuted, and brainwashed (if you’re lucky) – or simply killed. This book, like The Hunger Games, is YA. It’s meant for teenagers, for the exact audience editors apparently didn’t think would buy its setting. Let me tell you – I buy it. Because this isn’t post-apocalypse, this isn’t mutant monsters, this isn’t crazy sci-fi technology and vast conspiracies…
This is North Korea. Now. Everything that happens in this book, everything our heroine experiences, has happened or does currently happen in countries across the world. It’s not impossible to imagine queer kids being forced to undergo traumatizing, sometimes deadly attempts to “fix” them. That happens. It’s not impossible to have a character whose father is killed just because his skin is dark. That happens. It’s not impossible to learn about an underground railroad ferrying kids up to Canada (the border of which is soon to be blocked by a giant “freedom” wall), nor that the European Union has cut off all aide to the country. Those things happen all the time, and have throughout history.
This is an America ruled by a dictator who claims to speak the very will of God. There are no mutants or science experiments here – just fanatical people who think the world should run their way because They Are Right. I don’t know about you, but these days that doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched future.
This book has its little flaws, like all books do, but no major detractors. More importantly, what it has at its core is the anger and fear not of someone looking into a possible sci-fi future hundreds of years from now, but someone living right here with us who sees a path our country could easily take. As much as we’d like to pretend democracy is unassailable, our form of government is as vulnerable to corruption and dissolution as any other. Will we ever become a totalitarian dictatorship in which we gleefully watch children murder each other for food and fame in gigantic stadiums full of technological death traps? Probably not. Will we ever become a theocracy in which dissenters are “re-educated” to fit the Christian model of good citizens? Maybe, yeah.
So read this book. It’s worth it.
(For those who need it, here are the book’s major trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, physical and mental/emotional abuse, suicide, violence)