In the spring of 2012, Kacie Thach went to see "The Hunger Games" movie on the big screen. It changed her life, like something being shot straight into her heart.
Days later, she asked her mom to buy something. It's the same thing girls all across America have asked for since reading or watching "The Hunger Games."
A bow and arrow.
"There's lots of girls doing it now," said Kacie.
Kacie is 10. Since she was 8, she's been taking archery lessons and practicing in her backyard. She shoots a compound Genesis Mathews bow with a 20-pound draw. It's camouflaged, which is kind of what "The Hunger Games" has done to traditional gender rules in America.
"It's normally a boy's sport," said Kacie. "I thought it would be cool to be a girl archer."
Call it the Katniss effect.
Today, the second film in "The Hunger Games" trilogy is released nationwide. Based on the novels by Suzanne Collins, the film imagines a dystopian future of utilitarian survival and bloodsport politics, not unlike "Lord of the Flies" or the brutal morality of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."
Within this landscape comes our heroine, the teenage Katniss Everdeen. She traps, hunts, lives off the land, arming herself with a trademark bow and arrow. She is the anti-Barbie, a feminine Davy Crockett, a kinder, gentler Lisbeth Salander.
"As she sprints through the forest, Katniss is carrying the burden of multiple symbolic identities," said New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. "She's an athlete, a media celebrity and a warrior as well as a sister, a daughter, a loyal friend and [potential] girlfriend. In genre terms, she is a Western hero, an action hero, a romantic heroine and a tween idol."
Isn't that what girls today face? An increasing burden of identity choices combined with the freedom that comes with 21st century opportunities. Look one way, and you've got Miley Cyrus. Look another, Hillary Clinton. Someone sings about blurred lines, someone else tells girls to "Lean In."
We love Katniss because she transcends all of that. She is feminine, masculine, a hero,an underdog, someone who loves, someone on the right side of things.
"She is so confident," said Kacie. "She's a good person and takes care of her little sister."
Kacie began taking lessons from Wanell Trotter, a coach at Choo Choo Archery. Trotter coaches 30 to 40 area teenagers a month, many who began coming because of Katniss.
"Especially teenage girls," she said. "Archery is not something for guys anymore."
After Kacie's second lesson, she hit her first bull's-eye.
"Ever since then, I've felt really confident. It makes me feel like I can do anything," she said.
Kacie is a member of the Hamilton County 4-H archery team, made up of boys and girls ages 9 to 19. Last year, two dozen students signed up. This year, the team maxed out at more than 50. They finished in second place in a state tournament last year and are already practicing for this year's.
A few days ago, Kacie, her mom and I walked out into their backyard as the evening sun began to set over their Chickamauga, Ga., home. Kacie pulled her hair back into a ponytail, notched an arrow, closed her right eye and fired -- the arrow moved like a fast whisper through the air, landing 30 feet away.
"I love seeing her do something that is traditionally male-dominated and succeed and enjoy it," said Misti Bowers, Kacie's mom. "It is for every kid."
Kacie, who's in the fifth grade at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, sometimes tells her friends she is an archer.
"They called me Katniss," she said.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...