The Hunger Games is set in a nation rebuilt after disaster; for a long time the people of Panem struggled against hunger as they worked to regain their lives. The Twelve Districts of Panem eventually overcome their difficulties with the help of the government, but a price must be exacted in order for no one to forget how and why survival occurred: Once a year, every year, a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen from each District to participate in The Hunger Games, where only one will survive.
Katniss has spent much of her life protecting her family after the death of her father, becoming an expert with a bow and arrow in order to bring in food and money for her mother and younger sister Prim. In the last year she's eligible for the Games, the unthinkable occurs: Prim's name is called. Katniss immediately volunteers in place of her sister and is sent away to the Capitol, along with the boy who has been chosen, in order to prepare for the ultimate killing game. Katniss and Peeta are from District Twelve, a District that's known only one winner in the last several years, and it's under his tutelage that the two must train. When Haymin, the mentor, discovers Peeta's crush on the harsh Katniss, he decides that will be their angle: star-crossed lovers having to compete against twenty two other "tributes" and finally, against one another. The Games are brutal, controlled by Gamemakers intent on ramping up the violence and misery in order to force the tributes to kill or be killed. Will Katniss and Peeta be able to survive until the end...and if they do, will either be able to kill the other in order to be declared the winner?
The Hunger Games is told in first person present tense by Katniss as she experiences her selection for the Games, her complete makeover in order to win sympathy from the national audience watching her every move, and her fight to stay alive and protect those she loves. At first I felt things were moving too slowly as we went through all the steps leading up to the Games, but as Katniss appears in the arena, I realized that all of the build-up was necessary in order for the audience to understand the transformation Katniss must experience. The utter brutality she faces as she attempts to simply stay alive is compelling reading; Katniss must decide what she's willing to do in order to survive. The idea that all of this is somehow "entertainment" for a nation is both disturbing and yet plausible, and the cold, calculated moves on the parts of the tributes are bone chilling. I wanted her to win desperately, but somehow find a way to outsmart the cruelness of the Games and I found myself feverishly turning pages in order to find out what was going to happen next.
The Hunger Games is a glimpse into what we could become if we allow our baser instincts to take over, and it is peopled with children who are too easily lost in order to satisfy the sadistic whims of government and nation. Hopeful and bereft, you're going to be waiting on your doorstep for the next installment in this planned trilogy. I'll be right there with you.