In a post-apocalyptic world, twelve districts and the parasitic Capitol they serve are all that is left of America. The districts specialize in industry or agriculture in a peasant-like state while the Capitol resides in a geographically protected kind of bubble where all that is glitters is gold, wealth and extravagance.
We are immediately introduced to Katniss Everdeen a hardy, pragmatic girl of sixteen who finds both solace and survival from her grim hungry village life by hunting game in the woods outside District 12, with her best friend Gale. District 12 is the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to importance and wealth. The residents live a hard-scrabble life where only a lucky few eat bread and even the mayor is glad to receive forbidden squirrel game that Katniss brings him. She supports her mother and young sister this way with a bow and has become incredibly skillful with the talent her father taught her before he met with an all-too common mining disaster.
In the not-so-distant past, as the inhabitants of the districts are constantly reminded, there was an uprising against the Capitol by the Districts which was brutally and successfully quashed by the government. The Capitol reminds its subjects of this crime each year by entering all children’s names in a lottery, one per year when they turn 12 continuing until they are 18. Two children called ‘tributes’ from each District except the Capitol, one boy and one girl, are chosen annually to compete in an arena created for the children, to battle to the death gladiator-style or survive by their wits and weapons until one tribute is left. That tribute is promised food, wealth and celebrity for life. The Games are televised in each District and are mandatory viewing.
This year, Katniss’ young sister Prim is in the drawing for the first time making Katniss extra nervous, and she will protect her family at all costs. Katniss has made the diabolical trade of putting her name in the lottery four times per year in exchange for more food rations for her family, however there are still hundreds of kids to pick from in District 12. Her worst nightmare is about to come true.
This book is gripping from page one and nearly impossible to put down. It is entirely told from Katniss’ point of view and she is one tough cookie. Rather than question the system, as her friend Gale does, or spend energy feeling bad for herself; she faces problems head-on and with a clear head. She is not a cuddly, girly heroine. Katniss is a slightly sarcastic girl with a temper. She is very clever and humble, simultaneously scared and brave. She is the perfect person to unwittingly capture the support and attention not only of the reader, but as it turns out, the Capitol viewing audience as well.
It is impossible to read about the District’s society who is brutally oppressed to the point of giving up their children to die (wondering how they allow it) and not draw parallels to countries and regimes in our own world where atrocities happen every day under a government with a fist of steel. It is impossible to read about the selfish yet naive inhabitants of the Capitol (how can they watch children die for entertainment) and not see parallels in the pleasure-seeking individuals of first world countries who look the other way- as long as it isn’t happening to themselves.
I won’t get into the rest of the details of the book because if you don’t know more about The Hunger Games you may have been living in a cave (like Katniss and Peeta har-har); but the experience of reading it is so much richer, funnier, and scarier, than anything you could see in the movie theater. It’s surprisingly much more than just if the protagonist lives or not. Suzanne Collins created beautiful, touching characters and a mind-twisting society that will keep you thinking. I read this in a day, and I think anyone who picks it up won’t be able to put it down either. There’s a reason for the hoop-la this time.