“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, 2008

Started and finished on April 6, 2012

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, After all, “Twilight” is a huge bestseller in the same market, and it’s HORRIBLE. This one however, even though it seems aimed at the same teenage girl market, is so much more interesting, intelligent, and engaging. The fact that I read it in one day proves how hard it is to put down. And that it is pretty short (374 pages).

The premise: the world has crumbled, and from the ashes rose the North American capitol of Panem, and 13 outlying Districts that supply the city with essentials and luxury goods. The Districts are hardscrabble, difficult places to live, so they rise up in revolt. But Panem is so much more technologically advanced that they easily beat them back down into the dirt, using conventional weapons and genetically engineered animals. District 13 is obliterated, and the Hunger Games are devised to remind the remaining Districts that they are under the heel of Panem.

Every year a boy and a girl from each District is chosen to fight to the death in an arena. It is televised, and required viewing everywhere. The survivor gets a life of luxury and their District gets a few extra comforts for the year. Our protaganist is Katniss Everdeen, a self-sufficient 16-year-old who hunts and gathers to feed her mom and little sister, Prim. When Prim, brand new to the draw in her 12th year, is chosen, Katniss steps in as “tribute,” volunteering to take her place. The chosen boy from her District is Peeta, the local baker’s boy. Unbeknownst to Katniss, he’s been in love with her forever. They are taken off to Panem and given a polish for the cameras. During the televised lead up Peeta reveals his love for Katniss, which she assumes is all part of the plan to win much-needed gifts from the citizens of the capital.

After a few days of training and schilling for sponsers they are dropped off into the arena and the bloodbath begins. The seemingly fabricated love story proves so popular that it is announced that if a couple from the same District are the last ones standing, they will both be allowed to live. After much suffering and death and fear only Peeta and Katniss survive. The Gamesmasters then announce that they checked the rules and nope, they can only have one winner. Gambling that a Games with NO winner would deeply unpopular, Katniss and Peeta attempt suicide to force their hand. It pays off and they are both fished out of the arena, treated for their injuries, and feted. The Powers That Be are enraged, however, and Katniss has to walk a very fine line in order to make it home alive.

The closer she gets to District 12 the more conflicted she gets about Peeta. After all, she has her best friend and hunting partner Gale waiting at home. And given the risk every child must face in a world where the Games exist, Katniss has no intentions of settling down and having a family. She is also disturbed by the realization that she is now expected to train the next pair chosen from her District.

Collins has created a rich and complex world and an interesting protagonist. No question the Hunger Games are evil, and Panem’s rulers are brutal and unsympathetic. But Katniss actually likes the people she meets in the capitol, and at no point does she pull back from what she needs to do to survive. She does not revel in it, but when she does kill another child she realizes it’s not so different from killing an animal for food, provided you don’t dwell on it too much. This is the terrible world she lives in: an unending struggle for mere existence, with starvation and the Games a constant threat. Now I have to pick up book 2.