Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives with her mother and younger sister in District 12, one of twelve outlying districts controlled by The Capitol, in the remains of what was once North America, now called Panem. The Capitol keeps control of the districts in part through the annual Hunger Games:
The rules of the Huger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we can take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.
To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the others. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will show the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation.
“It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks,” intones the mayor.
As you can see, Panem is a place often ruled by cruelty and a struggle to survive. Families in most of the districts live on the edge of starvation, fighting to get by with limited rations and hard work with low pay. Katniss’ father was killed in a mining accident (mining is the designated industry for District 12), but he taught her how to hunt before he died. Although hunting is illegal, Katniss helps her family survive with the meat she brings home and the trades she’s able to make in the black market.
Katniss and her family are devastated when Katniss must compete in this year’s Hunger Games. As one of the poorer districts, District Twelve rarely wins, and it seems like a death sentence as Katniss is whisked away to the Capitol amid the false festivities. Most of the novel deals with Katniss’ efforts to survive the Hunger Games and the tough choices she faces in the arena.
As my husband and son had told me, this is an amazing book. Collins’ writing talents shine, with in-depth characters that you come to care about and fascinating details of a world different than our own, yet eerily similar in some ways. The suspense and action keep you turning the pages. I even broke my own rule about reading in the car and chanced getting carsick because I just couldn’t wait until evening to read more! We’re all counting the days until the sequel, Catching Fire, comes out, on September 1, 2009.
NOTE: Because of the deadly nature of the Hunger Games, these books are best for teens and older and so well-written that they'll appeal to adults as well.
384 pages, Scholastic Press