The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
2008, Scholastic, New York.
The Hunger Games is a young adult novel of a dystopian future. It is highly readable, and I recommend it even for adults who can no longer be considered young. As a matter of fact, I rather think it may be more appropriate for the elder among us than the younger; it is certainly a bit gruesome for the 5th graders that my school library has it pegged for. It is currently enjoying moderate-high popularity among the teen crowd, and is likely to become a bit of a classic. However, it is firmly in the arena of action/adventure, so those of you hoping for the next 1984 need to keep looking.
The story is set an undefined time in the future, after the collapse of the United States. The remains of the country are still affiliated as the nation of Panem, but an ancient civil war has segregated the country. The rich and powerful Capitol subjugates the 12 outlying districts, and forces them to produce all the resources and technology required to keep the ruling class living in luxury. The major symbol of the Capitol's power over the Districts are the Hunger Games, a yearly event where 12- to 18-year-old children are selected by lottery to fight to the death. This sounds bad enough, but the Capitol is very powerful, and very bored. Every year a new arena is devised, with new ecosystems, new weapons, new dangers, new and interesting ways to die painfully. The 23 violent deaths are televised live to the entire nation, and the Games, which may last for weeks, are required viewing for all the Districts' citizens.
The story's heroine is Katniss Everdeen, an 16-year-old girl who lives in District 12, the area that once was Appalachia. She comes from a poor family, and has only survived by learning to hunt, illegally, in the wilds beyond the protective fences surrounding the city. She and her friend Gale are the foremost hunters and woodsmen in town, and they make a good living selling black-market meat to the richer townsfolk. As you may have guessed, Katniss is chosen for the Games. There's not a lot I can tell you without giving spoilers (and in fact, I have already bent the truth to avoid giving too much away), but I will say that only about half of the book actually deals with teenagers dying violent deaths at each-others hands.
This is certainly a work of science fiction, and action/adventure, and romance (on the level of Twilight; this is not a bodice-ripper). Its appeal is not limited to fans of those genres. However, there are a lot of deaths, mostly murders, all violent, many of them unnecessarily gruesome. You don't want to read this if that bothers you. This is a story about an evil and decadent ruling class abusing their powers; the deaths are meant to be disturbing, and they are. Having said that, this is not written to be a horror story, and I liked it, despite hating horror stories. I would, however, hesitate to recommend this book to any kid, or teenager, unless I knew them pretty well and knew that they liked this kind of story.
There are two other books following The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay. They are both excellent books, but the series should be read in order. Read The Hunger Games first.