Plot Summary: Welcome to Panem, the post-apocalyptic United States of America, divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Every year, two “tributes” between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each district to take part in a brutal contest called The Hunger Games, where they fight to the death. There is only one winner. Sixteen-year old Katniss volunteers to her district’s tribute after her 12-year old sister’s name is drawn.
The Hunger Games is the brutal version of a reality game show – think of Stephen King’s (written as Richard Bachman) novel, The Running Man and you’ll have a good frame of reference. The tributes are given mentors – former winners, condemned to preparing future tributes for the games – and stylists to make them look good. The contestants have to project personality in the week of interviews and preparation so that they have a chance at receiving help from sponsors, who can send food, medicine, and supplies to their contestants during the games. The games are televised for all the districts to watch. Katniss struggles to keep her humanity in the midst of the game and rails against being the Capitol’s pawn. The first in a trilogy, The Hunger Games was also made into a movie by Lionsgate Studios in March 2012.
Critical Evaluation: The book moves at a breathtaking pace with an intensity that starts mere pages in and doesn’t let up until the book’s end. The main characters have a good base for character development that will likely continue in the two following books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay; the others are as developed as they need to be in order to further the story and keep the pace. Ms. Collins makes her point about valuing bloodsport over humanity as eloquently as she is brutal in several key scenes in the book. With a strong mix of violence and compassion, boys and girls have both seized on this series and catapulted it to the top of their reading lists. Katniss emerges as a heroine not only for her strength but her ability to retain her sense of self in the middle of the games. She is a complex, conflicted heroine who resonates with ‘tweens and teens alike.
Reviews: Booklist (starred review) “Each new plot twist ratchets up the tension, moving the story forward and keeping the reader on edge. Populated by three-dimensional characters, this is a superb tale of physical adventure, political suspense, and romance.”
School Library Journal: “Collins’s characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing. This book will definitely resonate with the generation raised on reality shows like ‘Survivor’ and ‘American Gladiator.’”
Awards: Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year (2008); New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2008; Cybil WInner, Fantasy/Science Fiction (2008); Kirkus Best Books 2008; School LIbrary Journal Best Books 2008; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book; Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Teens Top Ten (2009); Golden Duck Award in Young Adult Fiction Category (2009); California Young Reader Medal (2011).
Reader’s Annotation: In a post-apocalyptic America, the government demands one boy and one girl from each district to fight to the death in the Hunger Games.
I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, and The Hunger Games series has quickly become a classic in its genre/subgenre.