Read for the High School Book Club: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2008, 9780439023481.
Very good science fiction novel aimed at YAs. Straightforward writing and a good lead character. Collins takes a futuristic setting and makes it realistic and believable. Good enough I emailed Bill Crider, fan of YA lit., to tell him about it.
Katniss is 16 years old and lives with her mother and 12-year-old sister in District 12 of the country of Panem. District 12 is a poor District in the Appalachians and reliant on the coal mining industry. Death by starvation is common in District 12. But, Katniss her older friend Dale often slip outside the electrified fence surrounding the District to hunt game and gather berries and other plants to both supplement their diet and sell or trade.
The local government in each District, 12 Districts in total, answer to the Capitol and the Districts have little to no communication among themselves. The Capitol runs things with an iron fist after District 13 revolted years ago and was ultimately destroyed. The Hunger Games were initiated as a method of maintaining power and keeping the other Districts in line. Dissent and rebellion may result in instant execution. Leaving the District by hunting outside the fence, like Katniss does, is a capital offense. But Katniss is spared this since the "Peacekeepers" who run things are her some of her best customers.
Each District selects two kids, male and female, from 12 to 18 years old to compete in the annual Hunger Games. Some Districts treat their entrants as honored celebrities but District 12 residents fear the yearly lottery used for selection. The Games are set in a different wilderness each year and televised live to the country. Competitors have to hunt and kill one another until only one kid is left. Katniss volunteers herself after her sister is chosen in the lottery. She travels to the Capitol with her male counterpart, meets the trainers, receives three days of training, and is set into the woods. Things happen, people die, realizations are realized.
The Games themselves are interesting. Contestants get sponsors who can send gifts of weapons, food or medicine. The Gamekeepers who design the games can send fires, bad weather, and crazed animals against the players to drive them into action. Katniss's hunting and woodsman skills give her a significant advantage over the others.
The idea of a fight to the death for entertainment is not new. But, Collins takes the topic and does a really solid job. Today's reality television shows, the Olympics, fashion, television poise and presentation, greed and selfishness, and tyrannical government all play a part.