The Hunger Games - Suzanne  Collins The Hunger Games is about a teenage girl named Katniss who lives in a future dystopian society called Panem (located in the a future United States) that has kind of lost its bananas. In order to keep control over Panem's 12 districts, the rulers organize a Battle Royale scenario (2 kids - one boy and one girl - from each district fight in a massive arena until only one stands) in which children are picked through a yearly lottery. Because, hey, what rallies the people better than making their children fight to the death? The Hunger Games, as they call it, is broadcast to every citizen of Panem as mandatory viewing. So we have children (ages 12-18) fighting to the death (with any manner of weapons and tactics) in a specially designed arena thing (which can kill them, too) on TV. Intensity ensues.

I don't think it's a spoiler to write that Katniss goes to The Hunger Games to represent District 12, a mining community. She comes from poverty, the daughter of a distant mother who withdrew after the death of her father in a mining accident. Katniss is good with a bow and arrow. This is important. Thrust into the glittery world of the Capitol, where people talk while barely moving their jaws and sometimes dye their skin different colors like green, Katniss is a reluctant hero. She wants to survive, but she's disgusted by what the Capitol is forcing her to do. The story is told in first person narrative, and Collins excels at allowing you to discover the world as Katniss discovers it. The fast-paced narrative definitely thrives while Katniss is in the arena. You experience each obstacle, each twist and turn with her, and the action rarely stops.

Of course, there are some delightful secondary characters. You'll meet Peeta Mellark, the other District 12 tribute, who will win and break your heart. He's the son of District 12's baker, and the relationship he has with Katniss drives the story at times. Because we read from Katniss's perspective, it's hard to tell whether or not we can trust Peeta. Katniss and Peeta are mentored by former District 12 victor, Haymitch, who is a wreck about 90% of the time and a revelation the other 10%. There's Gale, Katniss's hunting partner back home, who taught Katniss how to trap and brood silently (that last part's conjecture). Cinna is Katniss's stylist for the ceremonies leading up to the Hunger Games.

Likes: The world-building by Collins is exceptional. It's easy to see The Capitol and the arena as Katniss describes them. As I mentioned above, the pacing was excellent. It read in the way I watch an action movie, which would usually be a jarring reading experience, but worked in this instance. I love, love, love that Collins added some realism to the story. When characters are injured, they don't suddenly get better and commit incredible physical acts like Superpeople. Katniss reads like a teenager going through a very horrific experience, not a genre savvy adult with advanced perceptions of the world around her. Collins characterizes Katniss as a reluctant warrior, and it's so refreshing to read about a young, gritty female character.

Dislikes: The carnage. I knew that it had to happen, and it definitely added to the story, but egads, the carnage. The Hunger Games isn't your typical young adult book, folks. I'm 26, and some scenes left me wincing. The political message was also a bit simplistic. It is a young adult book, after all, but I felt a bit battered by references to the evil, materialistic Capitol citizens and all their stuff. I got the point pretty early on, but it reminds the reader constantly.

What I Learned: A dystopian society is not for me. I would totally die in the Hunger Games. I want to give Peeta and Katniss a hug, which is weird because they're fictional characters. Also: Expect the unexpected. Don't even try to predict this book. You'll be going along all happy and fine, and all of a sudden, WHAM, Collins will take away everything that comforts you. This story gets real in so many ways.

My Verdict: Read it! The Hunger Games is worth your time.