In a future world, North America as we know it has been destroyed and the continent is now divided into 12 regions. The capital of this new nation, Panem, is in the Rocky Mountains and the remaining districts (1-12) are spread in descending order throughout the continent. Katniss lives in District 12, the last district, in what we call as the Appalachian Mountains. The closer you are to the Capital, the better off your district is. District 12 is in charge of mining coal and as the last district they are exceedingly poor. Starvation is a way of life and ever since Katniss’ father died in a mining accident, she has been in charge of caring for her mother and 12 year old sister, Prim.
The capital is bent on reminding the districts who is boss and does this by withholding food, supplies, and other necessities. Their trump card is the annual Hunger Games, which are held to ensure that no district makes an attempt at a rebellion or uprising. The Hunger Games are a like a combination of American Idol and Survivor, with Roman gladiator games tossed into the mix. Each district is required to supply one male and one female child between the ages of 12 and 18 for the annual event. The competitors are chosen via a lottery system. Families can buy more food and supplies for the year if they purchase additional entries into the games. Thus, the poorer you are the more likely it is that you have dozens of entries in the mix. The entries compound each year, so there are children with dozens of entries in the mix. Those who are well-to-do have fewer entries, with some only responsible for one entry. (In other districts, wealthier ones, children are raised for the opportunity to participate in the Games. These “Careers” see the games as an honor).
Ever since her father’s death, Katniss has been forced to purchase extra entries to ensure the survival of her mother and Prim. This, coupled with her talent for illegal poaching/hunting, has allowed them to live as comfortably as possible. Each year she hopes and prays that she is not picked, as the entire nation watches the drawing live, either in person or on their television. This year is different, however, as Prim is old enough to be entered. Katniss has not allowed her to gain extra entries, so she has only her required entry into the games. When Prim’s name is drawn, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place, an old custom that has not been called into action in District 12 in many years.
Katniss and Peeta, the two competitors chosen from District 12, are immediately swept into a whirlwind of events that eerily resemble our culture’s obsession with reality TV. They are whisked to the Capital, where they receive stylists, makeovers, interview coaching, and gourmet food and living accomodations. While Peeta and Katniss slowly become friends and come to terms with their fate, they also realize that in order for one of them to survive, they must kill the other. You see, the Hunger Games leave the 24 competitors in a secret location (desert, tundra, etc) and the competitors must fight to the death. While the entire nation watches live on TV. The sole survivor wins food and supplies for their district for the next year, and set themselves up for life.
I read this novel in less than a day. The action is non-stop and heartpounding at many points in the story. Katniss is a likable character: she isn’t perfect, she isn’t a moral compass, and sometimes you even want to hate her. However, the situation she is thrust into is eerily similar to the modern-day obsession with reality TV and you can’t help but wonder if this the frightening direction into which we are headed. Collins never mentions a year in the novel, so it could be tomorrow or a thousand years from today. That in itself will keep you engrossed in the novel. The story is violent and writhe with betrayals, but there is also kindness, love, and drama. This is one novel you will not be able to put down. This is the perfect start to what should amount to a fantastic trilogy.