The first I heard of this book was in a conversation with a few coworkers. One was extremely concerned about her daughter reading "The Hunger Games". It was an extremely violent book in which kids are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of a dystopian government. It sounded like Battle Royale, and I put it out of my mind.
One movie later, and everyone is talking about it. And the more I hear about, the more I realize I may have gotten a too-biased view from an overly-concerned parent. (The daughter in question, by the way, is already in college.)
So, curiosity got the best of me, and after waiting months to get the book (the waiting list for the others are just as long), I got it, and read it. And I'm glad I did.
The setting is dystopian North America, where several wars have been fought for power. The land has been fractured into twelve districts under the total control of the Capitol, the thirteenth district having been utterly destroyed in the last rebellion. Also, due to the rebellion, the Capitol has instituted the Hunger Games. Two children from each district are sent to fight each other to the death in an arena. The winner gets a lifetime supply of food and luxuries for their family and district. This reminds the people of how much control the government has over them, and supposedly keeps them docile. (The Capitol isn't very genre savvy.)
The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives in the coal mining District 12, poaching in the forest to keep her mother and sister fed. Then, to everyone's surprise, her little sister Prim is chosen as "Tribute" for the Hunger Games. To save her sister, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead. She and the other "Tribute", Peeta, face overwhelming odds, as many other districts train their children in anticipation for the Hunger Games. They must use their wits to survive.
First, I'm going to address the elephant in the room: the violence. And, honestly? It's not as bad as people say. Collins uses enough detail that you can get the picture, without going overboard. In fact, compared to some of Tolkien's death scenes, these are pretty tame. Obviously one still wouldn't let an 8 or 9 year old read it, but (going back to my coworker) someone being concerned about a 20-year-old reading it is just a little silly.
One thing that no one seems to have mentioned, however, is the subtle theme throughout. Not only of rebellion, but of a respect for life. Even in the middle of fighting for her life, Katniss fights for something else-keeping her humanity. She takes no pleasure in what is happening, unlike some of her opponents. The only two times she directly kills, the first is for the sake of another person, the second is out of mercy. She even puts flowers on one of the other "Tributes" to shame the government who has turned them into entertainment. Despite her attempts at a gruff exterior, she is a remarkably caring person inside, and, as part of her rebellious nature, she refuses to let the Capitol take that from her.
This was well-written and fast-paced. Collins' characters jump off the page, even the minor ones, and Katniss makes for an engaging and sympathetic protagonist.
This book gets a 4 out of 5.