Sometime in the future, a 16-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen lives with her little sister and mother in North America in a place called District 12. People in District 12 are poor, and since her father's death in a coal-mining accident, Katniss has had to hunt game with a bow and arrow to supplement her family's meager supplies. District 12 is far from the Capitol city, Panem, a place Katniss never expects to visit. But then comes the day of "reaping," when her beloved sister Prim is randomly chosen to represent District 12 in the annual Hunger Games. Immediately Katniss steps forward and volunteers to take her sister's place in the Games, which are held each year in the Capitol. The Hunger Games have elements in common with the Olympics (coaches, training and a spectacular opening ceremony) and with reality TV shows (constant cameras, obstacles, a manipulated environment in the arena). But the purpose of these games is far more gruesome and terrifying. Of the 24 young people who compete, only one will survive. To win at the Hunger Games you must kill all your opponents, even if they have become your friends.
Suzanne Collins notes that the roots of her book date back to an early fascination with the myth of Theseus, when as punishment for past deeds, Athens had to send seven maidens and seven young men to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur. The message, she said, was clear to her even as a child: "Mess with us and we'll do something worse than kill you. We'll kill your children." But the story finally came to her with the experience of "channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage."
Young adults will be riveted by Collins' novel. (It kept this reviewer up until two a.m.) The Hunger Games combines elements of an intense survival adventure with a story of friendship and love. But the book is more than a page-turner with a strong, appealing heroine. The Hunger Games is a powerful and often disturbing story that is sure to spark intense discussion not just about Katniss Everdeen's world—but about our own.
Deborah Hopkinson imagines the world of cowboys in her forthcoming picture book, Home on the Range.