In a futuristic world, the United States, now called Panem, is divided into 12 districts. At one point, there was one more, but the 13th district was destroyed to quash a rebellion. Each year, the government, in order to remind the 12 remaining districts of the brutality of the rebellion and as a means of controlling its citizenry, holds the Hunger Games, in which a male and female representative from each district is chosen and subsequently must fight to the death in an arena the government has devised. The Games are televised and it is mandated that each citizen must watch; another maneuver to thwart rebellion and to instill compliance. The winner will live a life of luxury for the rest of their life; the only caveat, they must mentor subsequent competitors from their district. 16-year-old Katniss lives in District 12, known as the mining district and one of the poorest. Since her father’s death, Katniss has been sole provider for her family and is an expert hunter. When her sister is chosen for the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The male chosen is Peeta, the baker’s son, who once saved Katniss and her family from starvation. Although Katniss does not want to go into the Games owing anyone, she cannot deny Peeta’s charitable nature. During the opening ceremonies, Peeta declares his unrequited love for Katniss, endearing them to viewers. Now Katniss is indebted to him more, because as the favored couple, they will receive gifts to help them during the Games. If it comes to a fight between Katniss and Peeta, will she be able to kill the young man to whom she owes so much?
Collins depicts a cruel world in which the government controls every aspect of its citizens’ lives and freedom seems unattainable. The author excels at revealing the complexities of the characters, including tertiary ones. Although Katniss seems a cold, calculating young woman, deep down, she cares for others yet is wary of acknowledging these feelings, even to herself. Peeta is personable, a warm, gentle young man who does everything he can to protect Katniss, even when it doesn’t appear he is doing so. When he declares his love for Katniss, she isn’t sure if this is true or if this is a ruse to gain more favor for himself. The Games are brutal and vividly depicted. The plot is excellent and moves along at a fast pace. Readers will root for Katniss and Peeta in the first book of this galvanizing trilogy.