For those you who read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld or The Road by Cormac McCarthy or I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and enjoy good post-apocalyptic fiction can add The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to your to-read list. Unlike Uglies, it doesn't have a morality lesson to teach. Unlike The Road, it isn't depicting the most depraved aspects of humanity and yet makes you unable to tear your eyes away. Unlike I Am Legend, it doesn't have any vampires. In fact, there's nothing supernatural about the book, just really advanced technology and some seriously sick people who like to watch human suffering for mass entertainment.
In The Hunger Games, once again we are in a post-war United States, now called Panem, run by a corrupt and cruel government based in the Rocky Mountains. The remaining country that hasn't been destroyed by the war is divided into twelve districts. Each district has a main focus of industry. There used to be thirteen districts, but the thirteenth one was annihilated after it attempted to revolt against the government. Now the government holds the Hunger Games every year as a reminder that they are all powerful and the people are utterly and powerlessly under its control.
A lottery is held each year in each district to select one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the games. They are shipped off the the capitol to garner a fan base and find sponsors to help them along their way during the games. And what are the games, you ask? A fight to the death. The winner gets fame, glory and unlimited food for them and their families for the rest of their lives. Our hero, Katniss Everdeen, is selected as one of the tributes--as they are called--along with a boy from her village in District 12. She has spent her life illegally hunting and gathering food for her family to keep them from starving, so she has many skills that will help her during the game. She is distrustful of everybody so any kind gesture made by Peeta, the boy who came with her, is seen by her as manipulation to win the game. She has a soft spot for her little sister, Prim, whose place she took as a tribute, but not for many others.
Imagine Survivor or Big Brother or any of those mind-numbingly stupid "reality" shows and then change it so that everybody is supposed to kill each other off. The entire nation watches as Katniss and the other tributes fight and plot and form alliances. This form of repression by the government is masked as entertainment. It's disturbing, but since it's geared towards Young Adult readers, not graphic. It was an incredibly suspenseful book and I kept flipping pages in anticipation of what could possibly happen next. My only complaint is that it's the first book in a series when I thought it was a stand-alone novel and according to my searches, the second book doesn't come out until September 1st. That just makes me crabby. If I'm going to start a series, I want to be able to move from one book to the next, without having to set some sort of reminder for myself to remember to look for the second book when it comes out. I'm totally going to do it, but it makes me grouchy like an old man.
As another endorsement for this book, it won a Cybil award last year for the best Fantasy and Science Fiction novel. These awards are given by bloggers who read children and young adult books either as parents, librarians, authors, teachers or others. If you don't care about awards, it's still a good read. Put your mind in the world disaster/post-apocalyptic zone and take it for a spin.