"There's some confusion on the stage. District 12 hasn't had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has become rusty. The rule is that onece a tribute's name has been pulled from the ball, another eligible boy, if a boy's name has been read, or a girl, if a girl's name has been read, can step forward to take his or her place. In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated. But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct." -- From The Hunger Games
Imagine North America in the distant future...a place called Panem. It's divvied up into 13 Districts (well, make that 12--the 13th was destroyed by the Capitol when it tried to rebel). Each District creates, harvests or mines a speciality...espressly for the use of the Capitol residents (located near the Rockies). In this world, there are genetically altered animals and humans (sometimes, mashed together) called "muttations", as well as high-tech devices and machines...some that even control the weather. There is also abject poverty and hunger and disease...but not in the comfy, colorful, all-your-desires-at-the-touch-of-a-button Capitol.
Every year, to remind the Districts of the absolute power of the Capitol--and the repurcussions of the past insurgence--there is the Hunger Games. It starts with a lottery of girls and boys ages 12-18. For each year, a child's name goes in an additional time. With many hungry, children put there name in multiple times in order to get precious grain and oil to feed their families for a year. Of course, this means a greater chance to be chosen as a tribute...
What's the Hunger Games, exactly? Well, 24 children--a boy and a girl from each District--is chosen to compete to the death. Only one can survive. Tributes don't know what the terrain will be--it could be desert or arctic or forest or some other hellish landscape. The Gamemakers boobytrap the area with disasters or unleash one of the vicious "muttations" into the arena. And weapons are provided. If you can get your hand on them before being killed by a fellow tribute or land mines or other traps...
Oh, and it's televised. And it's been going on for 74 years.
In fact, each tribute can get "sponsors", depending on how the stylist makes them look during the entrance, the success of the personal interview, the score the Gamemakers give during the private exhibition before the Games, etc. Sponsorship, and the "gifts" that are delivered via silver parachute, can mean the difference between life and death during the Hunger Games.
But somehow, author Suzanne Collins makes The Hunger Games much more than just a post-apocalyptic, dystopian YA book. Somehow, this books has HEART...even among the violence, cruelty and dispair. The main character (and she IS a heroine in every sense of the word) Katniss Everdeen wins you over almost immediately. Peeta Mellark is equally likable.
The names, the memorable characters, the descriptions, the plot, the pacing, this believable, mesmerizing futuristic North American world--everything about this book is superb. In fact, I can't remember the last time I read a real "page turner"--an honest-to-goodness, OMG, I can't stop reading, page-turner. And my husband felt the same way! He devoured both this book and book 2 (Catching Fire). And we have Mockingjay on pre-order. (I'm reading Catching Fire now. WOW. This looks to be as good as Book 1, The Hunger Games!).
Even if you can't stomach violence very well, especially with children, you will still love The Hunger Games. (My husband couldn't finish The Maze Runner and he was almost at the very end of that book. Yet, he ADORES The Hunger Games!). Having said that, I wouldn't let my pre-teen read this book. It's at the far end of PG-13--or even R. (If it were a realistic movie, it would have to be R.)
I never, ever re-read fiction books and yet, I'm longing to go back and re-read The Hunger Games already. Highly, highly recommended!