Imagine fighting to the death just so your loved ones could eat. We who have food on our table take it for granted, but not Katniss Everdeen, 16-year-old resident of District 12 in the country of Panem, a make-believe world where hunger, poverty and deprivation are everyday occurrences. The Capitol, Panem's Ruling District, has decreed that the 12 districts, as an indelible, chilling reminder of a quelled rebellion by District 13 against the Big C, should send one boy and one girl, aged 12-18, every year, to compete in The Hunger Games, a live action TV reality show broadcast throughout Panem. But The Hunger Games are no "Survivor", "Amazing Race", or "Wipeout." Competitors aren't just eliminated, they are murdered. The victor, the last man (or woman) standing, gets the ultimate prize: food for his/her district for one year.
I just described the Games. Wait till you meet the characters. Katniss, a coal miner's daughter, volunteered to compete in her 12-year-old sister's place. Her male counterpart is Peeta Mellark, a baker's son, who confesses on National TV that he's had a crush on Katniss since they were five. Media hype or true love? That's for the rabid televiewers to decide, and they seem to love the idea of star-crossed lovers with only one, or none, surviving in the finale. Katniss and Peeta, along with 22 other contenders, battle natural and artificial disasters, and each other, but in the end, the real enemy, The Capitol, becomes the target of social unrest once again. What happens next is in book 2 of the trilogy, Catching Fire.
As adventure stories go, this belongs to the family of "dystopian" literature where an alternate world is viewed as dark and depressing, where the characters are forced to compromise their very human nature due to their dire circumstances. William Golding's classic "Lord of the Flies" is an example, where boy scouts stranded in an island gradually lose their civility in the battle for jungle supremacy. Collins wrote a gem of a young adult novel, balancing bittersweet romance with often brutal cunning. Whether she intended it or not, The Hunger Games is a commentary on a materialistic society that preys on young people, making them crave, claw, and clamor, and in the process, lose their dignity and humanity.
Like the garden variety reality shows that smell suspiciously scripted,The Hunger Games has its contrived moments, beginning from the lottery that brought about Peeta and Prim's names, and Katniss' volunteerism. Put that aside, the book is a beautifully-written, character-intensive, techno-adventure novel teeming with love for family and simple joys of living. Older teens (15-19) will surely like it, and jump right into the sequel.