The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
From the book jacket:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Collins does a great job of making you feel Katniss’s world with her. You can feel her desperation, resolve and strength as she fights to feed her family and to keep her little sister safe in a bleak and dangerous world. You can feel her frustration at the way things are and her inability to do anything about it. You can feel her fear, confusion and conflict when she is thrust into an impossible situation where she will have to literally kill or be killed but she can’t help but admire the food, beautiful clothing and all the wonderful sights she has never seen before. Or knowing that the only one who may know how she feels is a boy who will be in the same life or death struggle so she is afraid to befriend him. The characters all around Katniss are interesting too. They somehow manage to be well developed even though some of them have only small parts. And the people that are helping to run the Hunger Games are so real and quirky that you can’t hate them even though you feel like you should. Even Katniss can’t help but like a man who is dressing her for her death. The very world that these people live in where the government is really out to get you, where trying to feed your family can get you killed, and where The Hunger Games can go on and people treat it like a holiday makes your skin crawl. You want to see them rise up and take their lives back but at the same time you can see why it would be impossible for them to do that. You can understand Katniss’s turmoil because sometimes you feel it yourself. Katniss knows that the way things are is wrong but she does not know what the best thing to do about any of it is. The book is bleak and dark. Horrible, hard things happen. If you have read what the book is about it shouldn’t really come as a surprise but it is still something to think about before reading it yourself or giving it to too young a child. The ending is slightly abrupt. It does bring this chapter in the characters lives to a close but there is obviously more to come. And though I think you will want to know what happens to them next the story has enough of an ending that it will not feel incomplete when you finish the book.