The Hunger Games

Alright, I get it. I waited for a long time before diving in to this series phenomenon, but I totally get it. It's fast-paced, compelling, exciting, and still has heart. If I had jumped on the bandwagon sooner, I totally would have been one of those people to have my copy of Mockingjay reserved for a midnight pick-up and while I may not have actually worn a mockingjay temporary tattoo, I totally would have asked for one. (I actually found a similar one from HP7 tucked in my copy when I re-read it before the movie release.) I must say, however, that I'm incredibly pleased that for once, I'm not entering a series in the middle and devouring a stack of books, only to impatiently wait for more new releases. At least I had a complete set to tear through in a matter of days -- and even when I started reading, I could tell this would be a book-a-day spree for me.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, where she all but supports her mother and younger sister (Prim, short for Primrose) by illegally hunting in the forest outside the district's fence. Her father died years ago in a coal mining explosion and her mother briefly checked out in her grief before mentally returning to care for her daughters, though Katniss has yet to really forgive her mother for the lapse. This is a post-apocalyptic world and District 12 is located in what was formerly Appalachia, within the country of Panem (formerly North America). The government is concentrated in a central city called the Capitol, which dictates all law to the twelve existing districts. In the history of Panem, an uprising against the government more than seventy years ago resulted in the complete annihilation of District 13 and to prove that the Capitol still has total sway over the lives of every person in every district, the Hunger Games were established.

The Hunger Games are a yearly televised event where twenty-four tributes (a boy and girl from each district, selected by "random" lottery) must fight to the death over the course of a few days or even weeks while simultaneously trying to keep themselves fed and safe from whatever other tricks the arena might have to keep them on their toes. (Each person in the district has their name entered into the lottery when they turn twelve -- and they can choose to take on more chances in exchange for a ration of food to help feed their families.) The sole survivor of each year's Hunger Games will be set for life -- a home, money, fame, and a "job" as coach for the future tributes from their district -- but the games are brutal and while those in the Capitol might cheer and applaud and watch with rapt attention as teenagers fight and die, everyone in the Districts watches because the viewing is compulsory.

This year, when they call the name of the first tribute from District 12, it's Prim. Her first time in the lottery with only one chance of being called... Prim. Almost immediately, Katniss insists on taking Prim's place (which is an option), refusing to let her little sister even be considered. The selected male tribute is named Peeta, the baker's youngest son, and Katniss has had next to no contact with him in the past -- save for one very memorable occasion where she was on the verge of starving and he purposely burned two loaves of bread so he could toss them to her. Now, Katniss knows that she might have to kill the boy with the bread if she hopes to make it home, so she tries her best to put some distance between herself and Peeta, though he remains friendly enough towards her. She wonders if this is his strategy, as others have employed before him -- to come off as harmless until the end when true killing colors are displayed. Katniss and Peeta are taken off to the Capitol where they're given a team of stylists, fed, and play to the cameras. They are paraded around and interviewed -- and even when fighting for their lives within the arena, they still need to concern themselves about "sponsors" that might pay to supply a tribute with a gift within the arena (food, water, medicine, or some such item). Katniss has no idea how she might survive -- until suddenly, an angle for their joint participation is foisted upon her. Katniss has to decide if she can keep up the charade and keep herself alive at the same time.

From page one, this is an incredibly compelling story and there was hardly a moment to breathe as you are swept along with Katniss through her district and to the Capitol, where you're tossed into the games... at which point I somehow managed to read even faster. Katniss is no wilting or pandering heroine and even when being coached for the cameras before the games, her mentor has no idea what angle to work with a girl who clearly despises everyone around her. But she is strong, tough, and unpredictable... with a deep capacity for love (as demonstrated by her immediate selfless act to replace her sister) that she keeps closely guarded. The Hunger Games are no place to become attached to fellow contestants and the reader believes that if anyone is capable of surviving the games through a mixture of skill and cunning, it could very well be this girl from District 12. Peeta, meanwhile, is seen through Katniss's eyes as a threat. Not only might he be playing some kind of angle in his sweet-fellow attitude, but Katniss fears caring about the boy if she'll ultimately end up having to kill him. When only one tribute can remain standing as the victor, Katniss must focus her attention on using her skills to her best advantage and returning home alive.

If you haven't read them yet, you're in for quite a treat. The Hunger Games and its accompanying two books should not be missed.

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