After the apocalypse has ravaged the world, the scattered and broken remnants eventually regroup. Survivors work to reform some semblance of a society. However, some view this as an opportunity to seize power and control. In the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we find a new country called Panem has established itself in North America. It is arranged into a central city called the Capitol, where the rich and powerful live in comfort and ease, and a number of outlying, scattered Districts. Here the working class exist solely to provide the resources needed for the citizens of the Capitol. At one point long ago, there were 13 of these controlled and gated Districts. During an uprising, one was razed and the people brutally exterminated. A clear lesson was delivered on the price of revolt. The remaining 12 Districts now toe a thin, brutal line to survive.
One element of the Capitol regime's control is the annual Hunger Games. Here, every child between the ages of 12 and 18 is entered into a human lottery. From each District, one boy and one girl are selected. The 24 children are taken from their families amidst great pagentry and put into an outdoor arena to fight to the death. 24 enter - only 1 can leave. That one and their family will live out their lives back in their District in comfort and substance. The "festivities" of the games are broadcast across Panem to serve two distinct purposes. One to send a clear message to the Districts of who has the real power. The second is for the amusement of those in the Capitol. To them it is all one big, fun show, something like a mixing of the Olympics and the gladiator battles in the Roman Coliseum. To keep things moving along and exciting, the organizers force the contestants (referred to as tributes) to directly engage one another when things get too slow and the television ratings begin to sag. They do this by controlling every facet in the arena from the climate to the availability of food and water.
The Hunger Games (this year is the 74th) follow the plight of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. She survives her paultry, meager, wanting life in District 12, where her father was recently lost in a mining accident, and has had to learn to provide for her mother and sister. When her beloved younger sister Prim is selected as the girl to represent District 12 in the games, Katniss takes her place. We then follow along with Katniss as she heads off to the games. Her life now depends on using every survival skill and instinct she has learned back in District 12. Ultimately she is declared the winner of this year's games after the other contestants are killed. The problem is that through some deceipt, where she pretended to fall in love with her fellow District 12 tribute, both were allowed to survive the games. This is unheard of. She played this game for their survival, but the repercussions of mockery and defiance against the Capitol and their system of control begin.
In the Hunger Games, Collins created a world that was so painfully real. Throughout it all, she develops a hero who is not a ruthless cutthroat, but instead a real little girl who has to grow up and rely on herself. She has to learn how to step out of the limited existence that she knows, to give into the system without giving herself away. A highly recommended read that you won't be able to put down. Now on to the second book of the trilogy, Catching Fire.