I love a good dystopian novel. Love, love, love. I remember the first I ever read - "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. That was the first time I remember thinking, What if it's NOT gonna be all sunshine & ponies when I grow up? (I was 11.)
"The Hunger Games" is an excellent recent dystopian novel that I couldn't put down. Seriously, I found myself actually being sad when I had to stop reading to go to bed or go to work. The United States is now Panem, a collection of Districts controlled by the Capitol, a remote, wealthy city nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Once, the Districts rebelled and fought the Capitol, which struck back and completely obliterated the 13th District. Now, in remembrance of the battle, and to remind the Districts who's in control, there is an annual competition held called the Hunger Games. Every District has a lottery to choose two "tributes," or competitors, to send to an arena for a battle to the death (a la "Battle Royale"); the winner's District receives gifts of necessities such as oil and grain - things most Districts sorely lack. These tributes, by the way, are ages 12-18. The Hunger Games are broadcast nationwide, and the tributes get sponsors to help them by gifting them with things like food and medicine during the games. But in the end, only one Tribute can win.
Katniss Everdeen is a resident of District 12, a mining district located in Appalachia. She's a huntress; she's learned to hunt, trap, and kill in order to keep her mother and younger sister, Primrose, from starving to death. Theirs is a poor district, where most die young of hunger, and a winner in the Hunger Games would mean life for all. On the eve of the latest Hunger Games lottery, Katniss is hoping that her name won't be drawn, so that she can remain with her family and continue to provide for them. She gets her wish; unfortunately, she is safe because the name drawn for the girl tribute is Primrose.
Without any hesitation or thought, Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place. The boy tribute selected is Peeta Mellark, a baker's son who is in Katniss's year at school. Peeta and Katniss are not close but share a small connection: once, when Katniss was on the verge of death from starvation, Peeta saved her by throwing her two burnt loaves that he intentionally dropped in the fire, resulting in a beating from his mother. Despite her gratitude for the gesture, Katniss is wary of growing close to Peeta - after all, only one Tribute will survive the Games.
Katniss and Peeta are whisked off to the Capitol, where an old winning tribute from their district, Haymitch, will be their mentor as they prepare for the games. Katniss is highly skilled with a bow and arrow, and her time spent in the woods learning different plants and how to string up traps and stalk prey could help her, depending on what arena they end up in. With the help of her mentor and a stylist team chosen to give her an image that will pull in sponsors during the games, Katniss becomes a favored tribute. Meanwhile, Peeta plays up the angle of a lovelorn tribute, stating his feelings for Katniss, but she is unsure of whether he's being honest or if it's a plan he and Haymitch drew up to make him more sympathetic to viewers.
The Games begin, and Katniss quickly finds herself on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of those who would kill her. And then, at a critical point in the Games, an announcement is made that changes the rules, and Katniss discovers that her feelings for Peeta aren't as clear as she thought.
I could say so much about this book, and just in recapping I almost did. But honestly, if you want to know what happens, I recommend you read the book yourself. The story doesn't telegraph what's coming next; and as it unfolds from the lottery drawing to the training to the Games, you catch glimpses of Panem and descriptions of what life is like in the Districts. I can't wait to read the second book, which I'm hoping has more backstory on what happened to create Panem.
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