'The Hunger Games' is the first in a series of three by Suzanne Collins. It is set in some kind of post-apocalyptic North America where a dictatorship now has control over 12 provinces. Each province specialises in producing a commodity. The main character, Katniss, is 16 and lives in the province that produces coal. When she was 11 her father died in mining accident and ever since she has illegally hunted on the outskirts of her province to provide food for her sister and mother.
The premise of this book is horrible. Each year, 12 boys and 12 girls, between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen to represent their province in a reality TV show called the 'The Hunger Games'. The only rule is to kill or be killed.
This year as the names are read out Katniss is horrified when her younger sister's name is called out. Katniss steps in to replace her sister, knowing that her chances of survival are slim. Her province has only ever had one winner. Katniss and her male competitor, Peeta, are transported to the Capitol where they are met by a team of stylists who will create a 'look' for them to wear to the opening ceremony. They are also assessed in a number of different tasks and given a score according to how well they perform.
This all matters because how you are perceived by the TV audience and the chances that are given of your survival affect the betting odds. And you want to have supporters on the outside who are keen to see you survive. Sponsors are allowed to give you timely gifts that will prolong your survival once in the games arena.
Once the games begin is it is a tense adventure story of this girl's survival. In many ways it felt like a gruesome version of that movie 'The Truman Show' (1998), where Truman's life is controlled by the show's producer. Weather is controlled, fires are started, all to get the competitors moving, to keep the show interesting for the viewers, to see people die.
Katniss understands this dynamic and uses it to her advantage by faking a romance with the boy, Peeta, who is from her province. She realises that a romance story is more likely to keep her in the game for longer - the producers will be interested in protecting this storyline. However, there is a boy on the outside who she actually really likes.
Even though this is a horrible concept, I have to admit that I got quite sucked into this story of survival. I was interested by a world where all sense of right and wrong is gone. Where meeting the needs of the viewing public is paramount - where life starts to have no value.
This is a book aimed at young adults. There isn't anything overtly sexual, but the concepts are heavy - death is all through the book and the violence is significant. I'm not sure who I would recommend this for - maybe 14 +? The back of the book says 11+, but I wouldn't be thrilled about my 11yo reading it. And it's definitely a girl's book.