North America is no more.  In its place is Panem, a brutal dicatorship run from a city called  the Capitol.  Panem is divided into districts.  A thirteenth had revolted and was obliterated by the Capitol.  In a cold display of power and repression, the Capital requires that each of the remaining twelve districts give up one girl and one boy tribute to the Hunger Games – a televised fight to the death marketed as sport and entertainment rather than the crippling intimidation and abuse of power that it is.

Each district holds a Hunger Games lottery – also televised.  All children ages 12-18 have their names added to the pool once each year.  Name are entered additional times in return for rations of food.  All entrances are cumulative.  The richest children will only have their names in the drawing 5 times when they are 18.  The poorest will have their names in the drawing ten times over.

This is the world of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12.  She lives in a poor mining community and provides for her family through illegal hunting since the death of her father.  That year’s lottery produces her 12-year-old sister’s name.  Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place and is soon on her way to the Capitol along with all of the other tributes.

The richer districts have raised their children specifically trained for the Hunger Games and hold the dubious honor of having more winners.  The poorer districts don’t have the means for such a luxury.  Katniss and Peeta, District 12’s male tribute, find themselves the underdogs in a game that only allows for one to live.  Katniss finds ways to rebel against  the powers while being forced to play their twisted game.

It’s been a long time since a book held me captive.  Collins has created strong, sympathetic characters struggling in a cruel, unfair world.  The reader gets to know Katniss well long before she is thrown into the arena.  While a YA novel, the battles are not glossed over.  Collins doesn’t let the reader shy away from the brutality displayed by children.  And this is where the novel excels.  The Capitol attempts to paint a bright, exciting picture, but underneath it is the deeply disturbing imagery of children hunting children.  Katniss hangs on to her humanity and displays as much of it as she dares to the powers that be without risking her life or the lives of others.

Here is a short film that takes a heartbreaking scene out of The Hunger Games.  It was intended as an audition piece, but the quality is impressive. It captures the spirit of the book.  SPOILER ALERT for those who haven’t read the novel.

***I’m looking forward to the upcoming film adaptation of The Hunger Games.  Jennifer Lawrence is a brilliant choice for Katniss.  Anyone undecided should watch Winter’s Bone.  Ree and Katniss are more alike than not, and I kept picturing Lawrence in the role. Forget her coloring – that can easily be altered and the book is vague on her ethnicity anyway.  (This is a girl whose mother and sister are blonde and blue-eyed.)  Collins herself is endorsing the casting choice.