Set at some unspecified time in the future, in the place where the US (and possibly Canada and Mexico) used to exist, this teenaged dystopian novel weds the current fascination with reality tv and brutal, to-the-death competition. Every year The Capitol chooses by lottery a boy and a girl to represent each of the remaining 12 Districts (District 13 is apparently a wasteland after their unadvisable rebellion against The Capitol) in the Hunger Games. The idea is that these kids will fight to the death, leaving only one standing and reminding the Districts of the futility and high cost of further rebellion. To the winner and to the District from which the contestant comes will accrue many accolades and perks. Katniss is from District 12, one of the poorest districts, a place that has known famine and desperation almost its entire existence. Her father was killed in a mine explosion when she was small and she has turned to hunting illegally to help her mother and sweet-natured younger sister survive. When her sister Prim's name is during the reaping as the female tribute to the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The male tribute from District 12 is Peeta, the baker's son who once upon a time saved Katniss from starving and who has long had feelings for her.
And so the two presumed sacrificial teens (District 12 almost never produces a winner) head to The Capitol to take part in the pomp and gore of the pre-Games and Game themselves. Their handlers present them spectacularly and market them as a love story, hopefully earning them sponsors who will help them during the Games with potentially lifesaving gifts. And then Katniss and Peeta must face the murderous intent of the other competitors, all of whom are in the fight of their lives, killing or being killed. As they hunt each other down, alliances are formed and broken, survival skills are tested, and inner strength is made manifest.
The characters, aside from Katniss and Peeta, are mere sketches and very few of the other tributes are ever even mentioned by name or distinguished in any way. The handlers and previous District 12 winner are all given a few tantalizing comments but those hints of interest are never elaborated on (and a friend said that they are not followed up on in the following two books either) and so their motivations remain in shadow. Although the premise is that the tributes have to fight to the death, Katniss is saved from having to kill anyone she cares about and in fact, is given a mercy killing to perform, exempting her from most of the moral quandry that she seems to suffer anyway. I didn't find her a particularly likable character and her connection with Peeta seems almost entirely selfish. The political situation which has given rise to the Hunger Games remains a question as if it is enough to know that the situation exists without knowing anything else. However, that makes is rather hard to know what exactly it is that Katniss and Peeta are fighting against besides generalized inequality. Although this is but the first of a trilogy, I don't have any great burning desire to find out what happens to Katniss and Peeta as they continue to battle The Capitol as they surely must. I thoroughly liked Collin's younger reader series starting with Gregor the Overlander and found it far more original and intriguing than this one although countless numbers of folks disagree (including my entire bookclub).