The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2008.

I have been meaning to read this for a couple years. I thought again to read it after it was described by an enthusiastic librarian. It isn't quite what I expected, but interesting anyway. The title seems like a misnomer, but it is what the games are called in the story. To the officials the Hunger Games are a showy event and a declaration that the people must comply with the Capitol, the ruling city. To the contestants they are all too real, a fight to the death. The contestants have no say in the matter. So, the story is dark with a few hopeful moments, but always a reminder that it is a very dark situation. The juxtaposition of a survivalist contest (in the most literal sense) and the constant awareness of the audience watching and sponsors' expectation is surreal and creepy. The admiration of the viewers can apparently affect the results as well, as there are twists, new challenges and help from outside given to those deemed worthy.

From the beginning of the Games, I had the feeling that Katniss might play a part in changing the outcome of the Games. It is too soon to know if that is true. She forced a difference, but risking her life to do so. The cliffhanger ending stops before resolving much. The Games are over, but there is no clue to the future.

Katniss has been responsible for providing for her family in a destitute district for years. She is a huntress who barters her catches at the town market. It isn't legal, but condoned since she provides food where there is a scarcity. Because of this, she is prepared for the Games, prepared to be hunted by others who trained their whole lives to participate. Her only chance is to remain aware of her surroundings and outwit the strong. Alliances might help, but how can the others be trusted?

Despite the craziness, Katniss makes friends. She has to stay focused on being the lone survivor, but prompted by another's comment, she wishes to be guided by her own principles. Nearing the end of the event, she recognizes that the victor does not truly win. The winner is stuck with the memories.

Collins has done an excellent job of setting the stage. After only two short chapters, Katniss is already leaving home, a home you don't want her to leave, because there is such a strong bond to the people there. There are flashbacks which strengthen her obvious need to live and return. In the Games themselves, she makes strong enough connections that it doesn't seem possible that these people must die. Yet, how can it be otherwise? Circumstances are horrible. The pace moves things right along, as to not dwell too much on it. One challenge after another is met, though it almost seems there might be no survivors. The ending was a bit of a letdown, though there is obviously a next book.

related-survival, television programs, contests, interpersonal relations, science fiction
RL=YA, Squarely YA, due to violence, though I expect middle schoolers will read it, too.

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