Written by Suzanne Collins and published in 2008, The Hunger Games is an Action-Adventure-Dystopian-Science Fiction novel set in post-apocalyptic North America, and follows the story of a teenage girl named Katniss Everdeen, as she fights to survive the annual Hunger Games, where two-dozen contestants fight to the death...and only one can survive.
In the first act, we see that 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen has had a tough life growing up very poor, on the brink of starvation most of her life, in a region called The Seam. Post-apocalyptic North America has been reconstructed as the country of Panem, split into 13 districts and the Capitol. Katniss lives -- or rather, scrapes by -- in the coal industry-driven District 12, where life is hard and the people starve, relying on each other for survival most times.
Katniss knows her way with archery, and uses this talent for hunting with her lifelong friend Gale in the forests of District 12. Of course, hunting is illegal, but it is a risk that she is willing to take to keep her mother and sister from starving since her father died in an accident many years earlier. Katniss alone has kept her family afloat since then. The progression of the characters is smooth, and the connection between Katniss and her younger sister Prim is well established, even in the short amount of time the book spends focusing on the subject.
Times get particularly uncertain near the annual Hunger Games, which has a long history. A long time ago, the districts of Panem rebelled against the Capitol, and were horribly defeated, with District 13 being completely eradicated. Now, as punishment for the rebellion, once a year each district must randomly select one girl and one boy (known as Tributes once selected) to participate in the dreaded Hunger Games. Twenty-four Tributes in total, they are trapped in a massive arena and must fight to the death until only one remains, and the victor will be rewarded with lifelong fame and fortune.
This year, Katniss is unfortunate enough to get randomly selected as District 12's female Tribute, and is transported to the Capitol along with the districts' male Tribute, Peeta. The history between the two is sparse, and yet the chemistry between them is strong from the start. That goes for all of the characters, really; this is a world that feels real, and it is brought to such life by how well the characters interact with one another.
After arriving at the Capitol, it's not long before training begins. Katniss and Peeta are mentored by previous Hunger Games victor Haymitch, who may not seem like much at first, but is easily one of the best characters in the novel. His creative tactics and commanding demeanor push all original expectations of him to the side
The novel keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace, never lingering on one subject for too long or describing in too much detail. It keeps the writing from getting too bogged down and there is almost no fluff to be found, and this is perhaps one of the greatest successes of the novel.
By the second act, the Hunger Games have started and the twenty-four Tributes must simply survive, and be the last one left standing. The arena is huge, enough so that the Games can last weeks at a time due to the Tributes being able to put a lot of ground between each other. Often times, the Tributes spend their time waiting for the perfect time to strike against their foes. Some however, make alliances with each other, no matter how temporary those alliances may be. Katniss uses her many years of surviving in District 12 to her advantage in the arena, as her survival experience far exceeds that of the average Tribute. None can hunt or forage like her, and most importantly, no one is as good with a bow as her.
Obviously, other Tributes are not the only challenge. Merely keeping from starving is an ever-present priority, and Katniss is clearly fit for the task. Interactions with other Tributes are not too common, but they always remain well connected with the story. Each one feels unique, with their own tactics and reputations within the arena and are viewed by others accordingly. Katniss finds a close partnership with a 12 year-old girl named Rue, who reminds the former of her younger sister Prim at every turn. The relationship between Katniss and Rue is very well written, and progresses just as naturally as it feels like it should.
However, no other relationship in the story feels as natural as the one that grows between Katniss and Peeta in the novels' third act. Through complicated circumstances, the two find each other and an excellently written tale of love begins to form in the middle of an otherwise gritty endeavor. It had been slowly building up since the beginning, but it finally comes together very organically, and it does not seem forced. And yet, that is what The Hunger Games does best, cover to cover. It keeps the character progression steady, and most importantly, natural. It is a believable story, to say the least.
It is a real page turner, keeping the reader thoroughly immersed all the way to its enticing conclusion. There are indeed cliffhangers aplenty, and don't be surprised if you find yourself reading for many hours straight just to see what happens next in this perfectly paced and gripping novel.