Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 of Panem, a post-apocalyptic North America divided into 12 districts. District 12 is a poor district with coal mining as its primary industry. Since her father's death in the mines, Katniss has served as head of her family, which includes her mother and younger sister, Prim. Katniss hunts in the woods with her friend Gale, and trades some of the meat in the market in order to meet most of the family's needs. Katniss is a tough cookie, having had to grow up far too soon. She resents her mother, who fell into deep depression when her husband died. But she adores Prim and would do anything for her.
In this dystopian world there is an annual tournament, known as The Hunger Games, in which two youths from each district compete. There's just one thing: the winner of the competition is the one who survives. The children are chosen by lottery -- one boy and one girl from each district -- and are then whisked away to the Capitol to prepare for the games. When Prim's name is drawn, Katniss instantly steps in to take her place. She is accompanied by Peeta, a boy she barely knows, but who has apparently had eyes for Katniss for a very long time. Katniss' feelings are conflicted: on the one hand, she feels quite vulnerable and needs a friend; on the other, she knows they will soon be fighting against each other for their lives. When they arrive at the Capitol they go through training programs, make public appearances, and develop their strategy with help from District 12 mentors.
And then the games begin, and my plot summary ends. The story is filled with suspense, and even though I had a suspicion that things would turn out OK, at no time was I certain. The premise is frightening and yet, in my bleaker moments, I can almost envision a world that puts their children at risk in this way. The contestants are faced with a myriad of moral dilemmas that could be thought-provoking for the reader -- especially the young adults for whom this book is written. There's now a sequel to The Hunger Games, and I liked this first book well enough to be interested in a second helping. ( )