The story takes place sometime in the distant future of an Earth-like world. Climate change has made resources scarce and after a series of wars, North America seems to have emerged as a new country called Panem consisting of the Capitol and 12 surrounding districts. The 13 district was crushed by the Capitol in a failed uprising. Each district has a specific function, for instance, district 12 mines the coal, district 11 grows food, etc., however, resources are scarce and most seem to go to the Capitol first. Starvation is common in many of the districts. A district may earn more food for a year by offering a "tribute" to the Hunger Games. A tribute is a child of the district between the age of 12 and 18 who is sent to the Capitol to battle the "tributes" from the other districts to the death in a huge arena that mimics a type of environment and is manipulated by the "game makers." Every year each district sends two tributes, 1 boy and 1 girl, to the Hunger Games from which only one can emerge victorious and 23 must die. The games are televised and people are encouraged to sponsor their favorite players. This adds a twist to the game play because if players win the favor of the audience, they may earn special items to help them in the game. It's like Survivor on steroids. Katniss and Peeta are the tributes from District 12, a district that has not produced a champion in over 30 years. Once the tributes are selected they are shipped off to the capitol and treated as the celebrities du jour. They are given make overs and weapons training and they are coached on strategies and how to win the favor of the audience. As it turns out, Peeta carries a torch for Katniss, which Katniss finds out during a public interview, and they are encouraged by their team of coaches to play up the romance angle to please the audience. It works. As violent as the game is, it is even more heartbreaking to see Peeta and Katniss's emotions manipulated for entertainment. Katniss is painfully aware throughout the games that she must not only survive but put on a good show. And is Peeta doing the same? Or does he really love her? And when the games are finally over, she realizes she can't continue to be the person she was in the arena yet she's unable to be who she was before.
Dystopian sci-fi often feels like cautionary tales, and there is a bit of that here, what with our thirst for 'reality' television, but I was too swept away by the horror of the games and the heartbreaking tale of Peeta and Katniss to tell if there were any fingers wagging at me.
Although you won't find The Hunger Games at the Marshall Lane Library, if you'd like to read something similar try The Giver, by Lois Lowry or The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, both of which can be found in the Marshall Lane Library.