Ever since Harry Potter, I have spent my time trying to find books with characters I love as though they were my own friends, and with a plot so real that I felt it could actually be happening. Most books disappoint me in this area and I've had to settle for a lot of mediocrity. But not this time. Hunger Games drew me so far into its world I didn't want to leave!
Hunger Games is set in the future where North America has been turned into a country called Panem, separated into 12 districts and the Capitol. As if constant hunger wasn't bad enough, the districts are constantly reminded of the "Dark Days", when they rebelled against the Capitol, by punishing their children in the Hunger Games. Every year each District must send one boy and one girl to the Capitol to take part in these Games where they must fight each other to their deaths. The winner is the child who comes out alive, having presumably killed all the others. The Hunger Games is reality TV at its very extreme; mere entertainment for the wealthy and pampered residents of the Captitol, but torturous for the Districts, who have to watch their children year by year go off to the Capitol to be killed.
This book starts on the day of the Reeping, where the teenagers who will enter the Games are chosen at random throughout the districts. We follow Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl of District 12. Katniss has been scarred deeply by the death of her father in a mining disaster several years ago and since then has been breaking the laws of Panem by hunting animals in the forest in order to feed her starving family. You can't help but feel for Katniss, who has lost so much and tries so hard to care for her family, and when her little sister Prim is chosen in the Reeping, you can understand why she volunteers to take her place. And so the story follows her, along with fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta, as they head off to the luxurious Capitol, and finally head into the Hunger Games where you will be unable to put the book down, waiting to see if/how Katniss will survive.
This might all sound a bit morbid and violent and that was definitely a big concern for me when the concept of the Games was first introduced. But I read on anyway and was pleased discover that it was written so well that it didn't feel morbid at all. Yes, people died and yes the idea of the games is horrific. But it's not written in a way that makes you feel sick; instead you follow Katniss as her mind gradually opens to the idea that the world she lives in is highly unfair. It's not a constant bloodbath where murder is just something you have to do; anyone that Katniss kills, she does so with a heavy heart and realises quite quickly the awful consequences of taking someone's life. It also relates to so many aspects of our own world, and it's not a far stretch to imagine some time in the distant future a society like this, so instead of it being a morbid tale of death and injustice, it's actually incredibly telling about the world in which we live.
All of this is brightened up with light-hearted moments and some brilliant characters: I loved Cinna, the stylist, who is incredibly creative; I enjoyed drunken Haymitch, the only Tribute from District 12 who ever came back alive, who is enlisted to help Katniss and Peeta and has a hidden depth that may surprise you; Peeta brings a certain amount of humour to the story, but also a wisdom that is beyond Katniss. Add to that Career Tributes, from Districts 1, 2, and 4 who have spent their lives training for the Games and see it as a great honour; a would-be love-triangle; and a main character you will feel for not because she's pathetic or a damsel in distress character - she's neither of these things, but because she is feisty and fighting so hard to find justice in a world that has little, you can't help but hope she succeeds.
So what with the characters I felt I knew personally, a plot that seemed so real I came out of the book in a daze, and enough pace and action to keep me wanting more, I found myself reading this book at every possible moment and hating every second I spent away from it! Absolutely brilliant book that I didn't want to finish, and I look forward to seeing the film adaptation next year!