Well, I've just finished one of the heavy-hitters for this season, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's a good book for discussion, because to me there's a lot to love but a few things to question, too. While some have said it's on the line between contending for the Newbery and Printz, I don't agree. I think this futuristic fantasy is YA all the way. I also think that for a potential award winner it's maybe a little more plot-driven than most. Alert: spoilers ahead.
The book is sort of "'The Lottery' meets reality TV." The premise takes some length to explain: The continent formerly known as North America has been battered into a much smaller land area by an assault of storms, droughts, fires, and rising oceans. As square mileage decreased, the battle for resources increased, bringing about a reorganization of the country, now called Panem, to a "shining Capitol" located in the Rockies surrounded by 13 Districts, a few economically okay, the rest scrambling to feed themselves. When the Districts banded together and made war on the Capitol, 12 were defeated and the 13th bombed off the map. The victorious Capitol handed down what was called The Treaty of Treason, giving new laws to keep the people under their thumb, the centerpiece of which is a tournament for ages 12-18 called The Hunger Games. Each district must provide one girl and one boy, chosen by lottery, as contestants. The 24 "tributes" are imprisoned in a huge outdoor arena of brutal terrain where they, very simply, fight to the death until one is left standing. Filled with ceremony, celebration, training and pageantry, the entire Hunger Games is broadcast on live TV, and is required viewing for all citizens of Panem, who are to (and do) consider it great sport.
Katniss, a sixteen-year-old girl from District 12, an area of Appalachia called the Seam, has spent her entire life trying to feed her family after the death of her father in the coal mines and the subsequent emotional crumbling of her mother. An ace with a bow and arrow, risking capture every day by illegal hunting, Katniss knows something about survival. She does not expect to win the Games, but of course we know she will. Trouble is, the boy from District 12, Peeta, is just as likable a character as Katniss, is in love with her, and we know there can only be one winner.
When the rules change to allow two winners, my first reaction was that this was horribly contrived. It isn't until Katniss and Peeta are the only two left standing that the rules change back, and at that point I understood it better. The first rule change, I believe, was faux, not real, done for ultimate audience entertainment: "Let's root for the two lovers to survive!" But the Capitol never had any intention of allowing more than one winner, I believe, and that's why it rescinds the rule change in the end. And Katniss outsmarts the Capitol, and both she and Peeta live.
I didn't know until I reached the end that this is the first of a trilogy. My first question was "What can come next?" My guesses: In Book 2, Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 as celebrities to train new District 12 tributes (the fate of Games winners), Katniss must choose between Peeta and the best guy friend she left behind, Gale, and she must face repercussions for having outsmarted the Capitol. In Book 3, I'll bet on a successful uprising that defeats the Capitol.
A number of grammatical errors surprised me. The first time "I" was used when "me" should have been, I fell completely out of the story and just sat there staring at it for a time, wondering if my eyes were deceiving me. And then it happened again. Still, the characters, world creation, and plot are original and gripping. The Hunger Games is outstanding among the competition, and is a fine bet to win the Printz Games.