This isn't actually the 100th book I've read this year since I'm still behind on a few reviews but I wanted review 100 to be coherent rather than a collection of paragraphs about books I read in April and barely remember. I haven't been living behind a rock so I've heard quite a bit about this novel, and how good it is. After being in Iraq for a few weeks and barely having time to read, I figured this would be the perfect novel to get me back into reading: from all the other reviews, I knew it was a well-written, well-thought out and thought-provoking novel, but since it still falls into the young adult category, I figured it would also be rather easy to get into.
The other reviews were, of course, correct: this is very well done. In fact, I really wouldn't think of it as young adult fiction necessarily even though the protagonist is a teen or young adult. Mostly, it's just a good story. The last novel I completed before this was Atwood's The Year of the Flood, so apparently I'm into dystopian futures at the moment. However, if anything, I would say the set-up here is more similar to the show Firefly since there are is the Capitol (or Panem) that controls all the other surrounding districts and exploits them, especially after they unsuccessfully fought for their freedom. The Hunger Games has a darker twist than Firefly, though (or at least, the government is more obvious and perverse in exhibiting its control) - as punishment for the failed uprising, each of the remaining twelve districts must give up two tributes, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 17 to participate in the annual Hunger Games.
The narrator, Katniss, is 16, and the odds are not exactly in her favor due to her age (the older the child is, the more times their name is entered) but it is her 12 year old sister, Prim, with her single entry who is called to be a tribute. Katniss volunteers to take her place, and Peeta, the baker's youngest son, ends up being the male tribute of District 12. They have not had much interaction in the past, and Katniss does not know what to make of him, especially when he confesses his love for her on live television in the Capitol. However, between this starcrossed lovers bit, and their fashion designers' skill, Katniss and Peeta become very popular before the games begin, which means they have a greater chance of survival since sponsors can buy things and have them dropped into the arena.
Once the Games begin, the novel basically becomes a study of human nature - what someone will do to survive, how loyalties are formed, alliances built and destroyed, and self-sacrifice. Katniss becomes allies with a 12 year old girl from District 11 because she reminds her of her sister, and this leads to one of the more heartbreaking scenes in the novel (actually, I was worried there would be more heartwrenching death scenes than there were - when Collins describes the chosen tributes, she includes tiny Rue, a boy with malformed foot and a few others whose selection seems even more unfair than the rest). Of course, Peeta also ends up playing a big role, and the technology that the Capitol possesses that is on display in the arena is awe-inspiring, making the juxtaposition between the poverty of the districts and the decadence of the Capitol even more obvious.
While this could definitely work as a stand-alone novel, Collins has created a trilogy and as the series progresses, she will really start exploring the larger political implications and issues at play. While all the novels are very personal since they are from Katniss's perspective, this one has the most contained setting, even if it does give a good introduction to the disparity, the injustices and oppression that exist in this country. (I have to say I'm not sure how well I succeeded with the coherence bit here . . . can I blame the fact that I barely got any sleep last night because I couldn't stop reading Mockingjay, the last book of the trilogy?)