The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
No real surprise that I loved this book, as it's right up my alley. If you liked Scott Westerfield's Uglies, you're probably right in the target audience for Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen lives in a post apocalyptic Appalachia, now called District 12, where the upper class keep stores in town, the underclass work in the mines, and everyone fights poverty and starvation. Their raw goods are shipped to the Capitol, which appears to be in the Denver area or somewhere like it, where the citizens live lives of luxury and excess, and enjoy their annual Hunger Games.
These require each District to send two children, drawn by lottery, into an arena to play Survivor - though rather than voting people off, the losers die. And you can have more than one loser a week, or even a day. When the action slows down, the Gamesmakers unleash firestorms, droughts, mutated animals, or whatever else they can dream up to get the action going again.
When Katniss's little sister has her name drawn for the Games, Katniss volunteers in her stead. What makes this premise effective is the concept of the Games, where the reader knows no one is safe and nothing is sacred. Toss in a bunch of sympathetic characters like Peeta, the other tribute from District 12 who has a heart of gold and a silver tongue, and Rue from District 11 who is a small child barely able to lift a weapon, and the stage is set for real drama.
I confess I did get annoyed whenever Katniss lucked out of a situation. It sometimes felt like the author pulled her punches, but you know what? The finale was so strong that I did not care one bit once I reached the end. I loved the resolution to the Games and the subsequent final note of the novel. Reading this was a great way to spend an afternoon.