My first exposure to The Hunger Games was on my trip to Disney World this January, though I didn't realize it for months. My sister-in-law was reading the third book in the series (and reacting strongly, nearly shouting at it). I thought it was funny, but didn't think much of it. Historically, there hasn't been much overlap between the books I read and the books that girls read.
Then another friend strongly recommended the series, and my sister-in-law let me know that it was the same series that she had read at Disney World, so I decided to give it a shot. And let me tell you, I was utterly blown away.
Right from the beginning, Suzanne Collins did an amazing job of quickly and effectively painting the desperation of the world of the main character, Katniss Everdeen. If you're unfamiliar with the plot, she finds herself drafted into a horrible contest: The Hunger Games, a fight to the death among several children selected at random from across the country. The story follows her journey from being thrust into the contest, to meeting her competitors and allies, and through the immeasurable tension and panic of the fighting in the arena.
Though the book was recommended to me by a pair of girls (cootie condition unknown), the story doesn't strike me as girly at all. The main character is a strong female, but the story is tragic, violent, and unromantic.
The supporting characters are perfectly framed to their purposes in the book. Allies are sympathetic and supportive in their own various ways, while rivals are competitive and aggressive. Maybe the most impressive accomplishment of this author, though, is that despite their sometimes brief introductions, and the fact that most of them come up in the context of the Hunger Games competition, every competitor in the Hunger Games is decidedly human. While they're strikingly villainous, they're always presented in such a way that you could potentially see a decent person driven to their various acts of barbarism, through the madness and brutality of the competition.
I can't really say enough about how much I loved this book. I would recommend it to literally everybody. One potential stumbling block is that I know that violence among youths is something that some readers will have trouble getting past. The only thing I'll say is that it has to be that way. If the contest were between adults, it wouldn't be as tragic and as barbaric, and the story wouldn't be so completely engrossing. I suppose I'd understand if someone wasn't comfortable with the concept, but I'd still recommend the book.
The Last Word - Incredible. The best book I've read in a long time.
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