Our narrator Katniss is a sixteen-year-old with a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders. With her father lost to a mining accident, and her mother too depressed to care for her and her beloved little sister, she is the only one in District 12 who can feed the family, which she does by illegally hunting in the woods with bow and arrow. In this dystopic future, North America has become ‘Panem’ and under this strict regime there are harsh punishments for those who disobey the rules; theft is punishable by death, and insurgents get their tongues cut off and are forced to become slaves in the Capitol, where the citizens live in plentiful luxury while the majority of the inhabitants of the twelve districts are literally starving to death. Ever since a distant revolt by the people, the Capitol have held The Hunger Games as a yearly event designed to dissuade further insurgence, by reminding the citizens of how expendable they are and of the power the Capitol exerts on them. To this end, this event is broadcast live on television and is compulsory viewing for all. Once a year, young persons from ages twelve to eighteen are entered in a lottery, with the children from the poorest families often having multiple entries (Katniss has over 40), from which a male and female from each of the twelve districts are chosen as contestants, or Tributes. The chosen ones are turned into media celebrities, then put in an arena where they must kill each other until the last standing Tribute is declared victor. When Katninss’ twelve-year-old sister Prim is picked as a contestant, our heroine steps up and volunteers to take her place. She then receives another shock when Peeta, a young man who once literally saved Katniss and her family from starvation by giving her a load of charred bread, is chosen as the boy Tribute as this means she will eventually have to kill him if she has any chance of winning the game and never having to see her family and loved ones having to face starvation again.
I found this story so compelling that I listened to it almost in record time. I should mention that I find descriptions of animals being harmed or killed difficult to bear, but it was acceptable in the context of this story, where hunting was a matter of basic survival. The play-by-play description of the Hunger Games was told in a matter-of-fact, yet empathetic way which made the idea of all the suffering and death by turns fascinating, horrifying and oddly satisfying. The developing relationship between Katniss and Peeta—meant to kill each other yet compelled to protect one another—made the story that much more poignant. Katniss is a believable heroine who, for all her dependability and well-developed survival instincts, is just a young girl, still discovering who she is and trying to work out her feelings amidst the turmoil and the slaughter. A winning combination. I’ve since read Catching Fire the second part of this trilogy, and itching to read the third and final instalment. Expect those reviews here soon.