In a futuristic society, the United States is divided into 12 districts, each based on their area's natural product. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, an area once known as Appalachia. District 12's product is coal. Almost everyone is a miner. It is not a wealthy area. Residents are forced to eat whatever they can find or pay with a chance on their child's life to obtain government surplus foods. Luckily Kat's father taught her how to hunt and gather before he was blown up in a mine explosion. After his death her family depends on her for survival, until the very worst thing happens to them: She is sent to the Hunger Games to represent District 12 in a fight to the death. If she wins, both her family and her district will be rewarded with all the food and wealth they need. Kat is ready to do battle with the wilderness and the other tributes, but she isn't ready to fall in love. What happens when she finds she has feelings for her partner and knows she must kill him to win the games?
This book was quite a surprise. I've actually been waiting a long time to read this, just because, after reading the description, I wasn't so sure I actually wanted to! But, after being told numerous times by tons of people to pick it up, I finally did. I was asked after reading it how I would briefly describe it... Survivor (To the Death edition) meets Lord of the Flies meets the Romans' gladiators... with children ages 12-18 as those thrust into the arena. I haven't read anything quite like it, and its something I would definitely suggest to others. Its a really quick read, because, if you're like me, it'll suck you in. Now on the the summary...
The story follows Katniss Everdeen (who, unlike in the description, is not referred to as Kat), a 16-year-old from District 12, the district farthest from the Capitol in the country of Panem, formerly known as North America. (The book never specifies if it was the United States or not.) The first part of the book you learn about Katniss, her life at the Seam (the outskirts of District 12, the coal-mining district), and her friends and family. She's a hunter, which is forbidden by the Capitol (one way they keep everyone in line and under their control), and these skills help her out when she enters the Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games themselves are something the Capitol devised to keep the people in all the districts under their thumb. They take place every year, in "remembrance" of those who died during the uprising of the Districts (there were 13, but District 13 was annihilated to basically just prove the Capitol was really that powerful). To choose the children who will participate in the Games, every year they hold a "reaping". Most of those in the outer Districts have their names put in as many times as possible, because they get a meager allotment of food from the Capitol in return for more entries. The child can enter their name one time for each family member. So, by the time some of the kids reach their last Reaping, they could have their name in the drawing 50, 60, 100 times! The children that are drawn from each District (one boy, one girl) are taken to the Capitol, where they receive star treatment and have short-lived celebrity lives. Only one child (out of the 24 who enter the arena that the Games take place in) will survive. The other children literally die off, one by one, either at the hands of the other children (hence the Lord of the Flies reference) or by the Gamemakers, the ones who design the arena. The arena itself can be anything from a poisonous meadow to an icy landscape, a jungle, anything that will give the viewers in the Capitol entertainment (hence the Roman arena reference).
The story itself if from Katniss' POV. Her life before the Games, after taking the place of her 12-year-old sister who's name is the one drawn out of all the girls in District 12, into the Games... I don't want to give too much away in case anyone reading this wants to read the book(s). Its engrossing, without grossing you out (the thought of reading about all these kids killing each other was one of the things that held me back... its not like that). I would pick it up if I were you.