The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
First, let me start out by saying that since I read Twilight, way back in the Spring of 2008, I have rarely picked up a book geared for adults. I've craved the angst, indecision, first romance, and sense of wonder you get from the eyes of a teen. (My therapist has a hey-day with this.) Plus, I've found that I really enjoy all things paranormal.(Disclaimer: While I am thankful for Twilight, as it opened my reading habits to the world of YA, I have read so many great books since that I am now completely underwhelmed by it. So for all of you still on the Edward train, I urge you to try something else in the genre... you'll be incredibly impressed by what else there is out there!)
Collins's series has been recommended to me time and time again, from many a reputable source, as well as many friends and colleagues from the library/book world and the non-library/book world. I resisted reading it for quite a while, I think mainly because it is marketed as "sci-fi"(ish), set in a dystopian world... and it didn't have any vampires or other fun things like that. But I finally gave in, and boy am I glad I did. I finished both books in a week, and now I am just distraught that I have to wait until August for the third and final book of the series, Mockingjay.
I don't like to give away any spoilers with my reviews, and it's hard not to while reviewing a book and its sequel. But I'll try. HG is set in the future following a time when there was an uprising in attempt to overthrow the government. In this time, innovations abound, but freedom does not. Divided into 12 districts, each of which specializing in a sort of trade like mining, agriculture, and the like, the people are kept by the government in almost starvation mode. Unless you live in The Capitol, you work hard to barely keep your family alive. To make matters worse, as a reminder to the people of who exactly is in charge, the Capitol holds "Hunger Games," in which two child representatives (one boy and one girl) between the ages of 12 and 18 are put into an arena, where they fight to the death... all while the rest of the world watches on television like a modern-day Survivor. Only they kill each other for real. And very savagely. The Victors are seen as heroes, as they win their district acclaim and resources, while the rest die shameful deaths while their families watch. Here's how it works - every year, from age 12 to 18, children enter their names essentially into a hat. To make it interesting, you have the option to get more rations of food/supplies from the government for adding your name additional times. So for main protagonist Katniss, whose father died in a mining accident leaving their family living even more meagerly, her name is already in there an abundance of times by the time she's 17.
Katniss is bold and wild, taught to hunt and survive by her father at an early age. She has her best friends in little sister Prim and the rugged Cute Older Boy Gale, who also serves as her hunting buddy. She's incredibly likable and developed well as a character, as are all the characters, and she serves as an example of an extremely strong and confident female. She's one of those who thinks only of providing for her family... no thoughts to love or romance or any of that stuff. As you probably have guessed, she ends up as a contestant in the Hunger Games. She goes into it strong and ready to kill or be killed, skilled as an archer and knowleadgable about the berries and game of the forest... but finds she was not ready in the least for what happens. Nor. Was I. Though I had made the mistake of reading the book jacket for CF before reading HG (what was I thinking?), I was still unprepared for the twists when they came.
You'll find tons of action, mystery, and wow the tension between Katniss and Gale, as well as between Katniss and Peeta (the boy chosen to represent District 12 alongside her.. the boy who she knows she has to kill to win The Games) will make you crazy. I laughed out loud and enjoyed imagining the arenas and districts - Collins has a knack for imagery. Be warned, though, as both books end with a cliffhanger... so if you're one of those who can't stand to wait, I'd put them off until August when MJ is released.
Sidenote, the symbols you see on the covers are evolving versions of the "mockingjay," a really cool hybrid of a mockingbird and the Captiol-crafted jabberjay bird (ohhh you'll see)... a bird/symbol which comes to mean so much more. Some of you may know I've always loved tattoos and always wanted one, but I've yet to be inspired by anything from literature that I'd want on my body (all of my ideas so far have come from the music world). I'm going to copy H, though, and say that this symbol would make a great tattoo. Especially since I'm fond of birdies anyway.
Hunger Games (HB) - Scholastic, 2008
Catching Fire (HB) - Scholastic, 2009