The Hunger Games follows the adventures (if that is the right word) of Katniss Everdeen, a teenager who lives in future America, now called Panem. Living in District 12 under constant starvation and fear, Katniss keenly feels the threat of being picked for 'The Hunger Games'. A compulsive set of gladiatorial games which pits teenagers from the ages of 12 to 18 in a fight to the death. Used as a tool of control by the oppressive Capitol regime, the games are held each year and 24 teenagers called tributes, 12 male and 12 female are picked by lottery. Katniss volunteers for the tournament when her younger sister is picked for the games. Taken to the Capitol, dressed and shown to the crowds, she is then taken to the arena where she must try to survive. This is complicated by the male tribute from District 12 declaring his love for her before the entire nation.
There is, of course, much more to the book than that simple summary. On my first read of the Hunger Games, I was struck with similarities to other entries in the 'most dangerous games' genre, yet this first novel strikes a different note. Katniss is a powerful protagonist. That's not to say she's superhuman or always right, but she has a great strength. Unlike other YA heroines, her thoughts do not revolve around her love interests or trivial matters. She is pragmatic, calculating and determined to survive.
The action is well placed and the world building quite successful. As the future is so far ahead of our own, we don't need to know how our world got to that stage. As to the games, they are a feature of our past and any knowledge of the Roman Empire will give you gladiators. What Collins has done is to meld history, current trends and a sharply written main character into something exquisite.