It’s a young adult book, a work of science fiction, and the first book in a projected trilogy…but your book group, no matter what the age of your members, should give Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games a chance.
Don’t just take my word for it: The Hunger Games was the best received young adult work of 2008, making its way into dozens of best-of-the-year lists.
It’s a rousing, page-turning read. Plucky Katniss Everdeen, a teen girl, has made herself into the family provider, hunting illegally in the woods to keep her mother and younger sister alive. They live in Panem, an alternate future version of North America, a country controlled ruthlessly from an exploitative capital city. Katniss lives in District 12, a poor mining region with a history of rebellion. Because of this history, the capital keeps District 12 especially poor: it’s not unusual for people there to starve to death. Katniss’s father died in a mining disaster, and as the book opens, she finds herself trapped by the annual lottery that selects a teen boy and girl from each of the twelve districts to participate in a televised battle to the death called the Hunger Games.
Making matters even more complicated, the boy selected from her district–Peeta, a baker’s son–has history with Katniss. It’s bad enough to have to kill strangers to stay alive, but the rules of the game may eventually require Katniss to kill someone she cares about if she is to win and survive.
Although The Hunger Games is action-packed, it also packs plenty of discussion power for book groups. How did this dystopian world come to be? What is the ethical thing for Katniss and Peeta to do? Do readers enjoying the book take on the characteristics of the media-rabid society that created the horrible games? Do the games bear any resemblance to our own reality television?
Finally, don’t let the fact that this is the first of a trilogy throw you. There is enough resolution in this book to satisfy most readers and just enough left open that most will want to return for Catching Fire, the second book due out in September. In fact, your group will have fun predicting the developments in that second novel.