Hunger Games is a YA sci-fi survival story much like Battle Royale. Scratch that, it's exactly like Battle Royale, but in this case it's a plus more than a minus.
A few hundred years have gone by since our present, and the United States no longer exists. The nation is now called Panem, and ruled by the Capitol, a decadent and wealthy city-state. The rest of Panem is divided into Districts, each serves it's own purpose like Agriculture, Factory Production, Coal, etc. There are some Districts wealthier than others, and inside the Districts there are social structures so that it's common for people to starve while wealthier merchants and the Peackeepers (Po-Pos) watch.
There used to be 13 Districts but when they tried to rebel, the Capitol won and punished District 13 and established the Hunger Games, where each District must choose by lottery a boy and a girl to fight to the death as Tributes. The Games are viewed all across Panam like Reality TV. It's gruesome and bloody and it keeps the masses entertained and the Districts hopeless.
Our main character is Katniss Everdeen, a hard 16 year old who supported her family after her father died in the coal mines of District 12 (in the Rockies). She's a good hunter, she's light on her feet (undernourished and half starved) and she's very very cynical.
Katniss knows how to play the Hunger Games (much like people who know exactly what to do and say to keep the cameras on them on Reality TV). She volunteers for her sister and plays the game almost expertly. What she lacks in graces is made up by her partner in the games, an impossibly naive young man called Peetah. In order to win the favor of the audience and so receive gifts from their "sponsors" they play up a "Romance" that for Peetah is very real (stupid, stupid boy) and for Katniss is her ticket to survive and get home (cuz you know... she's cynical).
The Hunger Games run as you would expect and we get tidbits of this depressing future where genetic Muttations were bred for war to spy and destroy. They also play a horrific part of the end of the book, the only truly nightmarish thing in the story, and a clue as to what the Capitol and the Gamekeepers are capable of.
Although I liked the story, I felt there was something missing (maybe I'll find it in the other two books!) There should have been more Americana involved in the Districts, otherwise why bother with the United States setting. The world seems too new with no historical or cultural attachment to the past. We witness some rituals but don't really get the importance of them. This in turn makes it very difficult for me to understand what the Capitol sees as defiant and what could be "drama" played for the audience (which is one of the points of the game, calling attention to yourself and being a camera hog)
Katniss narrates and explains everything but I found myself wishing I was shown instead of being told about this new world. There are tantalizing bits of criticism to our society: body modification, media gluttony, Reality TV, desensitized society, among others that really make this book a nice read. It's an addictive story, today I start Catching Fire, and I'm looking forward to the Hunger Games movie because I can't imagine how they'll film this.