But Collins pours so much detail into her world-building and her characters that the book grabs you even before the games begin.
Those games would make even Nero’s Rome blanch. Every year, a boy and a girl are chosen via lottery to “represent” their district in The Hunger Games.
The event, required viewing for the rest of the nation, is a blood sport in which the 24 teens are dumped, gladiator-style, into a locked arena and left to fight it out in front of cameras. The last one alive wins freedom and a lifetime of riches.
This year, to Katniss’s horror, her 12-year-old sister’s name is called. Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place.
While she believes she’s doomed (no “tribute” from District 12 has won in decades), Katniss is too much of a fighter to go serenely to her death.
Her skill with a bow and arrow and her ability to find food in the woods may even the odds against competitors from wealthier districts who train with weapons all their lives. Her fellow tribute, the local baker’s son, Peeta, hits on a strategy: The two of them will act as star-crossed lovers to attract the sympathy of sponsors.
(Food and medicine can be parachuted in – for a price.)
Only Katniss isn’t sure Peeta is really acting. And as days pass, it becomes harder for her to tell what her real feelings are and what is just acting for the ever-present cameras.
Collins writes so close to the ground that a reader’s viewpoint becomes inseparable from that of Katniss. So we experience her amazement at the rich food and luxurious surroundings – as well as her fury at the obscene “entertainment” that brings her to The Capitol.
When she’s being exfoliated, depilated, and in general, made camera-ready, she feels totally removed from her team of stylists.
“I know I should be embarrassed, but they’re so unlike people that I’m no more self-conscious than if a trio of oddly colored birds were pecking around my feet,” Katniss says.