I just love the setting for THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins.  The idea is that the United States have crumbled under the devastation of global climate change.  What remains is a magnificent capitol city ringed by twelve districts.  The districts, numbered one through twelve, grow progressively poorer and hungrier the higher their number.  Our protagonist, Katniss, lives in district twelve where they mine coal.  One of her allies in the Hunger Games, Rue, lives in district twelve, the agricultural district.  These areas are an echo of the past.  District twelve reminded me of nineteenth century coal mines.  The dark, stained streets.  Explosions that kill the miners.  People who grow old before their time.  District eleven was a throwback to antebellum plantations.  Children are not educated and they are whipped if they steal food.

In comparison, the capitol city seems like a whole different world.  The medial advances are staggering–almost magical.  Our protagonist lives in a skyscraper while she’s there (one with a force-field over the top to keep the teens from committing suicide) and travels by hovercraft.  The fashion seems to dictate that everyone have unnaturally colored hair.  However, if you look a little closer, you find historical reference that goes back even further.  Runaways from the districts become servants in the capitol and have their tongues removed–a punishment that harkens back to Biblical times.  When the hunger games begin, all they really are is a high-tech Coliseum with gladiator games.

I think it’s brilliant.  It meshes the darkest times in human history into one gripping setting.

One of the things I found really interesting about the characters in this book is that gender is almost meaningless in THE HUNGER GAMES.  Neither males nor females have any advantage in the games.  They compete against each other without any question of one of the genders having an unfair advantage.  And, in fact, when we get to the final four survivors in the games, there are two boys and two girls.

Even more interesting to me was that Katniss, the female protagonist, seems almost sexless.  And the same is true with her male counterpart Peeta.  In fact, you could easily exchange their roles and have Katness be the charming, cunning thinker while Peeta was the hot-headed fighter and nothing would be lost to the story.  Sure, there’s a romantic element.  And, every once in a while Katniss thinks fondly of a boy back home, but for the most part, gender is a complete non-issue in this book.  Which is why, even though the protagonist is female, I think this book would really appeal to male readers.

Another thing that I really loved about the character development is that each of the contenders in the hunger Games has a strength.  Not every strength is fighting, weapons, and violence.  Kaniss’s ally, Rue, is second to none at moving through the woods undetected.  Another character makes it through the games simply through cunning and thievery.  Peeta, who is no way a fighter, still manages to use his brains and charm to keep himself alive.  The oh-so-subtle message seems to be, “Know your strengths.  Play to you strengths.”  Whether in the hunger games, or in life, that’s pretty good advice.

I could go on and on about the characters.  The people in district twelve.  Katniss and Peeta’s stylists who help get them ready for television.  The other players, or tributes.  So many characters get a few sentences dedicated to them, and with just those few words, the character is cemented in my mind.  I could say the same thing with the setting.  It’s such a beautiful mix of dystopia, sci-fi, and historic references that I could probably just pick the setting to pieces.

Next time, I’m going to go on to the plotting.  It’s actually pretty straightforward, because the premise also works so wonderfully as a plot.  As soon as the readers hear about the Hunger Games, we know what inevitably must happen and can’t wait to find out how it ends.  So until then…