Wow, it is gonna be hard to talk about these three books without spoilers!
The place: A dystopia built on the destroyed remains of North America, sometime in the future. Panem
consists of a Capitol and 12 outlying districts. Each district is a piece of Capitol Pie creating one major export ranging from agriculture to technology.
The Hunger Games: Created with the birth of Panem, meant to maintain power in the Capitol and fear in the districts. One Male and One Female between the ages of 12-18 are chosen in a lottery (called the Reaping) from each district to fight in a manufactured game arena - to the death. The chosen are called tributes, the last one standing is the victor, set for a life of celebrity and luxury.
"The Hunger Games" is told from the first person perspective of District 12 tribute, Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl from the Seam, the poorest section of the already poor district. She travels with and competes against the baker's son, Peeta Mellark. The two tributes face the arena with the support of their mentor, an alcoholic named Haymitch who won the games 24 years before, and groups of stylists responsible for costuming the tributes at the Opening Ceremonies. As a tribute in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, Katniss must leave behind her best friend and hunting partner, Gale, her mother and younger sister and the last struggling remnants of childhood.
Katniss's home district felt almost medieval to me - District 12 and Panem especially recalls the feeling of "The Handmaid's Tale" and also a bit of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" minus the elegant prose. The world of Panem is part futuristic sci-fi, (hovercrafts) part modern day (constant television) and part historic (the Hob - a black market for game and goods). "The Hunger Games" opens the Trilogy, and part of me wishes it had stopped right there - because beyond the arena is rebellion and revolution with teens on the front lines and it's a murky path to "Mockingjay". Collins style is more about shock and brute force and the romance reader in me wishes she would have handled the love triangle much differently.
Seems you can't get away from the Twilight fans - you're either Team Peeta or Team Gale -
well, that's not true. You can certainly be neither. I had a difficult time deciding - wavering through most of the trilogy in fact - but I think I figured it just before Katniss did. She was so back and forth, I felt manipulated and frustrated as I read. Katniss was confused not only about those boys, but what romantic love was in general - she didn't let herself feel much of anything because she needed to focus on survival back home and in the arena, I get it. But it's damn hard to like a heroine who repeatedly rejects or manipulates the love she's given - from either boy. We don't get a good look at Gale before the Games, just that he's poor as well, takes care of his family too, has her back and hates the Capitol. Peeta grew up slightly more affluently, he's an artist - the most sensitive character throughout - which is what makes his reaping so cruel. He's too good for the lot of 'em.
I didn't always like Katniss, and I didn't really like Book 3 "Mockingjay," I thought it was slow to start and even when the action picked up the violence seemed especially gratuitous. I won't spoil the third book, but I must say a romance author could have used the hijacking plot device brilliantly to show a couple fall in love all over again. And don't even get me started on characters who truly deserved happy endings but died pointless deaths...
Seems like I'm talking a lot of shit, but most, if not all my criticisms are directed at the third and final book. I really enjoyed "The Hunger Games" and "Chasing Fire" despite the fact that I can identify a handful of influences without even getting into "Battle Royale"(Thanks, Justin). Collins created a whole new popular culture world with merchandise, a movie on the way and thousands of fans eagerly rushing from one book to the next. The trilogy certainly has its flaws (the ending of "Chasing Fire"), but one major plus (for me at least), these books and Katniss's skills are a sure way to fill the Buffy void (Katniss and Collins both have a lot to thank Joss Whedon for...) - like it's predecessor it doesn't talk down to kids or hide any brutality by the adults or the children themselves.
Oh, and in case you're curious....
Team Peeta - because I can't deny the power of a long-standing unrequited love.