After writing the fantasy series The Underland Chronicles, Suzanne Collins departed from the world of fantasy and stepped into a harsh, dystopian creation in The Hunger Games. Published in 2008, The Hunger Games is the first novel in a projected trilogy, and introduces readers to a futuristic dystopian society where an overpowering government controls the lives and resources in twelve different districts. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, of District 12, is the main character of the story. Each year, as punishment for the now demolished District 13's attempted rebellion, two children in each district are chosen by lottery to fight each other to the death in an arena. The event is called the Hunger Games and is televised for everyone in the Capitol to see; the winning tribute is given food and a life of ease for themselves and their families, along with presents of food and resources for their district. Katniss ends up volunteering for the role of tribute to the Games after her little sister Prim is drawn in the lottery. Peeta, a baker's son that Katniss knows through school, is also drawn to fight in the Games. Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to the Capitol to fight other children in the artificial landscape created for the arena. In a twist of events, it is revealed that Peeta is in love with Katniss, as is Gale, a boy back in District 12 whom Katniss hunted with regularly. The love triangle gives added interest to the story line and to the Games themselves as Katniss and all the other tributes fight for their lives.
Although marketed as adolescent literature, the theme of fighting to the death, and the violence of the events that occur in the arena, all involving children, has brought with it controversy and some protest from parents and school groups. On the other hand, the book is popular among teens and adults alike, all who like it for its simple and understandable prose, wry sense of humor, constant suspense and action-packed plotline. The Hunger Games was met with mostly positive reviews, with some negative commentary on the simplistic style and lack of thorough complexity that a dystopian future would merit. Its themes of family, friendship, love, and survival are accessible, and Katniss's strong, pragmatic, and yet vulnerable character adds to the story's appeal.