I just finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. What a ride! She is a excellent storyteller and the book is really well written. The subject matter, however, is super dark, so I definitely wouldn't recommend it to young teens (though my 11 yo son has read it and LOVES it - and no, he isn't an aggressive, bloodthirsty boy, just a good boy who enjoys a well written story.) I would compare the story itself to a futuristic society's bread and circuses much like those of the ancient Roman Colosseum; the difference being that in ancient Rome, spectators would have to be in the Colosseum to view the brutality, while in The Hunger Games, the games were watched on tv. The setting is a futuristic country with a government trying to keep its subjects under their thumb. A few years back, people tried to revolt; the government won, and now has the yearly hunger games to remind people that they don't stand a chance in a revolution.
SPOILER ALERT!! (don't read past here if you haven't read the book and want to w/o knowing the story and the ending)
The book impressed me on a lot of different levels. First, it is grammatically correct, which is a rarity. Secondly, it is very well written: it is easy to understand the flow of the book, it's very suspenseful and entertaining, and Collins pulls off politics in a way that will make people think. There are little subtleties in the book that really build the character development, like with their district's representative in the games, Effie, making snide comments about how barbaric some of the contestant's manners have been at the dinner table and Catniss thinking that it is ironic that Effie is worried about barbaric table manners when Effie herself yearly sends two young people to their deaths in these brutal hunger games.
I grew to like the main character, Catniss, and I can relate well to her. She won't ever back down, but doesn't go looking for trouble either. She is cynical and looks for others' motives. She feels such a sense of responsibility to the people in her District. She is driven by duty. She loves deeply and fiercely, but holds people at arms length until they prove themselves to her.
Steve reminds me of Peeta, which is interesting, because I think the author had Peeta's character be in total contrast to Catniss's. His love comes freely and easily toward Catniss, having loved her since he saw her the first day of school when he was 5. He is easy to get along with, and seems to always say and do the right things to make friends easily. Though we only get to know Peeta through Catniss's eyes, he seems to be able to seem sincere to everyone, even when he is secretly protecting Catniss by having alliances with their enemies.
Through Peeta and Catniss's reactions to other contestants of the hunger games, Collins builds their characters: Catniss is a survivor, she doesn't believe in the hunger games, nor does she want to be there, she isn't bloodthirsty and only kills in defense or for mercy. Peeta is loyal, sincere, has integrity, and is an all around boy scout.
I'm looking forward to reading Catching Fire, the next book in the series.