Sixteen-year-old Katniss knows what it is to be hungry. Ever since her father died in a mining accident, she has been the sole breadwinner for her family, teaching herself how to hunt with snares and arrows in the dark woods that surround District 12. Now it’s time for the annual Reaping lottery, when Kat’s futuristic fascist government forces each District to send one girl and one boy (known as Tributes) to compete in the Hunger Games, sort of like Survivor—except, to the DEATH. When her sweet little sister Prim’s name is called, Katniss immediately volunteers to go in her place, along with Peeta, the brawny baker’s son. Thrown into a harsh landscape with little resources, each Tribute fights to stay alive as the cameras track their every move for the entertainment of the crowds back home. No one expects the scrawny girl from the poorest District to last very long. But Katniss is tougher and smarter than she looks. She knows how to hunt and forage, and she cunningly builds an alliance with the physically stronger Peeta. But there can be only one Tribute left alive. Does Katniss have what it takes to wipe out the competition, including loyal Peeta? This disturbing, fascinating novel is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and more recently, Andrea White’s Surviving Antarctica. But what distinguishes Suzanne Collins’s clever take on televised Darwinism is her excellent pacing and the shrewd, brave character of Katniss herself. I was completely in love with this kick-ass girl by book’s end (as are two other main characters—hmm, wonder what book II & III will be about? The cliffhanger ending spells S-E-Q-U-E-L-S). The swift, brutal action is balanced by the utterly humane characterizations of both Katniss and Peeta. You can’t help but put yourself in their hiking boots and wonder how you would play this version of Real World, Destination: Hell.