"The Hunger Games", by Suzanne Collins, is a futuristic dystopian horror. By horror, I mean not the sort of horror that comes from zombies, vampires, evil sorcerers, axe murderers, and the like, but rather the evil side of human nature.
Like any horror, it should be read on an empty stomach. If you are prone to throwing things in anger, I suggest surrounding yourself with soft items like pillows and stuffed animals, as opposed to glass, ceramic, and other hard and breakable objects, before settling down with the book. Do not begin reading if you are not in the mood for a good cry. You know, the standard safety precautions for reading horrors.
In Collins' world, a city called the Capitol rules over 12 Districts. There used to be 13 Districts, but apparently the 13th was obliterated by the Capitol following a rebellion. As punishment for said rebellion, the 13 Districts are required to send two children -- a boy and a girl -- every year to compete in the Hunger Games, which are a fight to the death. The winner is the last boy or girl standing. Yes, they make kids fight to the death. That's why you shouldn't read this book on a full stomach, lest you lose your lunch. The children sent to this fight to the death are referred to callously as "tributes".
Any child from the ages of 12 to 18 can be chosen, although the deck is stacked such that the older children are more likely to be called. The poor are also more likely to be called, as children can volunteer to be entered into the drawing additional times in exchange for year's meager supply of food and oil for them and their families.
However, the kids are not simply chosen and then thrown into the arena. No. Before they can do that, they have to get dressed up, appear publicly, go through a training and a test, and appear for an interview. And when they finally get thrown into the arena, they don't just get to be themselves. No, there is a continued need to please the audience, particularly the wealthy citizens of the Capitol, as wealthy sponsors may elect to pay for gifts to give a child a better chance at making it through.
I think the way they dress children up is grotesque. Alright, so I also think child beauty pageants are grotesque. So I'm a prude. So sue me. But this is even worse. That said, the stylists who do the dressing up are trying to give their children a better chance of getting sponsors -- a better chance at survival. But all that does is shift the blame from the stylist, trying to give his or her child a better chance at survival, to the society that approves of children being all fancied up like that. So it's still grotesque.
The training is also sort of creepy. Perhaps it helps balance the odds, by ensuring that no one is thrown in there completely unprepared. But it also feels like the Capitol is trying to ensure a more vicious, entertaining conflict. The test after the training is conducted privately, so that the children don't have to reveal any secret skills to their competitors, but a score is provided so that the gamblers can place their bets and the sponsors can decide who they want to send gifts too. Again, betting on which CHILD is going to survive seems hideous to me.
And then there's the interview. Even here, it is dangerous for a child to, for example. express righteous anger at being forced into this gladiator-style combat. To display how openly that child may hate the Capitol for doing this to them. Because then they probably won't get any sponsors, which will reduce their chances of survival. So, the children who want to live have to play to the crowds, to present a false face, to lie, to please the very people who are hurting them. It's really hideous.
And as I said, having to please the crowds doesn't stop when the children are finally thrown into the arena to kill each other and die gruesome deaths. The main character of the book, Katniss, is repeatedly thinking of what she has to do in order to get sponsors to help her. She even ends up having to fake a romance. Which is really screwed up. Also, the Capitol continues to mess with things in the arena to ensure an entertaining, gruesome fight.
As for the ending, well, it's slightly less tragic than it could've been, which isn't saying much. So don't neglect to keep a handkerchief handy, for the tears.