i just finished reading these three books by Suzanne Collins, and they were thoroughly enjoyable. The first book is the most solid because it felt closest to the main character; the second and third books spend too much time explaining the world and its political situation. The sense of suspense drops off too, perhaps because by the time the first book ends the hero has gotten herself out of so many dangerous situations relatively unscathed: sure she gets injured, but there are no real consequences from those injuries. It becomes predictable.
The Hunger Games takes place in a kind of post-apocalyptic North America, where people from 12 districts are slaves laboring in poverty. Each district specializes in a product: Katniss comes from district 12 where the majority of people mine coal. Every year, each district must send 2 tributes between the ages of 12 and 18, one male and one female, to participate in a battle to the death. The winner gets lifetime luxury, and his or her district receives extra goods for a year. Kind of Battle Royale, except the tributes in The Hunger Games aren't thrown in to battle unexpectedly. Everyone knows about the Hunger Games and there's even an enforced celebratory atmosphere. Tributes get to live in the Capitol for a week, eating and training. The citizens of the Capitol, who give no tribute and live off of the work of the 12 districts, anticipate the games and bet on the outcomes. They love the entertainment
Katniss volunteers as a tribute to protect her younger sister. Katniss is driven by her will to survive and to protect her family. The last book is perhaps the best at bringing out her self-doubt and uncertainty about the necessity for violence and toughness by bringing her two romantic interests together under very strained circumstances. Katniss is rough, she succeeds at most things she tries, and people take a liking to her (in some cases because of her PR, in some cases in spite of it). i appreciate her as a strong female protagonist because she's allowed a brutality not often found in girls in literature. Even Tamora Pierce's warrior women are rarely quite as ruthless.
It might be interesting to look at The Hunger Games alongside, or as an alternative to Lord of the Flies in high school classrooms. Similar situation, but much less essentialist. And, in my opinion, more fun to read.