1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My first read of 2011 started the year off on the YA fantasy angle I wanted. Collins' book kept me enthralled through plane, Metro, and bus rides and I finished it in one epic day of travel. Her dystopian world is convincing in its own context and her protagonist Katniss manages to be a strong, likable heroine without compromising one jot of authenticity.I felt throughout that there was more to the world than seen in the book, and I imagine more of it will be divulged in the next two books of the trilogy.
Collins takes a very old idea, of pitting children against each other in a battle to the death, and infuses it with cultural and historical significance and a deep message about government control. The plot has its twists and turns, but the protagonist's reactions remain the most interesting thing about the book. Of course, this is also what the in-text audience is interested in, which sets up a creepy parallel between the reader and the sadistic (or coerced) watchers of the Hunger Games. We watch Katniss struggle to survive both physically and mentally and Collins creates a cast of worthy allies and opponents, all of whose motives must be suspect. The dangers Katniss faces seem real, as do the consequences, and, as in all good series, at the end of the book we're still questioning everyone's motives and what little nugget will blossom into the plot of the next book. We leave Katniss in a complex relationship and to the disturbing fate of having to coach "tribute" for the next year's Hunger Games. I have several guesses as to what will transpire next, but I'll keep that to myself.
Overall, compelling, original and containing a grittiness worthy of Orson Scott Card and a world worthy of J.K. Rowling. I strongly recommend this to readers of all ages and will be seeking out the rest of the trilogy.