The premise is simple: Panem, what was formerly North America, is made up of twelve districts and a Capitol. There used to be thirteen districts, but the thirteenth was obliterated in a rebellion. Every year, to remind the districts that they are helpless, the Capitol forces each district to send a boy and a girl to the Hunger Games, where all twenty-four tributes fight to the death. From this disturbingly simple premise comes The Hunger Games
The story in this book is interesting (warning, spoilers ahead). When Katniss sees her twelve-year-old sister Prim get chosen as a tribute she panics, and volunteers to go in Prim's place. Thus, Katniss finds herself at the 74th Hunger Games. Since most of the book tell about her involvement in the Games and how she survives, one would think that the book is boring, or 'just a bunch of killing.' Instead, Collins writes this book so that the Hunger Games make us root for Katniss. She shows us Katniss as a person, and develops her eagerness to defy the Capitol (which will probably play a major part in the later books, somewhat predictably).
That being said, there's a lot in this book that's different. The obvious point would be the bulk of the book concerns 24 kids trying to kill each other. This book isn't exactly light reading. Then again, it doesn't dwell unnecessarily on gore or death. Some of the stuff in this book is still disturbing. It's interesting to see how Collins works with the Capitol issues in the book. Of course, since the Capitol forces the children to kill one another, we recognize that is wrong. Still, Collins takes this to the conclusion that the characters should rebel against the government, which is a grey area morally. It'll be interesting to see how these two topics evolve in the next two books.
Still, Collins makes things clear. Overall, I felt like this book set me up well for the second and third books, and got me ready to read more about these characters (I really liked Katniss; really disliked Peeta, the second main character). At the same time, the book resolves itself. It's not a book that relies on the rest of the trilogy to make sense.
Overally, The Hunger Games was an excellent read. I can see why so many people recommended it to me. If you're looking for a 'teen' book that's actually worth reading, or a sci-fi book that's not exactly like the normal flying spaceships and light-sabers, this book is for you. But if you do read it, hurry up and do so; there's a movie coming out in early 2012 and everyone knows you need to read a book before you watch the movie.