June 30, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

As punishment for a failed rebellion, the authoritarian regime of Panem requires each of its 12 districts to send two young ”tributes” — one boy and one girl — to a central arena every year, where they must compete in a televised death match. The tributes, who are selected by a lottery knowing as ”the reaping,” fight until only one remains.

Panem is a totalitarian society that arose from the ashes of a postapocalyptic North America. It’s governed from a glittering metropolis known as the Capitol. Resistance to the Capitol is futile: That attempted rebellion resulted in the obliteration of District 13 and the creation of the Games.

Protagonist Katniss Everdeen hails from District 12, a poverty-stricken coal-mining area that is surrounded by beautiful woods — though citizens must brave an electric fence to reach them. Katniss often ventures out with her friend Gale to hunt squirrels and other food their families so desperately need, and knows only this hardscrabble existence…until the reaping changes her life forever.

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