I picked this book up not expecting too much - popular Young Adult, likely to be mildly entertaining and all about girl empowerment. (Not that anything's wrong with either of those things.) Instead, I found an excellent dystopian science fiction world that gripped me from beginning to end.
One of Suzanne Collins' major themes that runs throughout the entire series, the mental and physical costs of violence, is displayed to great effect through Katniss, who herself has been damaged by the world she grew up in even before the Hunger Games start. This view of the costs of absolute rule is gradually widened to an entire damaged world, knowingly or unknowingly. Whether it is the stark coal mining town of District 12, the better-valued and provided districts, or the hedonistic overindulging of the Capitol, the world Collins' creates is maintained by the violence of the Hunger Games.
Part of the reason this book works so well is its indictment of the symbolic violence of the Hunger Games (and it's non-too-subtle jabs at reality TV) through showing the very personal violence it inflicts on those who actually participate and their loved ones. And the surprising upwellings of humanity in the midst of slaughter.
Katniss herself stands out as a character who is never sure of herself or her world, or even what she stands for. Survival has been her only way of life for so long she can imagine little else. I can only hope the movie does her justice.