The Hunger Games (Hunger Games #1)
Interesting premise, well written story, fast pace, strong female lead who isn't a damsel in distress. All of this is fascinating, especially when you take in the fact that this book is written for a YA audience.
But that's where I find it hard to believe... that this book has the YA label, what with all the violence and gore.
I also find that I can't buy into the supposed dystopian society that is Panem and the docile nature of Panem's oppressed citizens, meekly going along with this children-as-gladiator game. Do we as reader really believe that anyone, no matter how fictional, could be OK with children killing each other for sport on national televised broadcast? Sure, dystopian societies are often portrayed as sociopathic totalitarian states, but setting up a society that has had 74 years of children brutally killing other children for entertainment and not backing that premise up with strong social commentary that might explain how the people of Panem have not risen in 74 years... is a shortcoming, in and of itself. Dystopian societies are often more complicated than just being oppressive and ruling with an iron fist.
Other than that, Katniss is a fascinating female lead who thinks and operates on a practical need-base system. She has priorities, puts the people she cares about first, and is resourceful and focused on survival. (She'd do well in the event of an apocalypse.) Given the current state of her district and her family life, it makes sense for her to be emotionally removed, as characters who are forced to grow up fast are usually distant and alone.
If more YA books head in the direction of The Hunger Games, in terms of strength of characterization, then perhaps we'd see better books. Then again, authors who don't have a firm grasp on what a dystopian society is should stay away from dystopian narratives and futuristic fiction altogether.