I just read a YA novel (first in a trilogy) set in a dystopian future in human civilisation where the underprivileged starving underclass from which the protagonist came from toils to serve the powerful governing caste that keeps the underclass in poverty and squalor with deceitful propaganda. The society they live in is so authoritarian that it outlaws an innocuous sounding protest song that features imagery of death. The protagonist is a person who is very proficient in a valuable skill in the community that can help put food on the table, and the story kicks off with the protagonist trespassing into a restricted area with a love interest. A female character dear to the protagonist then catches the unwanted attention of the governing class, and that leads to the protagonist volunteering to participate in an institution important to the workings their society—an institution which will test the protagonist’s wits and survival abilities to their limits against other adolescents, requiring them to kill one another in a drawn out game held in a massive wilderness arena. The protagonist is schooled by mentors in how to pretend to be someone the protagonist is not in order to fulfill the governing class’ expectations, and the protagonist excels and manages to impress everyone from the beginning. Making a good impression is important as it will help the protagonist secure the patronage of members from the governing class, who are watching everything unfold and are able to provide boons to help the protagonist in the trials the protagonist is expected to face. There is a moment in which the protagonist let loose a projectile weapon aimed at the privileged observers’ lofty perch. In the course of the game, one of the protagonist’s vulnerable female ally (with a 3-letter name) gets killed by other players in the game and the protagonist performs a brief symbolic funereal ceremony for her. The protagonist has another love interest during the game with whom the protagonist was initially competing against. At one point, this love interest is camouflaged beneath dirt to evade capture by enemies. The protagonist later strikes an alliance with this new love interest, who then falls ill. The protagonist is able to heal this love interest’s sickness with medicine the protagonist acquired from the people observing the game. With the love interest aiding the protagonist, the protagonist wins the game by breaking the rules in defiance of the machinations of the people running the game. The novel ended with the protagonist victorious, pretending to graciously accept what the protagonist’s main enemy offers in front of an audience, but facing an uncertain future.
Am I talking about the 2014 YA novel Red Rising or the 2018 YA novel The Hunger Games?