I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that reading this trilogy changed my perspective on my life and the world around me. I think if I said that about the movies, that would be a lie, so I won’t say that.
These three books introduce us to a dystopian Earth – specifically the United States – after a massive war. The US has been renamed Panem and is divided into 12 districts, starting with 1 which is the most wealthy and going down to 12 which is a mining district filled with low socio-economics and poverty and all that fun stuff.
I can’t even separate them into their individual novels because I read them back to back like one long story. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, grows up over the course of the three novels – even though I think they only span three years. There was an uprising back in the day, you see, and after it was ended by the ruling class (as you would expect), they devised a yearly remembrance that would serve to keep something like that from ever happening again: The Hunger Games. Each district would put forth a tribute – a teenager, who would then participate in a reality-show-gone-wrong combat trial against all the other tributes. When I say combat, I mean to the death. Death, broadcast live to all the districts. Like what might happen if you combined Big Brother and Survivor.
Katniss, being of age, goes to the selection of the tribute knowing that she or her best friend/boyfriend Gage might end up as tribute, but it is worse than she can even imagine: her younger sister Primrose’s name is called. Unable to bear that thought, Katniss volunteers as tribute in place of her sister and the swap is allowed. From there, the first book (The Hunger Games) takes us through Katniss’s first Hunger Games in which she turns the rules of the game on their collective head. There are two tributes that make it through to the end rather than one, and as such Katniss has caught the imagination of the people of Panem as well as the attention of those in district one who would subdue the rest.
Book two, Catching Fire, brings Katniss and Peeta back into the Hunger Games arena to face winners from past games – in the hopes, clearly, that one of them will defeat her and return order to the districts that are now brimming with hope. Katniss, the Girl on Fire, is becoming a symbol of hope for the people of Panem, and while she and Peeta are being trotted out as a power couple who fell in love against all odds, this is not who Katniss truly is – but Gage has lost hope in their bond. The rebellion is rising and Catching Fire in book two – with the Mockingjay, a symbol of Katniss from the first Hunger Games, as its logo. The “mockingjay” is a hybrid bird used in the conflict to carry messages long distances – you have probably heard the whistle and the song if you saw the movies. Oh, Rue! Too soon.
Finally, in book three which was named for that sweet bird and the pin that Katniss wears – Mockingjay – we see the fruits of the rebellion’s labour, and they are not pretty. Honestly, to read them I found the first book harder to make it through than the third due to the subject matter (teenagers killing other teenagers), but the movies are of course made with the flash-bang in full swing by number three. These books are hard to read at times, uplifting and depressing in equal measure, but they will remind us that if these kids can have hope, so can we. Read them, even if you have seen the movies. They are a stark reminder of what happens with absolute power, and that even the young should have a say in their society.