Note: As I highly dislike spoilers, I do my best not to write them in my reviews and spotlights. That being said, I cannot write as much in this spotlight because I would give away pieces of the story that I would not want to know before reading. Hopefully the spotlight is sufficient.
[This is a brief intro to Book 1. Writing a synopsis of Book 2 and 3 would give away too many spoilers.]
Meet Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old female who lives with her younger sister, Prim, and their mother. Katniss has led an unfortunately difficult life but she has made the best of it. She lives in District Twelve, the final district of Panem, a country that arose out of what remained of North America after natural and man-made disasters destroyed it. District Twelve produces Coal, and Katniss lost her father in a mine disaster. The other 11 districts, all suffering from varying degrees of poverty and oppression, are in charge of producing items, as well, such as food, textiles, and technology.
As with many post-apocalyptic tales, rebellions occurred against the powers-that-be, otherwise known as the Capitol. During the uprisings, District 13 was destroyed and the remaining districts were put in their place. So that the 12 districts always remember who holds the power, the Capitol, and its terrifyingly evil leader, President Snow, devised a deliciously evil plan:The Hunger Games. Every year, each district produces one girl and one boy (ages 12 through 18, randomly drawn) to fight in the Games. The 24 tributes are taken to the Capitol and enjoy a short week of simple training, eating like kings, and attending events and interviews. Then, they are thrown into the vast outdoor arena to fight for their lives, as the Hunger Games has only one winner. [Think Battle Royale] This event is televised and broadcast to all of Panem and is a very anticipated event in the Capitol. Kinda like the World Cup. [insert disgusted laugh here] As far as reality TV goes, this takes the cake.
As you can probably guess, Katniss is the tribute for District 12, along with Peeta Mellark, the town baker’s son. They are whisked away to the Capitol and treated like royalty. The Capitol is disgusting with its abundance of food, disturbing ideas of entertainment, abhorrent priorities, and vapid nature. Katniss describes it perfectly in The Hunger Games:
“What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?”
This is the quote that sold the series for me.
It becomes apparent that Katniss may stand a chance in the Games when she proves to the Gamemasters that she possesses great hunting and survival skills. After all, she has been keeping her family from starvation for years by killing game and gathering vegetation (illegally) in the Seam of District 12. While Katniss and Peeta are from the same District, it is no secret that they will eventually face one another as enemies. Peeta is very kind, but Katniss vows not to allow him to weasel his way into her heart. Peeta surprises her though, on many levels and in many ways, throughout the book. Does he eventually weasel his way in? Can he be trusted in such a dire situation?
Without giving away too much of the storyline and fate of the characters, I will tell you that Katniss turns into a symbol of a new rebellion. She does not embrace this role easily and endures much pain, loss and sorrow in her quest to bring down the Capitol and President Snow.
Suzanne Collins is a mastermind at characterization. She weaves such amazing backgrounds and sucks you into the character’s psyche. The horrifying events that happen to the characters sent me into mourning! I was an emotional basket case when I finished Mockingjay, and when an author can evoke such intense emotion in me, I refer to it as FANTASTIC WRITING!
Katniss Everdeen: After Katniss’ father died in the mine explosion, her mother has been in a state of shock and Katniss has had to step in as the head of house. She provides food for her mother and younger sister by hunting illegally with her best friend, Gale. Katniss is courageous, intelligent, wily, and compassionate. She is a skilled hunter and very adept at analyzing her opponent’s next move. However, Katniss is completely unaware of her inner self at the beginning of the series and becomes highly confused at what she represents throughout the story. However, by the end of it all, Katniss holds her head high and accepts the role she played. I absolutely love Collin’s description of our heroine:
Symbolically, I suppose, Katniss is something like a mockingjay in and of herself. She is a girl who should never have existed. And the reason she does exist is that she comes from District 12, which is sort of the joke of the 12 districts of Panem. The Capitol is lax there. The security is much less. The peacekeepers, who are the peacekeeping force, are still the law, and they’re still threatening, but they intermix more with the population in District 12 than they do in other districts. And also things like the fence that surrounds 12 isn’t electrified full time.
Because of these lapses in security and the Capitol just thinking that 12 is not ever really going to be a threat because it’s small and poor, they create an environment in which Katniss develops, in which she is created, this girl who slips under this fence, which isn’t electrified, and learns to be a hunter. Not only that, she’s a survivalist, and along with that goes a degree of independent thinking that is unusual in the districts.
So here we have her arriving in the arena in the first book, not only equipped as someone who can keep herself alive in this environment—and then once she gets the bow and arrows, can be lethal—but she’s also somebody who already thinks outside the box because they just haven’t been paying attention to District 12. So in that way, too, Katniss is the mockingjay. She is the thing that should never have been created, that the Capitol never intended to happen. In the same way they just let the jabberjays go and thought, “We don’t have to worry about them,” they thought, “We don’t have to worry about District 12.” And this new creature evolved, which is the mockingjay, which is Katniss. (source)
“The girl who was on fire.”
Peeta Mellark: Peeta is the same age as Katniss but they’ve only had a few interactions over the years. You will come to find that these encounters were of deep importance to the characters. Peeta is kind, loyal, bold, brave and a master of words. He is not on an equal playing field with Katniss’ skills, but goes to extremes to ensure her survival. I want to make this clear, so listen up: Peeta is the most admirable character I’ve discovered in a long time. I am moved over and over by his kindness, generosity, selflessness and compassion for others, even if it may hinder his own well-being. And, he’s sarcastic and finds humor in dark times. I think that it would be impossible to find a real person that encompasses all of Peeta’s incredible traits. He is truly a work of art. Real.
…I don’t want you forgetting how different our circumstances are. If you die, and I live, there’s no life for me at all back in District Twelve. You’re my whole life.” Peeta says. “I would never be happy again. It’s different for you. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be hard. But there are other people who’d make your life worth living.”
“The boy with the bread.”
Gale Hawthorne: Gale is a few years older than Katniss, and they met while hunting in the Seam. Having lost their fathers and acting as caretakers of their families, they formed a deep bond to help one another get through their impoverished existence. At some point, their relationship moves beyond best friends, but neither outwardly admits it until Peeta is introduced into the mix. Gale’s love for Katniss is very different than Peeta’s love, and while he makes his feelings known, he never pressures Katniss. Gale proves to be trustworthy and a damn good fighter in the rebellion. He believes that the world can change for the better.
Primrose Everdeen: Dear, sweet Prim. Katniss would lay down her life for this admirable young lady. She starts by taking her place in the Games, which sets the entire chain of events into action. Prim is very good at grounding Katniss, calming her down, and snapping her back into reality (because let me tell you, reality is seriously subjective in this series!) Prim takes after their mother as a healer and becomes quite good at it. She is a shining star.
Haymitch Abernathy: Haymitch is the only living tribute from District Twelve to win the Hunger Games. The mental anguish from his Games experience has turned him into an isolated alcoholic. However, as a former winner, he must mentor new tributes, and thus becomes involved with Katniss and Peeta. Haymitch is not an easy person to get along with and no one is ever sure if he can be trusted. However, he turns out to be an integral part in the rebellion. As for his personality, picture House, M.D. Seriously.
President Snow: It is hard for me to type anything about this vile snake human. It takes some serious ugliness to make my skin crawl, and Snow does that, and more. He is a disturbing evil creature who will stop at nothing to ensure he remains in control over the population. He is a treacherous, tricky, wretched excuse for a man, and he is very threatened by what Katniss represents: the loss of power.
Of course, there are loads of other important characters throughout, but these 5 make up my list.
Abuse of power
Modern Day Slavery
War and Genocide
Poverty and Oppression
This series moved me deeply and I was an emotional wreck after I finished. It is not for the faint of heart and it is not light reading. Be prepared for a very dramatic, deeply emotional, highly political, extremely horrifying and completely engrossing adventure.
A glorious story of survival and the resiliency of the human spirit.
Fire is catching!
And if we burn, you burn with us!
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