I Just Reread The Hunger Games—Here’s What I Think of the Series Now

written by MICHELLE LEMA

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Hunger Games books"
Hunger Games books
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

Every once in a while, a book series comes along that I want to read over and over again. The Hunger Games books, a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, were released in 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively. Just two years later in 2012, the first movie hit theaters, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Much like there were a lot of Barbies out there this Halloween, in 2012 there were a whole lot of Katnisses, complete with her iconic bow, arrows, and Mockingjay pin. I think people love The Hunger Games so much because it transports us to another time. The stakes in this world are incredibly high, but the characters are grounded and relatable. And even though the story is sci-fi/fantasy, many of the themes are eerily familiar to our own time.

As the release of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes movie approaches, my mind has wandered back to Panem and the world that was built within the pages of the original books. And so, I dusted off my decade-old copies of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay and started reading. Here’s what struck me differently this time around:

Warning: lots of spoilers are ahead.

Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games Box Set

This beautiful paperback box set includes all three books in Suzanne Collins’s internationally bestselling Hunger Games trilogy together with the prequel story, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Shop now

1. The books are for realists as much as they are for escapists.

My original love for the book series stemmed from an urgent need to escape from my life. I couldn’t process the change that was going on in my own world, so I dove into another one. Katniss and her clear objective of survival fascinated me. It allowed me to forget my own troubles for a while. I’m now in a place where I want to face my life and analyze it. Because of this, the reread felt more present. I found myself relating to Katniss instead of looking at her character from an outside perspective.

I had forgotten that in the books, the reader is always in Katniss’ point of view. We see her process events in real-time alongside us as the readers. We rarely get this perspective in the movies, since we don’t get to hear Katniss’ inner thoughts. In the books, her sarcastic and humorous voice rang out to me this time around, making me feel like she was an old friend. Whether you’re looking for a place to escape to or a place to analyze your current and ongoing existential crisis (me), these books are home.

2. One moment changes everything.

In case you need a refresher, the first book begins on the day of the Reaping, when the Capitol selects two children from each of the twelve Districts for the Hunger Games. Only one of the 24 children will survive and be crowned victor. The only people who are exempt from this are the people who live in the Capitol, the region that takes all their resources from the Districts to fuel their exorbitant lifestyles.

In the first pages set in District 12, Effie Trinket draws Katniss’ sister Prim’s name during the Reaping, and Katniss volunteers to go in her place. During my reread, I realized that this is the last time Katniss is herself. She steps into a role and the Capitol immediately assumes control of her entire life. She tells herself that “crying is not an option.” Even before she enters the Hunger Games, Katniss grew up understanding the Districts’ role in Panem. While during my first read, I was more wrapped up in how scary it would be to go into the Games, this time around I could not stop thinking about the moment Katniss volunteers. It’s a jarring metaphor for all the catalytic moments in our lives that mark turning points we can never come back from. Like choosing a school far from home, ending an important relationship, or saying “yes” to that big job in a new state.

3. The screens in Panem mirror the screens in our own world.

When Katniss takes Prim’s place, she puts on a disinterested look, because she knows she’s already on camera. The Capitol thrusts her into living her life entirely on screen. Back when the first book was released, in our world, the iPhone had only been out for a year. Instagram wouldn’t be invented until the last book came out. TikTok was nearly eight years away from entering our lives. I personally wasn’t yet fully glued to my phone. I think I actually called people instead of texting back then if there was such a time. So on this reread, I couldn’t help but think about how the books now relate to our current society. As I write this, I’m staring at a screen, and throughout the time it took me to reread these books, I took 906 pictures on my phone. (Granted, I was dog-sitting some very cute pups, but I digress.) I’ve gone on social media at least once a day in that time period as well.

Like Katniss, many of us are playing a role and presenting ourselves to the world. We’re doing this through screens and lenses, and sometimes that makes us feel like crying—or letting our guard down in other ways—isn’t an option. The Hunger Games reminds us that when we live our lives on a screen, we really just present the person we want to be perceived as and not our true selves. Social media often makes me feel like I must show exactly who I want people to see me as—presenting myself in a way that is supportive and caring, a little weird, and yet ambitious and successful. This is an impossible task. I’m sure many of us have read up on how too much social media can be toxic and how important it is to take a break. It’s also incredibly common for well-known people to have entire public relations teams shaping their public image. When I first read the books, I hadn’t yet grasped this concept. Now I see that the entire book revolves around how Katniss is presented to Panem, and why her true self conflicts with this.

4. It’s not about Peeta vs. Gale, it’s about Katniss vs. Katniss.

Listen, I will be the first to admit that on my first read, I was all about the Peeta, Gale, Katniss love triangle. I remember being into Gale at the time, and I was sad when he went off to District 2 at the end. Of course, the movies lean into the love triangle, as a lot of these movies do. But upon my rereading, I now know that Peeta, Gale, and the love triangle are not the heart of the books.

I found myself getting frustrated whenever Peeta and Gale forced their romantic feelings onto Katniss. Katniss basically tells them she’s kind of preoccupied with saving Panem, which I had so much respect for. She also says that one of the few freedoms she has is the right to marry or not marry at all. She mentions many times in all three books that she doesn’t want marriage or children, knowing the life they will face. The real conflict is that in order to survive, Katniss has to pretend she wants these things. If she fails to convince everyone of her love for Peeta, President Snow will kill her loved ones. This is what I mean by Katniss versus Katniss. The books are about someone who is desperately trying to survive by being forced to be someone they’re not. The real conflict of the series is not who Katniss will end up with, it’s which Katniss will ultimately win. The person the Capitol and District 13 want her to be or the person she truly is?

5. It’s important to pay attention to what starts a spark, and what extinguishes it.

Katniss is constantly discovering her own individual power (or fire, if you will), and in turn, those around her consistently extinguish it. While I really loved the “girl on fire” metaphor throughout the books the first time I read them, I found deeper meaning in it this time around. I paid more attention to the moments in which Katniss is on fire and the moments when her fire is put out.

For me, Katniss’ fire was extinguished when she had to pretend to love Peeta in order to gain more sponsors in the arena. Or in the second book when she had to pretend they were getting married, or that she was pregnant, in order to stop the budding rebellion. Or in the third book when she had to forget all that and become the face of the rebellion.

Katniss lights her own spark when she shoots an arrow at the game makers during training. And when she builds flowers around Rue after she dies and does the three-finger salute that would become a part of the rebellion. She also lights a spark when she shoots an arrow into the arena to bring down the Quarter Quell. I’m sure I took in all these moments during my first read, but now I see the common thread.

The moments that light Katniss up are the moments when she acts alone and on instinct. In other words, when she’s true to herself, and not a pawn in the Games. I think this is something we can all apply to our lives as we figure out who we really are. Pay attention to the moments in your life that light you up and move towards them. Maybe the spark is present when you’re with that certain someone or you never feel more alive than when you’re engaging in that hobby. Follow your sparks and turn away from whatever dulls them.

6. Katniss is asked to be so many things, but never herself.

Katniss spends a lot of time in the first two books trying to prove to the Capitol that she’s not a threat. But when she gets to District 13 in the third book, Katniss must prove she is a threat for the sake of the rebellion. On my first read, I really wanted Katniss to step into the Mockingjay role, but during my most recent read, I understood why she was so hesitant to do so. Neither ask is a good option.

There are many references to how similar District 13 is to the Capitol. In District 13, Katniss has a makeover crew and camera prep team, just like during the Games. When she trains to be a part of a rebel squad, it’s reminiscent of the tribute training center. And when she leaves to fight, the battlefield is one giant arena. No matter what she tries to do, she’s trapped in the game. It reminded me of times in my life when I’ve been asked to not be too big, and yet not be too small. Don’t be too nice, yet don’t be too mean. Don’t work too hard, but be the best. Katniss is constantly trying to be something different in order to please the people around her. She’s often asked to be multiple things at once, too, like a threatening tribute during the Games but just a girl in love outside of them. This pressure to constantly fit into different boxes is something I know more than a few of us can relate to. This universal experience makes Katniss’ story even more compelling.

7. Katniss needed to walk through grief alone.

I have experienced and observed grief in a much more profound way since I last read these books. With the loss of my mother and several other family members over the years, Katniss’ journey through grief hit me more clearly. At the end of the third book, Katniss is sent back to District 12. She begins moving forward, one step at a time, and walks through grief until the “movements have meaning.” She does much of this in solitude as other people come in and out of her consciousness.

I felt a deep sense of understanding for her need to be by herself. Katniss was always on this journey alone. Finally, addressing her grief was the only part of the books in which she wasn’t being recorded, televised, or watched. And when she eventually moves forward and continues to live her life, it sparks her biggest fire yet: finally owning her life.

For all of these new discoveries, The Hunger Games books held up, and I’ll be putting them on my list to reread again and again.

Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games Box Set

This beautiful paperback box set includes all three books in Suzanne Collins’s internationally bestselling Hunger Games trilogy together with the prequel story, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Shop now