In some distant future America has been replaced by a country called Panem. Panem is made up of 13 districts and a capitol. While the districts are increasingly poor, the Capitol is rich. The protagonist is a girl named Katniss who lives in the poorest district, District 12. When the story opens she is hunting illegally for food with her friend Gale, to prevent her family from starving because the bread-winner, her father, has been dead for several years. District 12 is a coal mining district.
Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they’re as hungry for fresh meat as anybody. In fact, they’re among our best customers. (ch 1,p. 5)
It is in this world that the Hunger Games take place each year. Two children, a boy and a girl, are selected to compete to the death as punishment for a long-ago rebellion against the Capitol.
When Katniss’s little sister Prim is chosen, she volunteers to go in her place. Her fellow Tribute is a boy named Peeta, whom she barely knows.
Katniss and Peeta train for the games under the guidance of Haymitch, a drunken former winner of the Hunger Games. Effie, Katniss’s liaison with the Capitol, tells Katniss that Haymitch is all they have.
Haymitch can well be the difference between your life and your death. (ch 3, p. 47)
So Katniss and Peeta listen to him. Katniss survives the games alone until a rule change declares that there can be two winners if they are from the same district. She rushes to Peeta, who is badly injured, and nurses him back to health.
As the Tributes die off one by one, Katniss and Peeta are soon the only two left. Another rule change is announced—there can only be one winner. Rather than kill Peeta, Katniss offers him a poisonous berry and they both prepare to commit suicide. They are declared winners.
Although Katniss and Peeta have survived the Hunger Games, they have committed an act of rebellion. As the first book ends, Katniss is waiting to see how the Capitol will react to her defiance.