Katniss Everdeen has won the Hunger Games, an annual festival sponsored by the government of her nation, Panem. The government requires that each of the twelve districts of Panem send two competitors, one male and one female, to fight each other and compete in a sadistic series of challenges, until there is only one champion. The entire population of Panem watches the Hunger Games on television. Katniss and her co-representative from District 12, Peeta, won the games together, defying the government’s rules. The “Head Gamemaker,” Seneca Crane, allowed Katniss and Peeta to be co-champions because he thought it would make for a good story: indeed, Katniss pretended that she was in love with Peeta to please the media.
Shortly after winning the Games, Katniss is back in District 12. She now lives in a luxurious house, along with a former victor, Haymitch, her mother, her sister Prim, and Peeta. One day, Katniss returns to her home to find Coriolanus Snow, the president of Panem, waiting for her. Snow informs Katniss that she is about to embark on her “Victory Tour,” during which she’ll visit all twelve districts. He tells Katniss that her defiance of the rules of the Hunger Games caused rebellion in the twelve districts, and he warns her that if she disobeys the government’s rules again, her family will be killed. As Snow leaves, he gives Katniss one more piece of information: he knows that Katniss kissed Gale. Gale, Katniss’s lifelong friend, has been referred to as her “cousin” in the news, because the media doesn’t want to distract from Katniss’s supposed romance with Peeta
Concerned for her family’s safety, Katniss begins her Victory Tour, accompanied by Haymitch, Peeta, and her entourage, including stylists, makeup artists, and escorts. Before she leaves, Katniss’s mother gives her a small pin shaped like a mockingjay, a rare bird of Panem. During her visit to District 11, Katniss and Peeta appear in the Justice Building before the district’s entire population. Katniss, who’s wearing her pin, remembers Rue, a young competitor from District 11 who died in last year’s Hunger Games. Katniss goes “off-script,” telling the crowd that she’ll always remember Rue, and inspiring many to clap and cheer. As Katniss and Peeta leave the building, they’re horrified to see “Peacekeepers”—government soldiers—shooting those who applauded. Afterwards, Katniss tells Haymitch and Peeta everything President Snow told her. Peeta is upset that Katniss and Gale kissed, though he knows that he’s being selfish. Peeta sincerely loves Katniss, but recognizes that Katniss doesn’t return his feelings.
As Peeta and Katniss proceed with the rest of their tour, they “stick to the script” during all public appearances. Katniss begins to have nightmares about Rue and the Games, and sometimes sleeps in Peeta’s bed for comfort. The last stage of the tour takes place in the Capitol, where the government is based, and where the richest and most powerful citizens of Panem live. In the Capitol, during their final public appearance, Peeta proposes marriage to Katniss, having confirmed with Katniss and Haymitch that the marriage will keep their families safe. Katniss accepts Peeta’s offer of marriage, though she does so out of concern for her loved ones, not love for Peeta. Immediately afterwards, Katniss makes eye contact with President Snow, who is presiding over the event. Snow gives a barely perceptible shake of the head that, in Katniss’s mind, means that Katniss has not done enough to comply with his requests. After the event, Peeta and Katniss attend a huge ball where Katniss meets Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Gamemaker. She notices that Plutarch is wearing a watch with a mockingjay on it.
Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta return to District 12, where they learn that there are uprisings in other parts of Panem. In response to these uprisings, the government has sent more Peacekeepers to District 12: rules are being more strictly enforced, and many citizens are jailed or killed for breaking the law. Convinced that President Snow wants her dead, Katniss prepares to leave District 12, along with Haymitch, Peeta, Gale, and her family. Katniss first tells Gale of her plan to leave—Gale is eager to join her, until he realizes that Peeta will be coming, too. Shortly thereafter, Gale is savagely whipped for illegally hunting in the woods. Katniss’s mother takes care of Gale, using medicines that seem harsh and brutal to Katniss, but ultimately cause him to heal more quickly. In the following weeks, Katniss’s mother tends to dozens of victims of the government’s brutality, and Katniss herself tends to Gale, even kissing him and falling asleep beside him. Peeta is displeased when he sees that Katniss has been sleeping with Gale.
Katniss, furious with the government, sneaks out to hunt in defiance of the rules. When she sneaks past the fence around District 1, she encounters a woman, Twill, and a girl, Bonnie, who claim to be from District 8. They explain that Katniss’s defiance of the Capitol, via her speech about Rue and her performance in the Hunger Games, has triggered a wave of rebellion against President Snow, and, in response, the spread of Peacekeepers throughout Panem. Twill explains that they are headed to District 13—an area that the government claims to be radioactive, but which Twill believes to be home to a huge group of rebels. Bonnie shows Katniss a small cracker, decorated with Katniss’s mockingjay; this encourages Katniss to trust Bonnie and Twill. Nevertheless, her concern for her family forces her to return to District 12, rather than joining her new friends on their journey.
Shortly after meeting Bonnie and Twill, Katniss returns to the Capitol with Peeta for a lavish photo-shoot preceding their wedding. During her time there, the government announces an unexpected change in the Hunger Games for that year. Because it is the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, the Capitol will require the 12 Districts to send former victors, rather than new competitors, as is the usual procedure. Katniss realizes that she is the only woman from District 12 ever to win the Games—this means that she will be forced to compete in the Games for a second time. Shortly thereafter, Peeta insists that he’ll volunteer to compete in the Games, protecting Katniss for as long as possible.
Katniss is distraught at having to compete in the Games again—she realizes that she won’t be able to co-win the Games with Peeta this time, and thus, one of them will have to die. Nevertheless, she resolves to try her hardest to protect Peeta from the other competitors, and to ultimately sacrifice her own life to do so. Haymitch, who has always favored Peeta over Katniss, agree with Katniss’s plan, and spends the following months rigorously training both Peeta and Katniss. Katniss gains new respect for Haymitch—in the past, she’d thought of him as a lazy alcoholic, but now she realizes that he’s an intelligent, athletic man whose talents haven’t left him in the years since he won the Hunger Games himself.
After months of training, Haymitch, Peeta, and Katniss prepare for the Games. As expected, Katniss’s name is selected, along with Haymitch’s, but Peeta immediately volunteers to take Haymitch’s place. The three of them go to the Capitol, where Haymitch will continue to coach Katniss and Peeta. At the Capitol, Peeta and Katniss meet the other competitors in the 75th Hunger Games. Notable contestants include a young woman named Johanna, who previously won the Games by pretending to be weak; a handsome young man and “fan favorite” named Finnick Odair, who won largely by seducing his opponents into trusting him; a middle-aged couple named Wiress and Beetee, who won by using their vast intelligence; and a group of “Careers” (people who train for the Games and then volunteer to participate) famed for their brutality. Following Haymitch’s instructions, Katniss forms an alliance with Wiress and Beetee. Katniss learns from her allies that the Gamemakers are using invisible force fields to protect themselves from the competitors, and prevent the competitors from escaping the Games. Katniss also learns how to identify these force fields—they leave a telltale “shimmering square.” During these days, Katniss begins to develop feelings for Peeta, and tells him, knowing full well that she’s likely to die in the upcoming Games, that she wants to spend the remainder of her life with him. Katniss notices Plutarch Heavensbee presiding over the Games, and feels intense hatred for him.
Hours before the Games begin, Haymitch tells Katniss to remember who the “real enemy” is. Katniss prepares to enter the enormous arena where the Games occur, accompanied by her stylist and friend, Cinna. A tracking device is forcibly injected into her arm, allowing the Gamemakers to follow her every move. Seconds before Katniss is raised into the arena, Peacekeepers attack Cinna, sending a clear message to Katniss: she must “behave” or her loved ones will be hurt.
The Hunger Games take place in a huge, circular arena full of water, with twelve spokes connecting the circumference to a small island in the center. Katniss manages to swim to the island, followed by Finnick, who is from a coastal district. On the island, there is a massive pile of weapons, from which Katniss takes a bow and arrow. Finnick insists that he and Katniss form an alliance—though Katniss is initially reluctant, she agrees after Finnick helps both her and Peeta. They also align with Mags, an old woman from Finnick’s district. The group of four makes its way to the far side of the island, where Katniss notices a force field too late to prevent Peeta from electrocuting himself. After Finnick performs CPR on Peeta, saving his life, Katniss realizes that she’ll never be able to kill Finnick. At the end of the first day, a cannon fires, indicating that almost half of the contestants have already been killed.
The group of four encounters a series of challenges: first, a cloud of mist that paralyzes anyone who walks through it. Katniss, Finnick, and Peeta run away from the cloud, with Finnick carrying Peeta. Because Katniss is too weak to carry Mags, the group is forced to leave her to die. This devastates Finnick, since Mags was one of his only true friends. Shortly afterwards, the remaining group encounters a swarm of monkeys, a massive tsunami wave, and lightning. Their most traumatizing challenge occurs when Katniss and Finnick are confronted by a swarm of birds who speak with the voices of their loved ones: Katniss, for instance, hears the sound of Prim screaming.
The group meets Wiress and Beetee, who have banded together with Johanna. Wiress, who’s been mentally disturbed by the Games, continues to mutter, “tick tock,” irritating Johanna. Katniss correctly deduces that Wiress is saying that the arena is built like a clock: each twelfth of the circle contains a different challenge, each of which occurs exactly once every twelve hours, for one hour at a time. Before Katniss has time to process this information further, a group of Careers attacks her and her allies, killing Wiress in the process.
Beetee, who has previously chosen a long, thin wire from the pile of weapons, proposes that the group lure the remaining competitors to the beach, connect the beach to the lightning area with the wire, and wait for the lightning to electrocute them. The group agrees, largely because no one is clever enough to think of a better plan. The group splits in two: Katniss and Johanna unravel the wire along the beach, while Finnick, Beetee, and Peeta go to the lightning area of the arena. While Katniss is unraveling the wire, a heavy object hits her on the head. Half-knocked out, she feels Johanna cutting her on the arm with a knife and then running away. Katniss concludes that Johanna and Finnick must have had a plan all along to betray Katniss and Peeta.
Still desperate to save Peeta’s life, Katniss staggers toward the edge of the island, where Beetee and Peeta have gone. Lightning is about to strike, electrocuting most of the beach. In the lightning area, she sees Beetee lying on the ground, a deep wound in his back. Suddenly, she sees Finnick running toward her, followed by a Career named Enobaria. Katniss is about to shoot Enobaria, thinking that Finnick will stagger toward the lightning, eliminating himself, when she remembers Haymitch’s warning to remember the real enemy. Realizing that Haymitch was talking about the Gamemakers, Katniss turns from Finnick to the force field that keeps the competitors trapped inside the arena. She shoots her arrow at the “shimmering square” at the exact instant when the lightning strikes. There is a large explosion, and Katniss loses consciousness.
When Katniss wakes up, she is lying in a large hospital room. She notices Beetee next to her, and concludes that the Gamemakers are keeping them alive for some other sadistic game. She staggers up and walks toward the sound of voices. In a nearby room, she is surprised to see Haymitch talking with Finnick and Plutarch Heavensbee. Plutarch tells Katniss that he has been part of a plan to overthrow the government, and was working with Finnick, Johanna, and Haymitch. Along with Haymitch, Plutarch planned to free Katniss and Peeta from the Hunger Games by blowing up the force field, and then take them to District 13. Haymitch didn’t tell Katniss or Peeta because he knew they had to have plausible deniability if the plan failed. Meanwhile, he enlisted the help of Finnick, Beetee, and Johanna, who were instructed to protect Katniss and Peeta at all costs.
With Beetee’s help, the group has escaped from the Hunger Games. But Katniss is horrified to learn that the government has captured Peeta, Johanna, and Enobaria before they could be freed from the arena. In the depths of her misery, Katniss finds that Gale is also a part of the rebel alliance. Gale tells Katniss that they will free Peeta from the government. He also gives her shocking news: District 12 has been destroyed.