The Hunger Games takes place in the ruins of North America: a country called Panem, containing 12 known districts. When her sister, Prim, is selected (in her first year of eligibility) as District 12's female tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place on the stage. As Effie asks for a round of applause for Katniss, everyone is silent. After a few minutes, most of the crowd presses their three fingers against their mouths and holds it out to her. Katniss describes this as an ancient sign for saying "admiration," "goodbye to someone you love," and "respect."
After Katniss is selected, Effie chooses the male tribute for the Games. Peeta Mellark is picked, and Katniss remembers something he did to help her when they were just eleven. During the time after Katniss' father died, Katniss's family was slowly starving to death. One day, Katniss took some of Prim's baby clothes on the streets to sell to any willing people. No one bought them. Katniss was sad and very weak, since she was unable to take any food home for her family. On the way home, she passed the bakery, where Peeta and his family work. Katniss felt dizzy when she inhaled the smell of baking bread. Then, she had the idea of looking for something, anything, in the trashcans of the wealthier people in District Twelve. As she was checking Peeta's bakery's trash bins, Peeta's mother caught her and yelled at her. Peeta saw this, and purposely burned some bread in the bakery. This got his mother's attention, and she started screaming at him. She hit him on the cheek, bruising him. She told him to throw the burned bread to their pig outside, but when he went outside, he discreetly threw the bread to Katniss. Katniss returned home with the bread, and somehow the day after that, had the courage to venture out into the woods, where she met Gale, and continued to hunt for food for her family with him by her side.
After Katniss and Peeta have been selected and said goodbyes to their families, they are whisked away by Haymitch Abernathy (a previous District Twelve Victor, extreme drunkard, and their mentor) and Effie Trinket to the high-speed train that awaits them. Riding the train, they are stunned by how fast it moves.
When they arrive in the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta can't help but gawk at all the amazing sights District Twelve wasn't able to show. Katniss is then met by her prep team, Flavius, Octavia, and Venia, and her stylist, Cinna, who prepare Katniss for the Opening Ceremonies. All the tributes wear something that represents their district's industry. Coming from District Twelve, Katniss and Peeta expect to be dressed in mining costumes. Cinna, however, decides to dress them in a plain black unitard and shiny laced up boots that burns with fake flames when lit. Katniss and Peeta are initially apprehensive at this arrangement, but their worries bring them closer together. Just before the parade, Cinna lights their headdresses and to Katniss and Peeta's surprise and relief, it doesn't burn. In addition, Cinna also suggests that they hold hands to present them as "together and a team." This distinguishes Katniss and Peeta from the rest of the tributes not only because they have better costumes, but also that they are warm and relatively friendly to each other in comparison to the other tributes, who have remained cold and stiff with each other. With this new development, both gain the attention (and attraction) of sponsors in the Capitol, and both are unforgettable. From that moment on, Katniss is known as "The Girl On Fire".
During the Games Katniss forms an alliance with Rue, the female tribute from District 11, until Rue is killed by the male tribute from District 1, Marvel. Later, the rules are changed so that if the remaining two tributes come from the same district, they will both win. Katniss hurries to find Peeta and they resume their "star-crossed lovers" reputation, gaining sympathy from sponsors. They outlast the other tributes and the rule change is revoked, meaning there can only be one victor of the Hunger Games. Assuming the Gamemakers would rather have two victors than none, she suggests that they both commit suicide by eating poisonous nightlock berries. The ploy works and Katniss and Peeta are both declared victors of the 74th Hunger Games.
Catching FireMain article: Catching Fire
Katniss and Peeta go on the Victory Tour, which is a visit to each district by the winners, strategically placed between each Hunger Games. Katniss becomes aware that uprisings are erupting. In addition, the nation's leader, President Snow, is making Katniss convince the nation that she is really in love with Peeta and that her suicide pact was an act of love rather than defiance, in order to quell dissent. Gale has been presented to the nation as her cousin, but President Snow implies his knowledge that Katniss has feelings for him and threatens to have him killed to gain leverage.
In order to save her family and friends, Katniss agrees to follow the Capitol's agenda. Peeta does the same when he realizes what is at stake. Peeta even proposes marriage to her, and she accepts, but even at that point President Snow conveys to her that her actions are insufficient. Katniss comes to realize that the rebellion in the districts is not within her power to suppress, making it impossible for her to satisfy President Snow's demands. Katniss is also confused as to the nature of her feelings for both Gale and Peeta, both of which are complicated by her fears for the future and her unwillingness to have children who themselves could be subjected to the Hunger Games. When the Quarter Quell—a special Hunger Games that takes place every 25 years and has a special set of rules—is announced, it is proclaimed that all of the current year's tributes will be selected from the pool of previous Hunger Games victors. District 12 has only three living victors: Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch Abernathy, who won the 50th Games and successfully mentored Katniss the year before. As Katniss is the only living female victor in District 12, she is the only possible female tribute, and Peeta volunteers to take Haymitch's place when Haymitch is selected. Katniss and Peeta return to the arena, working closely to survive and forming alliances and close friendships in the process.
Katniss is taken from the arena and discovers that the tributes of many districts had coordinated an escape plan and used a stolen hovercraft to fly to District 13, which was not destroyed as the Capitol had claimed. However, during the escape, Peeta is captured by the Capitol and afterwards, Gale informs Katniss that District 12 was bombed and destroyed but that her family is safe.
MockingjayMain article: Mockingjay
In Mockingjay, Katniss visits the subterranean civilization of District 13 and meets with the people and their leader, President Alma Coin, after being taken to see the remains of District 12. A love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale slowly unfolds, forcing Katniss to decide whom she really wants to be with—a situation complicated by the fact that Peeta is currently being tortured in the Capitol while Gale is at Katniss's side.
Katniss agrees to be the symbolic leader of their rebellion: "the Mockingjay", the face of the rebels. She discovers that Cinna has been killed by the Capitol, but the rest of her prep team survived in District 13's captivity; they prep Katniss for the cameras when she agrees to start doing propaganda pieces for the rebels. Katniss becomes increasingly emotionally unstable by the horrors she witnesses—mass slaughter, the destruction of the only home she has ever known with 90% of the citizens of District 12 dead, many friends killed due to their association with her, and Peeta being beaten on live television. After a rescue mission in which a team from District 13 brings Peeta back, she finds out his memories have been distorted by tracker jacker venom, a mind-control torturing method referred to as "hijacking". He now hates and wants to kill Katniss, believing she is a muttation created by the Capitol. Katniss becomes even more determined to kill Snow after this.
She, along with a group of sharpshooters that include Gale, Finnick Odair (from the Quarter Quell in the previous book), and later joined by Peeta (much to Katniss's dismay) sneak into the Capitol at the cost of several of their own lives in an attempt to kill Snow. As they get close to the presidential mansion, an array of bombs are dropped from a Hovercraft, with only some exploding, killing the refugee Capitol children on whom they were dropped. Rebel medics, including Prim, rush to help the children, but as they arrive the rest of the bombs explode. Prim is killed in front of Katniss, while Katniss's body is severely burned. Although she makes a remarkable physical recovery, Katniss temporarily loses the ability to speak, traumatized by the death of her sister. It is possible that Gale was involved in the making of the bombs that killed Prim.
Meanwhile, President Snow is arrested, found guilty of his crimes against the people of Panem, and sentenced to death. Per Katniss' request, she is designated as his executioner. Before the execution, Snow tells Katniss that the bombs weren't his but the rebels' way of gaining sympathy in the Capitol for their cause, making it look like the work of Snow. Although she initially refuses to believe Snow, Katniss realizes that the attack method was identical to a trap Gale and fellow Quarter Quell tribute Beetee had designed. Eventually, Katniss realises that someone high up in the ranks of the Rebels would have had to order to have Prim on the front line, despite her age, and comes to suspect that Coin ordered the attack on the children in order to trick the Capitol citizens into thinking that the government had killed their children, therefore winning the loyalty of the Capitol's citizens and that Prim was there solely to subdue and unhinge Katniss.
Furthermore, Coin suggests that there will be one last Hunger Games where the children from the Capitol will be reaped. She seeks the approval of the surviving victors before making these games official, and Katniss votes yes as a means of gaining Coin's trust. During the supposed execution of Snow, she instead shoots Coin, due to her being responsible for Prim's death. She then attempts to kill herself with the suicide pill attached to her uniform, but Peeta stops her. She is then arrested and placed in solitary confinement, where she attempts to commit suicide by starving herself and overdosing. However, she is ultimately released on the grounds that she wasn't mentally well at the time of the assassination and is sent back to District 12. Katniss, accompanied by Haymitch, goes back to her home in Victor's Village and is put under care.
Driven into a deep depression, Katniss refuses to leave her house until Peeta (who by then has largely recovered from his brainwashing) returns to District 12 to plant primroses outside, in memory of her sister. Katniss begins to regain her mental health, and she and Peeta deal with their feelings by creating a book composed of information about deceased tributes, friends, and family (eventually Haymitch joins them in this project). Katniss's mother, who chose not to return to District 12 because of all the painful memories of her deceased husband and daughter, decides to work in District 4 as medical personnel. Gale got a "fancy job" in District 2 and is seen regularly on television. A few hundred District 12 survivors return home and rebuild it, where they no longer mine coal, producing food and manufacturing medicine instead. The novel ends with Katniss admitting that she does indeed love Peeta.
In the epilogue, Katniss and Peeta are married and have two children. Their first child, a girl, has Katniss' dark hair and Peeta's blue eyes; their second child, a boy, has Katniss' grey eyes and Peeta's blond curls. Katniss still wakes up screaming in the night and is worried about telling her children about the nightmares involving their parents' contribution in the Games and the rebellion. She finds no pleasure in life at times because she knows it could all be taken away at once. To soothe her traumatized psyche, Katniss makes lists in her mind of every act of kindness she has ever seen, an obsession that she realizes is simply a "repetitive game" to keep darker thoughts at bay. In the series' last words, Katniss offers one final observation: "But there are much worse games to play."
Katniss and her family live in the futuristic nation of Panem, located on the continent once known as North America, which was destroyed in a global catastrophe. Panem is run by an all-powerful city called the Capitol, located in the Rocky Mountains, which is surrounded by 12 districts, each having a specific purpose in supplying something to the Capitol. The story starts in District 12, Katniss's home, the coal-mining district. District 12 is the poorest of the districts, and Katniss lives with her mother and sister in the poorest part of town, known as the Seam.
Katniss's father, a coal miner, was killed in a mine explosion when Katniss was 11. After his death, Katniss's mother went into a deep depression and was unable to take care of her children. On the brink of starvation a few weeks before her twelfth birthday Katniss wandered into the richer part of town, hoping to steal some scraps from the garbage bins of rich merchants. The baker's son, Peeta, whom she did not know, took a beating from his mother for intentionally burning two loaves of bread, knowing that he would be told to throw them out. He was told to give the two loaves of bread to the pig, but instead gave them to Katniss. Katniss took them home to her family, who had not eaten in days. The bread gave them hope and kept them motivated, leaving Katniss feeling resentfully indebted to Peeta.
A few days after the incident with the bread, Katniss decided to go into the woods surrounding her district to hunt illegally and gather plants to eat, which was how her father had gotten most of the family's food before he died. There she met a boy named Gale Hawthorne. Together, they provide for both their families and develop a strong friendship.
Katniss's mother slowly surfaces from her depression and is able to return to her job as an apothecary, and Katniss makes an effort to forgive her. However, despite her mending relationship with her mother, strong friendship with Gale, and the increasingly strong affections she gains for Peeta, Katniss remains adamant that Prim, her younger sister, is "the only person she's certain she loves".
Collins has described Katniss as being an independent strong survivalist, lethal, but good at thinking outside the box. Katniss's past hardships (her father's death, mother's depression, and near starvation) have made her a survivor, and she will endure hardship and hard work to preserve her own life and the life of her family. She states herself that nice people are the most dangerous because they get inside of her and that they could hurt her badly when she least expected it. She has shown she will protect those she loves, no matter the cost to herself, as shown when she volunteers for the Games to save her little sister Prim, when she shields Gale to keep him from being whipped, even when it means a lash for herself, and when she stoically decides during her second Games to die to save Peeta. Because the majority of her time before the Games was spent keeping herself and her family alive, she does not understand many social cues and is often ignorant of other people's emotions, such as when she doesn't recognize Gale's hints at his growing affection for her, or when she fails to realise that she and Madge Undersee are actually close friends. She has no experience with romance or love other than that of her family, and doesn't believe she wants it. She never actually understands that Peeta was telling the truth when he declared his love for her in the pre-game interview until after the games itself. She also has large trust issues, and does not trust anyone. She plans never to be married nor have children that would grow up subject to the Reaping.
She quickly adapts to the "kill or be killed" philosophy of the games and coldly considers how she will kill her fellow competitors during the first Games, at one point rationalizing that she is already a killer due to her hunting experience, though she is briefly disturbed after her first direct kill, Marvel. By the end of the first Games, she is prepared to shoot Cato, and attempts to do so only to be interrupted by Peeta being attacked by the muttations. Despite her cold-bloodedness, she is nonetheless extremely relieved at not having to kill her allies Rue and Peeta. As the series progresses, however, she becomes increasingly cold-blooded, to the point where she objectively discusses how to kill everyone (but Peeta) involved in her second Hunger Games in Catching Fire (though she ultimately has to kill only one combatant), and by the third novel is depicted killing an unarmed female civilian during a mission, with apparent remorse.
In Catching Fire, Katniss struggles to understand Panem political issues as she has had very little education or experience of politics. She also gradually realizes that there are more important things than survival and decides she is willing to die for Peeta and the rebellion.
Katniss is a highly skilled archer, hunter, and trapper, having learned these from her father and Gale, honed to keep her family from starving. She uses her archery and her daring to score an 11 (out of a possible 12) during the pre-games judging. She has been well educated on edible, medicinal, and poisonous plant life of District 12. Additionally, she has a singing voice that is so beautiful birds stay quiet to listen, also from her father, although she has been reluctant to sing since his death (she claims that it's because music is useless for practical survival, but she suspects it's actually because music reminds her too much of him). Katniss is a skilled tree-climber, which has benefited her in hunting and the Games. She is usually very logical except for times when her emotions get in the way. Peeta mentions that she has an effect on people around her, the image she projects, and he admires her for it.