How about those Hunger Games, right? Quite the games! The first book was great! Jennifer Lawrence was great! You liked that moment with the girl, and that thing about the districts, and … yeah, okay, your memory is a little rusty on this. That’s fine! There are lots of YA books to read, and you can’t be expected to remember every little detail about a world that does not exist (yet). So before you see Catching Fire, here is a quick primer on what you need to know about books one and two.
Your heroine is Katniss Everdeen.
Katniss — who is named after a plant, don’t make fun — lives in District 12, the poorest of Panem’s twelve regions (more on that in a minute). She is 17 years old at the start of Catching Fire; she lives with her mother and her younger sister, Prim, in a fancy house given to the winners of the Hunger Games. Katniss likes hunting with her friend Gale; she does not like faking a relationship with her co-winner, Peeta.
The name of her country is Panem, and it is a fucked up place.
Panem as in panem et circuses, or bread and circuses, which is a governing philosophy that applies here. In some not-so-distant future, the United States is divided into twelve districts plus a ruling Capitol. The Capitol has all the wealth, food, and fun; the impoverished districts work for the Capitol. After a rebellion 75 years ago, the annual Hunger Games were instituted as a way of punishing the districts and keeping the current power structure in place. The rules are as follows: Each district must send a male and a female competitor between the ages of 12 and 18 (called “tributes”) to the Capitol to compete in a televised battle to the death. For the Capitol, the Games are the ultimate in entertainment, like the Olympics and the Oscars rolled into one. The competition takes place in a special Arena designed by the Gamemakers; the environment and threats in the Arena are different each year. The people in the Capitol place bets on the Games, and they can also choose to sponsor tributes — sending them supplies, mostly — based on likability.
The last Hunger Games were a little unusual.
Each district’s tributes are decided by lottery, but the rules allow for another child to volunteer in the tribute’s place. This is how Katniss wound up in the 74th Hunger Games — her little sister, Prim, was chosen, and Katniss loves nothing more than she loves Prim. The Games got weirder from there: Katniss’s male partner from District 12 was Peeta Mellark, a nice guy who turned out to have the world’s largest crush on Katniss. As a strategy to win more sponsors and distract their competitors, Peeta and Katniss faked a full-blown romance (though poor Peeta really did love Katniss, and Katniss discovered that maybe she liked making out with Peeta). At the very end, when Peeta and Katniss were the only two tributes left, they refused to kill each other, and decided to eat poisonous berries instead. The Gamemakers stopped them just in time and named them co-winners — something that had never happened before in the history of the Games.
This year’s Hunger Games are going to be even weirder!
Every 25 years, the Capitol holds a Quarter Quell, a super-duper special version of the Hunger Games, with especially screwed-up rules. Since this is already covered in the trailer, we’ll go ahead and explain the rules for Catching Fire: Old tributes have to go back into the arena! Which means: Katniss, the only female victor in District 12’s history, is definitely going back.
Good news, though: Some people are getting pretty fed up with this whole situation.
Citizens of Panem cannot leave their own district, and they have no idea what is going on in neighboring regions … which is why Katniss is surprised to learn that demonstrations have started in District 8, and maybe elsewhere. The first Hunger Games movie hinted at these stirrings of revolution, but President Snow informs us pretty early on in Catching Fire that an uprising is forming — inspired largely by Katniss’s decision to eat the berries, which was seen as an act of defiance. Bad news for Snow (and Katniss, whom he blames); hopeful news for everyone else.
You should know about Gale.
Gale, as mentioned above, is Katniss’s hometown best friend. He is also very handsome, and sometimes Katniss thinks about him when she is supposed to be thinking about Peeta. Or vice versa. It’s very tricky. It gets trickier.
Everyone in the Capitol dresses like a Fashion Clown.
This is just something to be prepared for. Everyone looks totally crazy — technicolor body paint, strange asymmetrical robes, bad wigs. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the only person who is exempt.
Related: This is why Katniss is called “The Girl On Fire.”
Because she wore a fancy flame dress to one of the pre-Games pageants. Catching Fire refers to Katniss’s name and to the fact that everyone in the districts is beginning to embrace the revolution.
Don’t forget the Mockingjay.
The mockingly is a singing bird — a hybrid accidentally created when jabberjays (mimic animal weapons designed by the capitol) mated with mockingbirds. Since they are an example of the Capitol’s failure, or lack of control, mockingjays are also a sign of rebellion. Katniss wears a Mockingjay pin into the arena during her first Hunger Games, and she wears a dress that turns into a Mockingjay before the second. Without ruining the end of a book you do not remember … the mockingly will be important! Pay attention to it. And may the odds … okay, you remember the rest.