I finished the final books of The Hunger Games trilogy in the course of 48 hours, just burned right through them. I know that everyone and her mother has read this trilogy, but just bear with me here. I should add that there are probably spoilers ahead for the first book if I am to describe the last two books.
The Hunger Games trilogy takes place in the futuristic world of Panem, a nation that consists of the Capitol and 12 districts. The 12 districts are under the oppressive thumb of the Capitol, headed by the cruel President Snow. Every year, in memory of a past revolution that failed, the Capitol organizes The Hunger Games, which takes 2 children, male and female between the ages of 14 and 19 (I think) from each district and throws them into a battle arena where they have to kill each other until one victor emerges. The Hunger Games serve as a reminder to the districts that the Capitol's power extends even to children's lives. In the first book, Katniss and Peeta from the 12th district, the poorest section that is a producer of coal, are chosen to go into the Games.
Katniss and Peeta have both emerged victorious from the Games. The Capitol sees their survival as an act of rebellion from Katniss but as long as Katniss and Peeta act like they are in love, President Snow will allow them to stay alive a little longer. The reasoning is that Katniss had unknowingly ignited a rebellion with her defiance and now she must pretend her actions were because of her love for Peeta, not because of her anger at the Capitol.
After the Games, Katniss and Peeta have to do the victory tour around the different districts, and Katniss is able to observe that there is unrest in Panem. During the tour, Peeta proposes marriage to Katniss, and she accepts. While all of this is going on, she is also harboring feelings for Gale, her old hunting partner back in 12th.
Despite the show that Katniss and Peeta put on, the Capitol still announces that the 75th annual Hunger Games will actually be between previous victors from each district, which means that both Katnniss and Peeta will have to go back into the arena and fight for their lives again.
The 13th district, which was thought to be bombed and dead during the Revolution but has actually been growing underground and planning an overthrow of the Capitol, has rescued Katniss from the arena of the 75th Hunger Games. Apparently, her mentor Haymitch had kept the rebellion's plans from her, and as a result, Peeta has now been captured by the Capitol. Whether Katniss likes it or not, she is the symbol of the rebellion, and the 13th district would like her to take on the role of the Mockingjay to show the strength of their side. Once again, she is just a pawn in some elaborate game that she cannot see the end and she does not like that feeling. Katniss is also preoccupied by thoughts of the Capitol torturing Peeta and is afraid that her Mockingjay status will endanger him.
I know that these are young adult books, but they really are very graphic and gruesome. It's not just the subject matter, it's also the descriptions. There are physically gruesome plot points, like all the teenagers killing each other, but what stuck out more to me is how heartless these characters are portrayed. Take Katniss, for example - she is the main character and supposed to be the most sympathetic, and yes, I do like her very much, but Collins has no qualms showing how self-centered she can be.
On the flip side, what I think I might like best about Katniss is how honest she is about her motives. She usually acts before she thinks, but after the fact, she would look back at her actions and wonder why she did what she did. The answer is not always pretty but for a 14-year-old teenage girl, she's incredibly self-aware. And I think that a protagonist like her is something that a lot of young adult books lack.