The Hunger Games have passed, and Katniss’s and Peeta’s lives have changed substantially as they are now rich. Katniss returns home from the woods one day to find President Snow waiting for her. He’s concerned that any more public defiance of the Capitol by Katniss, like her and Peeta’s threat of suicide at the end of the Hunger Games, could spark an uprising in the districts. She has to continue pretending that she’s in love with Peeta, or they’ll hurt Gale, Katniss’s oldest friend. Katniss tells Haymitch everything that happened, and she realizes that she’ll never be able to stop pretending: She’ll have to marry Peeta.
Peeta and Katniss, meanwhile, have had a tense relationship since Peeta found out that Katniss was only pretending to be in love with him during the Games. They agree to be friends, however, as they embark on their Victory Tour of the districts. Their first stop is District 11. It was the home district of Rue, the girl Katniss befriended who was ultimately killed during the Games. An old man in the crowd whistles out a signal that Katniss and Rue used, and everyone in the crowd puts up a gesture of respect used in Katniss’s home district, District 12. Before she is rushed away, Katniss sees a group of Peacekeepers execute the old man. In other districts, Katniss can sense an undercurrent of repressed rage that suggests people are ready to rebel. At the end of the tour, Peeta and Katniss plan for Peeta to propose during a televised interview to try to appease the Capitol. They do it, but President Snow indicates to Katniss that it’s not enough. Later, at a feast at President Snow’s mansion, Katniss meets Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker. He shows her his watch, and when he rubs the face, a mockingjay like the one on the pin she wears appears and quickly vanishes. After she returns home, she learns there’s been an uprising in District 8.
Katniss goes to meet Gale in the woods and tells him everything that’s happened. She wants to run away with their families, and Gale tells her he loves her. When she mentions the uprising, however, he says he wants to stay and fight. Katniss goes to tell Peeta, who agrees to run away, but then, in the town’s main square, they find Gale being publicly whipped for hunting. As Gale recuperates, Katniss realizes she loves him and decides not to run away.
Weeks later, Katniss goes back into the woods and is shocked to meet two women. One holds out a cracker to Katniss with the image of her mockingjay in the center. They explain they’re from District 8 and fled after the uprising. They’re on their way to District 13, which was destroyed years earlier but which they believe is home to a group of underground rebels. Back at home later, Katniss watches the televised announcement about the Quarter Quell. Every twenty-five years, a special Hunger Games occur, and this year is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Games. In the announcement, President Snow says the tributes will be selected from among the past winners of the Games. Since Katniss is the only female winner of District 12, it means she’s going back into the arena.
Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch begin training for the Games, and when the reaping, or tribute selection, happens, Peeta volunteers to go in place of Haymitch. They meet the other tributes, most of whom have known each other for years, which makes the Games more awful since they still have to kill each other. Katniss immediately dislikes Finnick Odair, the male tribute from District 4, and Johanna Mason, the woman from District 7. She prefers Wiress and Beetee, the smart but physically weak tributes from District 3, and Mags, the eighty-year-old woman from District 4. The tributes are interviewed on television before they depart for the arena, and President Snow makes Katniss wear a wedding dress. Cinna, Katniss’s stylist, rigs it, and during the interview, it burns away leaving Katniss in a mockingjay costume.
Finally the tributes are sent to the arena, a small tropical island, and the Games begin. Right away Katniss comes face to face with Finnick. To her surprise, he tells her they’re allies, and she notices a bracelet on his wrist that belonged to Haymitch. Katniss, Peeta, Finnick, and Mags form a group and head into the jungle where Katniss discovers that an electrical force field blocks part of the island and creates a dome over them. A dense fog descends on them and turns out to be a toxic nerve agent. They run from it, but their limbs begin to seize up. Finnick can carry only Peeta or Mags, and so Mags sacrifices herself by running into the fog. The remaining three barely make it to the beach.
Eventually they see Johanna Mason approaching with Wiress and Beetee. Johanna tells Katniss she saved them for her. Katniss realizes that the island is laid out like a clock face, with each section containing a different attack triggered at a set time, and she remembers Plutarch Heavensbee talking about his watch as he showed her the mockingjay. She realizes he was trying to tip her off about the arena. They all head to the Cornucopia, which contains weapons, and while they’re loading up a group of tributes sneaks up. One slits Wiress’s throat before Katniss kills him. Finnick saves Peeta in the fight.
The group heads back into the jungle, and when Peeta wants to go collect water, Johanna won’t let him. Katniss realizes that the other tributes are trying to keep Peeta alive, but she doesn’t know why. Just then Katniss hears what sounds like her little sister screaming and rushes off to find it. It’s only a jabberjay, a bird the Capitol created that can mimic any sound it hears. Finnick hears one, too, that sounds like a woman named “Annie.” Katniss later learns that Annie is a victor from District 4 who went half-crazy surviving her Games. Finnick is in love with her. That night, Peeta tells Katniss she has to survive for the sake of her family, and he and Katniss spend the night together holding each other and kissing. The next morning, Beetee has a plan. At twelve noon and midnight each day, lightning strikes a tree on the island. By running a highly conductive wire Beetee has from the tree to the ocean, they can electrocute a large area of water and whatever sand is wet. He thinks the other remaining tributes would move to the beach if they left. If so, those tributes would be electrocuted.
They hike to the tree and wrap the wire around it, and Katniss and Johanna begin carrying it back to the beach. Suddenly the wire is cut, and before Katniss knows what’s happening, Johanna hits her in the head and cuts something out of her arm. Katniss, still dizzy, thinks they’re trying to kill her and Peeta and heads back to the tree. She sees Beetee with the same arm wound holding a knife with the wire wrapped around it and realizes what he was trying to do. She wraps the wire around one of her arrows and fires it through a small, visible gap in the force field just as lightning strikes. The shock causes the force field to go down and knocks Katniss unconscious. She wakes to find a hovercraft retrieving her. On board are Haymitch, Finnick, and Plutarch Heavensbee, and they explain everything. Plutarch has for years been part of a secret rebel group, and many of the tributes were involved in a plot to bring down the force field around the island so they could escape. What they cut out of her arm was a tracking device. Several of the districts are now in a full-scale revolt, and their hovercraft is headed to District 13.
Lastly, they tell Katniss they kept Peeta alive in the arena only because they knew she wouldn’t help them if he died. They need her because she’s the mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion. But Peeta and Johanna couldn’t be rescued. They were taken by the Capitol. Katniss attacks Haymitch, feeling he used her and Peeta. She’s sedated, and when she comes to, Gale is there. He explains the Capitol started dropping bombs after the Games. He got her family out safely, but District 12 is gone.