How a Book Changed My Life: The Hunger Games

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This essay received honorable mention in the 2019 Hooked to Books Scholarship program.

How a Book Changed My Life: The Hunger Games

I have always been an avid reader. For me, books are portals waiting to transport individuals to thousands of worlds, time periods and experiences. As an infant, I would sit for hours and listen to my mother read to me and once I began to read independently, I was never seen without a book in hand.  

I read through the entirety of Nancy Drew, countless classics such as Little Women and Black Beauty, and even started a collection of historical fiction novels that soon grew to surpass my shelf space. Despite my exposure to hundreds of series and novels, none affected me so strongly as The Hunger Games; a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. 

Amongst my peers this answer often evokes humor. How could a young-adult dystopian novel be life-changing? I have come to realize that it wasn’t the story or even the quality of the tale that changed my life, but the characters and the lessons contained within the intricate and heart-wrenching story. 

The Hunger Games trilogy follows the life of a sixteen-year-old girl, Katniss Everdeen, as she struggles to provide for and protect her family in a land wrought with poverty and slavery.

Each year children between the ages of twelve and eighteen are entered into a drawing to determine who amongst them will win the honnor of fighting in the Hunger Games; a battle to the death between twenty-four children. The story kicks off with Katniss volunteering to take her sisters place in the games. She wins, and from there begins a lasting battle with the tyrannical government system. 

She fights against those who impose the slaughter of children, eventually igniting a rebellion that sweeps the nation and changes the entire country. Although this story is incredible, it wasn’t her revolutionary ideas and actions that inspired me but rather her backstory.

Katniss is the oldest child. She lost her father in a tragic accident and, for a time, lost her mother to severe depression. She took over the role of provider and mother to her young sister and did everything she could to be the strong backbone her family needed. 

I was first introduced to The Hunger Games in 2014 during a chaotic and lonely time in my life. My father had recently started his own business, which caused a vast amount of financial stress and due to a horrific disagreement, I had lost both grandparents, two sets of aunts and uncles, and my three baby cousins in one fatal swoop. They shut my family out for unknown reasons,  and we lost all contact with them. 

Among the family members who had left us, was my aunt who had had been one of my closest mentors and confidants. Her complete dissertation left me wracked with feelings of hurt and betrayal, and although it pained me, the dissertation destroyed my mother.

Every day for almost six months I would watch as she cried over losing them, as she tried again and again to repair the relationship, and as she fell deeper and deeper into anxiety and depression. 

I was often left alone to watch my three younger sisters as she and my father attended countless family meetings trying to repair the damage. I saw how crushed my family was, so I decided to become the strong one.

I worked tirelessly to be the stable rock in the midst of chaos, and I took it upon myself to try and make my mother happy again.  It was during that time of turmoil that I was first introduced to The Hunger Games, and most importantly, to Katniss Everdeen. 

Katniss is one of the most unique and complex fictional characters that I have ever met. She is a beautiful cacophony of joy, and pain, strength, and brokenness, love and hate. 

Everything about her is shattered, and beautiful and so incredibly human. While reading the books, I felt as if she understood me more then anyone else in my life at that time. Without having to say a word, she understood what my life was like. I wasn’t the only one who had a mother with severe anxiety and depression.

She understood the desire to shield my little sisters from the turmoil, or work extra hard around the house to make up for my father’s absence due to work. Katniss knew what it felt like to feel isolated, and although her experiences were significantly more drastic then mine, I still felt as if she understood me. 

I felt as if finally someone knew exactly how badly I had to maintain a strong front, and how fiercely I loved and wanted to protect my family. I stopped feeling desperately alone as the characters became the friends I sorely needed.

By reading her story I began to understand my own, and I discovered new things about myself. I  learned that being strong is good, but that it is ok to be broken too. The Hunger Games taught me not to let my brokenness define me, and to stay courageous in the face of adversity. 

Almost six years have passed since I first read the Hunger Games, but I still experience the lasting impact that it had had on my life. Because of the role model that I found in Katniss, I became a fierce and passionate woman who loves deeply, fights for the innocent.

I have come to peace with my brokenness, and have found that from that weakness blossomed a strength that surpasses anything I have ever experienced. 

I learned that it is imperative to have people who support and help you. I understand how to forgive, and that oftentimes weakness is strength.

I am who I am today because of the lessons I learned from The Hunger Games. I strive to pass on the lessons that I have learned to my sisters and young friends and seek to implement them in everyday life. 

Like Katniss, I am fighting to speak for those without a voice by pursuing a career in psychology in hopes to work with the special needs community. The story of Katniss Everdeen helped mold me into who I am today, and my life is forever changed. 

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