I just finished re-reading this trilogy for the first time in like five years, for the first time post-Trump presidency, for the first time since Covid, for the first time in my thirties. And some of the themes hit harder now.
Like the struggle to choose between fighting to change the status quo or fleeing/hiding for your own safety and sanity.
Like how there’s so much gray area in the good vs. evil debate, when each side truly believes they’re fighting for something noble.
Like how it’s easy to stop seeing individuals and merely see a “side” you’re against.
Like how people on both sides of a war (and the tactics and justifications they use) are far more similar than they think.
This series holds up so, so well, especially compared to a lot of other dystopian YA books that came out around the same time. It might even pack more punch in 2021 than it did when it came out in 2008—which is kind of scary. Dystopia, like satire, is getting more and more indistinguishable from reality.
This scrappy fuzzball from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins belongs to heroine Katniss Everdeen’s sister Prim. He appears in all three novels (and four films) as a comforting companion to Prim and an annoyance to Katniss, with whom he’s not on the friendliest of terms due to her (expositional) attempt to drown him in a bucket—bad Katniss! Eventually, though, she accepts Prim’s attachment to him.
Buttercup is said to be a good mouser and even catches the occasional rat. He’s described in the novels as looking a little worse-for-wear with a mashed-in nose and half of one ear missing—which tracks, considering his rough life in the impoverished District 12. His name comes from Prim insisting that his muddy yellow coat matches the bright buttercup flower.
In fact, the makers of the Hunger Games films tried to pull a fast one by casting a black-and-white cat as Buttercup in the first movie. Collins and fans (rightfully) demanded he be changed to a yellow-haired cat for the rest of the films to stay true to the novels and his namesake.
When the Everdeen family moves into a new, much larger house in Catching Fire, Buttercup and Katniss bond over their shared dislike of their new home. Katniss even starts sharing scraps from her hunting kills with him and deigns to give him the occasional behind-the-ear rub.
At one point in Mockingjay when the resistance is on lockdown in a bunker during a bombing from the Capitol, Buttercup helps ease the tension by entertaining the troops, so to speak, chasing a flashlight beam and giving Katniss an epiphany about how her enemy is taunting her. And making everyone LOL. (Even in wartime, people can still laugh at cat antics. Call it a testament to the human spirit.)
We don’t get to see a ton of Buttercup, since he lives in District 12 (and eventually 13) and our POV character Katniss is usually off fighting for her life somewhere else, but he makes his few appearances count.
Case in point: this passage from Mockingjay, which I’ll close with. Now that I’ve typed it out, I need to go find whoever’s chopping onions around here…
My head snaps around at the hiss, but it takes awhile to believe he’s real. How could he have gotten here? I take in the claw marks from some wild animal, the back paw he holds slightly above the ground, the prominent bones in his face. He’s come on foot, then, all the way from 13. Maybe they kicked him out, or maybe he couldn’t stand it there without her, so he came looking.
“It was a waste of a trip. She’s not here,” I tell him. Buttercup hisses again. “She’s not here. You can hiss all you want. You won’t find Prim.” At her name, he perks up. Raises his flattened ears. Begins to meow hopefully. “Get out!” He dodges the pillow I throw at him. “Go away! There’s nothing left for you here!” I start to shake, furious with him. “She’s never ever coming back here again!” Out of nowhere, the tears begin to pour down my cheeks. I clutch my middle to dull the pain. “She’s dead, you stupid cat. She’s dead.” A new sound, part crying, part singing, comes out of my body, giving new voice to my despair. Buttercup begins to wail as well. No matter what I do, he won’t go. He circles me, just out of reach, as wave after wave of sobs racks my body, until eventually I fall unconscious.
But he must understand. Because hours later, when I come to in my bed, he’s there in the moonlight. Crouched beside me, yellow eyes alert, guarding me from the night.