Isaac grows up in his older brother's shadow. And, when Camden dies in the games, it makes Isaac hungry, makes him want more than ever to prove himself better than his brother, to win.
The training centre is the only thing he knows and the trainers have known him since before he could walk. He thinks it makes them look at him differently, because he's Coach Lahey's son and because, though the other trainees started young, Isaac started younger.
He is different from the others, though, he should be different - different and better - that's what his father tells him. And, when he doesn't get the highest scores of all the boys at the centre, Isaac's father beats him bloody.
The other trainees envy him - they had to leave their families behind when they went into training - but most days Isaac wishes his father wasn't even there.
(Most days, until he remembers the way his father had looked before his brother died - the way he'd tried to help the trainees be the best that they could be, to be champions, to be victors. Only now he just sees them all as lambs to the slaughter, lost causes, a hundred faces which all look like his dead son (and none of them more so than Isaac) and he still wants them to win, sure, but he doesn't say that now. He just says "if you don't shape up and work harder, you bet some kid from district 1 will flay you like an animal. you useless-")
And when the head of the centre calls Isaac's name the night before the reaping, chooses him over all the others, the first thing Isaac thinks is that he's free, he's finally free of this, of his father's disappointment and the constant need to prove himself. He can't help but look though, can't help but try to meet his father's eye. His father isn't smiling but that doesn't matter anymore, his father can't do or say anything to him anymore and he is going to win.
(And, maybe then, Mr. Lahey will smile again but, maybe then, Isaac won't need him to.)
Boyd signs up to train as a potential tribute later than most kids do. Most often parents bring their children to the centre as though they were dropping them off for their first day of school. Boyd is a special case. His family's lake freezes over one winter and they have no way to survive, no way except if Boyd can make them some money. Tesserae only goes so far and Boyd knows there is another way.
The centre is on the other side of District 4 and he has to hitch a ride in a truck transporting the catch from the western county to the big city by the sea. The driver tries to tell him that the centre only takes kids but Boyd is fourteen and determined and he says "they'll take me" like it really is a fact and not just a wild hope.
They laugh at him, when he shows up. Only then he steals the keys from behind the desk, breaks into their stores, and takes all of their sugar (a precious commodity, they had two large sacks). He makes them bargain with him and swears that, if they allow him to fight to prove his worth, he will give the sugar back - but if he wins they have to take him, train him, and send his family the money they normally give when a child is offered to them. They have little choice but to agree.
He fights their selected tribute, hand-to-hand, and he breaks two of the boy's fingers and a rib before he gives in, crying. The boy was six inches taller than him and twenty pounds heavier but all Boyd has are bruises and they let him in. He never knows for sure that they send the money to his family but he sees them at the reaping every year and every year they smile at him, encouraging, and he's sure they must have got the money because they're alive.
The centre is tough and he's completely alone there. Most of the other students have already formed packs, and they hate him for not being like them, for having spent half of his life on the outside and still being better than them. He learns not to care, doesn't care at all until the year they let him volunteer and the girl standing next to him on the podium whispers that she doesn't care if it's bad for the district, she's going to make every other tribute in the arena want to kill him worse than anything, she's going to make sure he dies friendless and alone and that's a promise.
(She is among the first to die that year, and Boyd uses her jacket to wipe the blood from his knife. Then he turns to the other careers and all of them smile. So much for promises.)
Erica's sister is a beauty queen, a model employed by the finest textile makers in District 1. Erica's mother was the same, before her, and now she consults with the head of one of their largest fashion institutes. But Erica, Erica has acne and tremors and Erica's mother only ever has frowns for her, whilst she has smiles for her sister, so many smiles.
Everything is normal and boring and miserable for Erica until the day she snaps. It's too much, the girls at school are too cruel and she shouldn't ever have thought that JJ would be interested in her. Everybody's laughing and normally she'd cry but, when Mandy Simmons calls her that name again, and all but spits it in her face, Erica grabs a handful of her hair and pulls. She brings her right leg up to kick at her, at the same time, and Mandy's on the floor bloody and crying within seconds. Mandy's boyfriend, captain of the wrestling team, tries to pull her off but Erica swings out at him, too, sends him flying. She doesn't know how she does it but she does it.
No-one goes near her for days until the representative from the centre comes and says, "we have a proposition for you..."
At the centre, they find pills to cure the tremors, pills without the side-effects, and there's no more acne and no more teasing. At the centre, she becomes beautiful. The boys stare at her and she shows them her knives. It feels better than anything she's ever known. Or, at least, better than anything before the day they let her say "I volunteer as tribute" and then it's not just the boys at the centre who are looking at her, it's everyone. Her sister will never have this big of an audience and her mother certainly never did.
(She looks right into the camera, tosses her head, and smiles.)