Book Reviews

Book Review: Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2), by Suzanne Collins


Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

By: Suzanne Collins

Published: September 1, 2009

The Rundown: “Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games.  She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellarck are miraculously still alive.  After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale.  Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be.  Gale holds her at an icy distance.  Peeta has turned his back on her completely.  And there are whispers of rebellion against the Capitol—a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.  Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop.  And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try.  As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever.  If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover replicates that of The Hunger Games, with its concentric circles and mockingjay pin.  The design of the pin is slightly different.  In the first book, the bird holds an arrow in its beak; in the second, the bird looks like it is about to take flight.  The altered position of the bird may reflect the changes in Katniss’s motivation between stories.  In The Hunger Games, Katniss was concerned solely about survival.  In Catching Fire, Katniss debates whether she should focus on taking care of her family, or play a role in the bourgeoning rebellion against the Capitol.

What a Wonderful World: In the post-apocalyptic world, what was once the United States of America is now a new state: Panem, which consists of a ruling city called the Capitol and twelve subservient Districts.  While the citizens of the Capitol live an opulent lifestyle, those in the Districts eke by under slave-like conditions.  Due to Katniss’s trick in the 74th Hunger Games, a fight to the death amongst District children, the Districts are beginning to rise up in rebellion.  They were already defeated by the Capitol in a brutal war 74 years ago.  Are they ready to risk it all again?

The Good Guy: Katniss thought that her life would return to normal after the end of the Hunger Games, but realizes early in Catching Fire that she is still in danger.  She learns from the sinister President Snow that the trick she used to save herself and Peeta at the end of the Games has been read as an act of rebellion by those in the Districts.  The people are angry; it is her job to quell their anger, or Katniss—and those she care about—will fall in Snow’s crosshairs.  Katniss must now determine her course of action.  Will she stick with her original goal to protect her family above all else?  Or will she accept her role as a symbol of rebellion, and do her part to overthrow the Capitol’s hegemony?

The Bad Guy: In The Hunger Games, the enemy was the faceless Gamemakers.  In Catching Fire, the evil Capitol is personified by President Snow.  Snow is a sinister old man who’s described as having snake-like eyes.  He’ll do anything to maintain status quo in Panem; certainly, he has no qualms about killing.  He’s also quite manipulative.  When he tells Katniss what she must do on her Victory Tour, he has a somewhat different plan in mind.

The Love Interests: Peeta and Gale are back, and Katniss is finally conscious of the fact that they are competing for her affections.  Peeta is angry that Katniss feigned being in love with him when they were in the arena, but comes to realize that it’s not fair to hold what she did in the Games against her.  He and Katniss decide to try to become friends, and Katniss is struck by Peeta’s kindness and generosity.  Meanwhile, Gale resents Katniss for her relationship with Peeta.  Katniss doesn’t know how to return their relationship to what it was.  Furthermore, while she admires Gale’s bravery, she isn’t sure that she wants to join him in open rebellion against the Capitol.

A+: One aspect of the story that was really cool was how it utilized traditionally feminine things as a tool of resistance.  Katniss has befriended Cinna, the costume designer who worked with her before the 74th Hunger Games.  Cinna reappears in Catching Fire to prepare Katniss’s attire for the Victory Tour.  After President Snow’s plans come to fruition, he uses his fashion acumen to make a dangerous political statement.  The Hunger Games had an unfortunate tendency to associate the traditionally feminine with weakness and narcissism.  It’s nice to see that Catching Fire, to an extent, belied this tendency.

F-: I felt that Katniss’s time in the arena lacked tension.  Despite encountering deadly obstacles, I never got the sense that she was in any real danger.  I mean yes, obviously she’s not going to die, because this is the second book in a trilogy, but the first book was nail-biting enough.  I attribute the lackluster nature of the 75th Hunger Games to three problems.  1) The contestants are no longer children.  Children being forced to battle to the death is horrifying.  Adults’ battling to the death is the premise of the popular video game franchise Mortal Kombat. 2) We’ve already seen Katniss survive the Hunger Games once before.  As readers, we have an idea of what to expect from the arena.  3) In The Hunger Games, Katniss was all alone.  In Catching Fire, Katniss is constantly surrounded by allies who seem to be going out of the way to protect her and Peeta.

Does it Represent…

Women: The bow-and-arrow toting Katniss is back to shoot her enemies in the face.  Katniss’s mother and sister are shown to be skilled medics, treating those whipped by the security forces in District 12.  In the arena, we meet the acerbic Joanna, elderly-yet-heroic Mags, the frightening Enobaria, and brilliant Wiress.  Lots of interesting ladies.

People of Color: I read Katniss, as well as the other residents of the Seam, as Native American, though their ethnicity is left purposefully vague.  Other than that, there don’t seem to be any people of color, aside from the tributes from District 11, who don’t play a major role in the Games this time around.  Katniss does finally get to see what life was like in Rue’s district firsthand, and it’s gut-wrenchingly cruel.  The plantation metaphors used in The Hunger Games were well-chosen.

LGBT People: Finnick, a handsome victor from an earlier Hunger Games, has taken many rich lovers in the Capitol.  It’s never explicitly stated, but I got the feeling that not all of his patrons were women.

The Disabled: Both Katniss and Peeta suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of their experiences in the Hunger Games.  Katniss experiences flashbacks, and both she and Peeta have nightmares.  The other survivors don’t seem to have fared much better.  Several are alcoholics or drug addicts.  Wiress has a mental disorder, but it’s unclear whether this was a result of the Games or whether she was born that way.  Given her difficulty communicating, she reads as autistic.

But What About Boomer?!: The kitty lives!

Memorable Quote: “At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.  The hard thing is finding the courage to do it.”

Recommended For: People who enjoy action-packed political commentaries.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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