Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Dystopian, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Hardcover: 400 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Hunger Games trilogy.
Why did I read this book: The Hunger Games, book 1, was one of the most talked about books last year as it had massive young adult and adult crossover appeal. A dystopian, future speculative fiction novel, of course I had to read it – and I liked it. I didn’t absolutely love it, as the similarities to Battle Royale and The Running Man were unshakable, but I definitely liked it. And Catching Fire quickly became one of my most highly anticipated books of the year. Would Katniss’s next chapter be as brutally engaging as the first? I waited with bated breath…
Summary: (from the cover)
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games. She and fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. 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 a 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 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.
**SPOILER FREE** Review:
Following the dramatic conclusion of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home as victors to District 12 after besting the Capitol and surviving the annual Games – together. But Katniss’s symbolic act of defiance in the Arena has dramatic, unforseen consequences as she has incurred the wrath of those in power, earning her a visit from President Snow himself. Katniss never could have expected that her small challenge with a handful of berries could have had such a dramatic effect, but she learns from an irate President Snow that other districts are taking her lead as rebellion stirs in Panem. And unless Katniss can convince the nation that her trick in the Arena was the desperate act of a lovesick girl, as opposed to defiance to adhere to the Game’s rules, everyone Katniss holds dear will suffer and die. But try as Katniss might to keep her friends and loved ones safe, things are changing in District 12 and through the rest of Panem. When she and Peeta embark on their victory tour, Katniss begins to see how she has influenced the different districts as her trademark mockingjay pin becomes the symbol of the resistance – and there is nothing that she and Peeta can do to stem the tide of unrest. With the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games looming and revolution sweeping across the districts, the Capitol is hungry for blood and vengeance, with Katniss caught in the middle of the tempest.
The overwhelmingly well-received The Hunger Games was a gritty thrill ride of a novel, and its unresolved ending left fans salivating for the sequel, anxiously awaiting what Ms. Collins had in store for Katniss. And, it is safe to say that Catching Fire delivers. Packing in all the nail-biting action from the first book, Ms. Collins finally separates herself from the long shadow of Koshun Takami and Stephen King as she ventures beyond the contained realm of the Arena, creating a story of larger scale with the simmering of political rebellion and questioning of the Capitol’s control. In Catching Fire, we see the ramifications of Katniss and Peeta beating the system, emerging from the Arena physically intact, but their actions have been a catalyst to a very dissatisfied, disenfranchised public. It’s in the reactions of the different districts, in Katniss’s reflection on her own actions that drive Catching Fire and take it beyond the mere action, noise and thunder of the first book. While the aspects of government and the dystopian world were touched on in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire takes this world of Panem and examines it much more in depth. We see more of the different districts through Katniss’s eyes as she travels on her victory tour with Peeta and Haymitch, and we see how these areas react to Katniss’s actions and her words. Katniss’s act of defiance affects even the Capitol, as some of the city-folk adopt her mockingjay as a fashion statement, and even begin to sympathize with the young heroine.
While the worldbuilding is fantastic, the plotting is similarly impeccable. The Hunger Games owed a lot of its success to its impressive pacing and action-packed plot, and readers will not be disappointed to find that Catching Fire lives up to all the fireworks of the first book while it simultaneously manages to improve on more well-rounded underlying themes (i.e. the effects of a rigid totalitarian style of rule, the ethics of rebellion). The stakes are upped in this sequel, and as a result the action holds much more significance. There are many twists in Catching Fire, and it would be remiss to spoil them – so I won’t. Suffice to say, the plot twists are delectable, even if they’re not entirely surprising. Ms. Collins writes with a flair for hard and fast SF action, but manages to imbue deeper meaning in each scene primarily through her understanding of not only the political and world-building repercussions, but also through her completely sympathetic characters.
In that light, the true strength of Catching Fire lies in its heroine. Katniss is strong, rebellious, but confused and uncertain all at once – and she’s undoubtably the star of this novel with her frank narrative voice. She’s not really sure what she wants, but she knows she will do anything to continue to survive and endure, and keep those she loves safe. A teen that has been forced through a traumatic, life-changing ordeal, she returns to District 12 only to find that her world has changed (or, rather, that her perception of her world has changed). Her emotions are guarded especially when it comes to her family and the two boys in her life – Peeta, who loves Katniss unconditionally and indeed tries to sacrifice his own life for her and her happiness, and Gale, Katniss’s longtime friend. When Katniss is threatened by President Snow, told that her family and friends will be held accountable for her actions, she finds herself torn between obligation and her own emotional turmoil. In Catching Fire the triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale becomes much more distinct, as Katniss neither wants a boyfriend nor a husband, but finds her hand forced to action in order to protect both Peeta and Gale from the Capitol’s ruthlessness. Readers will undoubtably find themselves taking sides – and for me, as an emotional reader, this is a no-brainer. Gale (who I might note was barely present at all in the first book) seems like a nice guy and he is undeniably in Katniss’s thoughts in Catching Fire, but it’s really always gonna be Peeta for me. Peeta’s devotion to Katniss, his ability to understand her feelings and to respect her choices, his resolve to do anything (and I really do mean anything, as you’ll read in Catching Fire) to keep her safe and whole is endearing beyond belief (Of course, Gale will doubtless secure his own legion of fans…but it’s really all about Peeta). In a young adult literary landscape that is often melodramatic in its romantic entanglements, Catching Fire manages to pull off compelling and believable melodrama because the stakes are already so high. Other characters from The Hunger Games make big appearances here, especially Haymitch, the drunken mentor from the first book – and easily one of my favorite characters behind Katniss. Ms. Collins manages to flesh out not only her main duo of protagonists, but gives supporting cast like Haymitch, Cinna, and Effie the fully dimensioned treatment – and throws in some great surprises in each character’s arc along the way. New characters from other districts also are introduced, whom we will doubtless see much more of in the third and final novel.
In all, Catching Fire is a heart-pounding, thrilling read that manages to pass its predecessor in terms of its depth of themes, its increased worldbuilding scope, and its strong characters. I absolutely loved it – and this is easily one of my favorite reads of 2009. The only drawback? Having to wait another year for the final volume of this stunning series, as Catching Fire ends on a nasty cliffhanger.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air. My muscles are clenched tight against the cold. If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor. I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods. I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.
By noon they will all be at my new house in the Victor’s Village. The reporters, the camera crews, even Effie Trinket, my old escort, will have made their way to District 12 from the Capitol. I wonder if Effie will still be wearing that silly pink wig, or if she’ll be sporting some other unnatural color especially for the Victory Tour. There will be others waiting, too. A staff to cater to my every need on the long train trip. A prep team to beautify me for public appearances. My stylist and friend, Cinna, who designed the gorgeous outfits that first made the audience take notice of me in the Hunger Games.
If it were up to me, I would try to forget the Hunger Games entirely. Never speak of them. Pretend they were nothing but a bad dream. But the Victory Tour makes that impossible. Strategically placed almost midway between the annual Games, it is the Capitol’s way of keeping the horror fresh and immediate. Not only are we in the districts forced to remember the iron grip of the Capitol’s power each year, we are forced to celebrate it. And this year, I am one of the stars of the show. I will have to travel from district to district, to stand before the cheering crowds who secretly loathe me, to look down into the faces of the families whose children I have killed…
You can read all of chapter 1 online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Stick around for our GIVEAWAY BONANZA! We will be giving away THREE prize packs that include a copy of Catching Fire, a limited edition T-shirt, and mockingjay pin.
Verdict: Catching Fire not only lives up to the hype of The Hunger Games – it manages to surpass expectations. This is a series that will be embraced by young and old readers alike, and will have fans on tenterhooks waiting for the final volume in the trilogy. Highly recommended.
Rating: 8 Excellent
Reading Next: The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan