Friday, May 29, 2015

CBRIII-5: Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire
is book 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy and plot discussion will necessarily reveal story details of The Hunger Games. Review for The Hunger Games can be found here: The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have come home to District 12 as heroes. They emerged as co-victors of the 74th Hunger Games and are preparing to embark on the requisite Victory Tour where they visit the other 11 districts and finally the Capitol. Despite the victory, Katniss’ troubles have only begun. She wakes every night from terrible nightmares of her times in the Games. She is haunted by the memories of the Games, and the young girl, Rue, she could not save. After a surprise visit from President Snow, the despotic leader of Panem, she learns that he holds her personally responsible for the wave of revolution which is starting to build in the districts. All of this because she threatened suicide by eating the poison berries rather than kill her partner, Peeta. Thus she has defied the Capitol’s wishes, and under the iron rule of the Capitol that is a fate punishable by death. But she is too well liked to simply kill her, and her star crossed romance with Peeta, although largely manufactured on her part to gain favor in the Games, must be maintained publicly to sell the notion that what she did was out of love, not out of defiance. If she fails then everyone she holds dear, including her family and best friend, Gale, could be taken from her.

The Hunger Games set the scene and Catching Fire expands upon it in every way. Where the first book was a streamlined action/adventure, Catching Fire adds details to the world of Panem so that we see the oppression the districts live under juxtaposed with the opulence and arrogance of the technologically advanced Capitol. Catching Fire author Suzanne Collins excels in the characterization of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is a traditional literary hero, in that she doesn’t want to be a hero. She only wants to protect herself and her loved ones. She can be cold and confounding, arrogant and frightened, and she really doesn’t know what she wants. But beneath the adolescent turmoil she is the Girl on Fire, and becomes the unwitting symbol for the revolutionary movement in Panem. When the Capitol plays their most sadistic trick yet, Katniss’ reaction is utterly heartbreaking and Collins writes it perfectly.

Just like in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire has a point where the book takes off like a shot and doesn’t look back. That also makes it a difficult book to discuss without revealing key plot points that are best experienced with no forewarning. Suffice it to say the book is just as good as the first, if not better. During the final chapters it becomes downright impossible to put down. So much so, much like watching a great movie in the theater, I put off using the restroom until I could finish the final 15 pages. The first book was a well oiled machine, but Catching Fire becomes something more. It is an allegory for war and the scars the combatants bring home, but more than that it is a classic tale of finding the courage to face your fears and standing up for yourself and others. By fleshing out Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Haymitch, and other returning characters – as well as introducing new ones – we get a bigger picture of the world of Penem and what it really takes to survive in it.

Moments after finishing Catching Fire I moved on to the final book in The Hunger Games story, Mockingjay. I usually take a break between books in a series but with this one I find myself unable to stop. Now if that isn’t a strong enough recommendation for you than I don’t know what is.

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