review: catching fire

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins — Book two in the Hunger Games trilogy

Book Jacket Summary:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire, the second novel of the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy.

I was apprehensive at best, for two reasons. First, there were at least two major issues of contention that I had with The Hunger Games. Second, the person who had originally recommended the series in the first place mentioned growing to dislike Katniss in the second book. I must say, I don’t quite agree — but I do think that Collins failed to create a book to match her first. Granted, her first was fantastic — but I wanted an equally fantastic book to follow, and feel I was presented with one which was merely adequate.

First, Katniss’s growth as a character in the second book leaves something to be desired. Yes, she realizes whom she truly loves (I think?), and yes, she finally puts another person’s life ahead of her own. But at what point does she mature? Additionally, I dislike that she finally accepts her love for Gale, yet still wavers with her affection for Peeta while in the Hunger Games — and especially at the end of the book (I won’t ruin it for you, promise). I feel as if Collins is attempting to create some inner-turmoil of conflicting love interests, but it comes off as forced. I feel as if the first book addressed that issue well enough, and I was really hoping that Katniss would figure things out by the end of this one. Additionally, it quickly became apparent that Katniss is sometimes a strangely unreliable narrator, who interprets observations before we get to decide our own point of view, thereby often biasing our opinion one way or another; this is frustrating, but also somewhat realistic in that we are in first-person close narration, which means we get all our information from her.

I didn’t see any growth or development in other characters in the book. Peeta is still love-sick, selfless, and vaguely stupid; Haymitch is still drunk yet incredibly intelligent; and I still have no idea where Katniss’s mother and sister stand. The characters with the most growth, in reality, are the ones who appear for only the second book, and only briefly — Nuts and Volts, in particular, I am fond of; similarly, I appreciate Finnick, who ha made incredible sacrifices for the greater good.

The plot definitely thickens in the second book, but I’m not sure it’s well developed. Katniss is incredibly passive in the development of this plot, as many things happen at her instead of because of her actions. There are a few consequences of her actions which are significant — but most of those she is unaware of. Sometimes I feel that she is more an observer of the uprising than an instigator — that we see the uprising through her eyes, but that she has very little to do with her. We may as well be watching through the eyes of her sister, who would be watching her every move through the televised games.

The book does have its up points: the careful development of the mockingjay symbol; Katniss’s clear decision towards self-sacrifice; the quirky fellow victims of the games, who are considerably more developed and more likable than the participants of the games in the first book; even the fashion assistants are considerably more likable in the second book. I also like the direction that Haymitch’s character is going in, despite the fact that I see his character development as minimal at best.

Moreover, the plot of the second book is still riveting — while I see the second round of the Hunger Games as slightly contrived, I understand how it fits within the world of the books. And honestly, Collins has a skill at writing action scenes as they are happening — not through the eyes of an observer, but through the eyes of a participant, where the sounds and feel and smell are often the first things to register, rather than the action. She also sets up key points of the book fairly well — points which the reader can see and remember, such as the mockingjay on the watch or the hole in the forcefield, but which the protagonist must figure out for herself (however slowly she manages, at times).

I will say that the issues I had with the ending of the first book are moot. The unresolved tension with Cato? We pretty much forget about it. And the mutated game players? It is explained in an off-handed side note by Katniss — not really satisfying, but it at least gives closure.

***

I look forward to reading the third book (which I have, of course, already purchased). However, I do have a few expectations which are to be met if I am to continue liking Katniss. First, she must grow some balls — not some “well, because I had no other option” balls, but some actual desire to stand up and fight back against President Snow. Similarly, she must start acting as the head of the revolution, rather than being acted upon. And finally, she must figure out this whole Gale / Peeta thing — once and for all, and within the reasonable actions of her characterization (i.e., I can only imagine her character finally choosing Gale).

***

On my imaginary little bookshelf based on my feelings towards various different books, I would put this book somewhere on one of the bottom-middle shelves: because it was good enough to read and own a physical copy (if I find a cheap one — otherwise, it stays on my nook), but because I will probably never re-read it. While the first is worth re-reading once ever four or five years when bored, the second will only be worth re-reading if the third is at least as good as the first, making the reading of the second book necessary when re-reading the series. If that makes sense.

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