I’m usually not one to dive into Young Adult reading. In general, I feel it panders to the audience rather than really challenging them. I approached The Hunger Games series with trepidation when I received a recommendation for it last year when I was looking for books to read. Am I ever glad I picked this series up.
Disclaimer: If you haven’t read the first book, there will be discussion of some of the plot from that book that is built onto here that would be considered to be a bit of a spoiler. Some of it I think is obvious anyway, but if you really want to be surprised don’t read this review and just pick up the first book.
Catching Fire is the second book in the series. Set in a future where the 1% rules with an iron fist, keeping its worker bees subjugated after a period of rebellion, the book follows what happens to Katniss Everdeen following her victory in The Hunger Games. The Games are one way the Capitol keeps its citizens in check. North America is now divided into twelve districts, plus the Capitol. Every year, the names of two children from each District are drawn and they compete in a fight to the death in an arena called The Hunger Games. It’s sort of a Gladiator meets Survivor event.
When Katniss won, her tactics took everyone by surprise. Her defiance has apparently stirred a sentiment of rebellion that’s been simmering in the Districts and brought it to the front-burner. President Snow enlists her to try to quell the seeds of rebellion, but everything she does seems to just ignite it further and get more people killed. As the next Hunger Games approaches, it’s the 75th annual Games so they are in for a special treat, and it’s one that gets Katniss back into the arena as part of Snow’s plot to destroy the figurehead of the rebellion once and for all.
For a young adult book, Catching Fire is a pretty heavy read. It has elements of political intrigue as well as social commentary. This is all disguised in the adventure of a teen trying to survive in a game setting. Told from Katniss’ perspective, it reflects the way a teen would think, not understanding what some of her actions are about to ignite. She is not exactly naïve, but doesn’t have the presence of mind to think things through all the time and is reactionary more often than not in her actions. This is typical of so many kids in the novel’s intended audience that they relate to her easily.
At the same time for adults, Catching Fire is a really good read. It builds on the events in The Hunger Games with intrigue. At the same time, as a parent with a daughter around Katniss’ age, I could cry for her and what she’s lost by being forced to endure something so horrific. She doesn’t go through life without feeling the impact of what she’s done in order to survive. Each and every death hits home to her, particularly when she feels the death was of someone weaker; someone who needed protecting. She has that role in her family now that her father died, and has been carrying it for quite some time. Every time she fails in this regard, she takes it to heart. She becomes quite a well-developed and sympathetic character.
The one thing that troubled me a bit was that a lot of the events in Catching Fire seemed to indicate that the main focus of the story was going to be Katniss choosing between Peeta, the boy she won the Hunger Games with by creating the illusion of a romance (and in this book even more) and Gale, the boy she shared the burden of trying to keep their families alive with. She likely would have ended up with Gale had the Games not interfered. Now, with a nation riveted to the story of her and Peeta, that illusion must be kept up so she is torn. At times it felt that the romance and the choice are so trivial to everything else that’s going on, but that’s exactly the point. The Capitol and those who inhabit it are in a protected world where this is the most important thing to them. They are insulated from the very thing that is sowing the seeds of rebellion in the Districts. Something like this romance consumes them much the same way our infatuation with celebrities consumes our culture at times and distracts us from things that will really have an impact on our lives.
Catching Fire is not the place to start this series. These are three books that need to be read in order. So now that I’ve spoiled it for you, go back and read The Hunger Games if you haven’t already. If you have, it’s well worth it to continue the story with Catching Fire. It gives the lead-in for the next book, which seems to be the case with the middle parts of all trilogies, which could be its one weakness. Where The Hunger Games stood on its own in a certain way (although I certainly wanted to hear more about what happened to Katniss once it was over), there’s no mistaking that there’s another book coming after this one.
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