Book Review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

December 4, 2009

And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?…What is to prevent, say, an uprising?

catchingCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins in the second of the Hunger Games trilogy.  It’s possible that you may have heard of it since it’s kind of a big deal.  In this book, Katniss adjusts–or attempts to adjust–to life after the murderous Hunger Games.

What I Liked

– Collins never lets you get comfortable, at all.  Things are constantly changing, the danger for Katniss is palpable and real, and the stakes are so high, it’s amazing there are roofs on the houses in District 12.  The book is tense, and that tension jumps right off the page.

– Peeta.  I am crazy in love with Peeta.

– The first person POV worked for me a lot more in this book than the previous one.  It was nice to be inside of Katniss’s head and truly blind to what was going on.  The twist (um, the second to last one) was as much a shock to me as it was to Katniss, and my reaction was pretty much the same as hers.  That’s a good thing.

– Everything is so messy and complicated.  In a good way, though!  Because Collins truly invites the reader to think and consider all possibilities.

– There is a lot of great character stuff in here, especially about Haymitch.

– I hate to even call it a love triangle, but I like the way, overall, that Katniss’s relationships with Peeta and Gale are handled.  Everything is so messed up, and there are no easy answers, nor is there a right way to handle any of it.  That much is clear.  All three of them have so much pride and in such different ways.  It just works really well.

What I Didn’t Like

– The beginning of the story, while heavy on the characterization, is very heavy on the tell instead of show.  There’s information put in for the sake of the sequel, and it’s obvious that’s why it’s there, because it’s not given the kind of attention it deserves.  I wanted Collins to slow down and let me experience some of the things that were happening (trying to keep this spoiler free) instead of “and then this and this and this and s/he told me this and this and this.”  There were opportunites for great dialogue that were just missed.  And it got to the point where I didn’t/couldn’t remember details/characters that came up later.  There were at least two points when I was asking, “Who is that?  Should I know that name?”  That’s not good.

The plus is that the second half of the book relies a lot more on showing instead of telling and so the narrative picks up considerably.

– Even though the book is from Katniss’s point of view, everything is very male heavy.  I don’t really get a sense of her sister or mother as real people at all–which has a lot to do with how Katniss views them, granted–but all of the other major people in her life, the ones who do the most helping, are men.  Her stylist, Haymitch, Peeta, Gale.

Women Unbound?

Does this book examine the relationship between gender and power?  Yes.  One of the things that is compelling about the series is the idea of putting on an act and a show of who you are supposed to be based on the audience.  Katniss is supposed to be a girl consumed by love, silly and superficial.  Not helpless, necessarily, but bound to traditional ideas of femininity with her upcoming wedding etc.  Katniss is a hunter, provider, rule breaker, unfrivolous, and everything opposite of what her Games character is supposed to be.  But the Capitol wants her to be that kind of girl, so that’s the kind of girl she has to pretend to be for her own survival–and her family’s.

There’s so much about class and gender wrapped up in these books and it’s handled so subtly and deftly that it can be easy to miss.  Not only is she just a girl, but she’s a girl from District 12 no less.  But Katniss is the girl on fire, the girl who becomes symbolic of a revolution.  I think that makes her pretty unbound.

In conclusion:  The book is certainly a thrilling read.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

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