Sunday, November 3, 2013

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

With the movie due out in a matter of a few weeks, a quick read Catching Fire was in order. As the second novel in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire picks up the story of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Malark post-Hunger Games, as they prepare for life following their stunning victory in the games.

But things are not well, as Katniss discovers when President Snow unexpectedly visits her at her new home in the Victor's Village in District 12. President Snow indicates to Katniss that she has become a symbol of defiance against the Capitol leading to uprisings in other districts. This comes as a complete surprise to Katniss who has no way of knowing what is happening outside of District 12. Snow also tells Katniss that he knows she does not love Peeta but instead perfers her "cousin" Gale. President Snow warns Katniss that the upcoming victory tour is the only opportunity she will have to turn things around by demonstrating her love for Peeta thereby averting further uprisings. Snow tells Katniss that she must convince him, a task, the reader knows will be impossible.

On the victory tour several important things happen. When Katniss confides in Haymitch about what happened between her and President Snow he makes her realize that she will never have a future with Gale and that she will have to marry Peeta. This is something Katniss had not realized. When their tour arrives at District Eleven, Katniss and Peeta announce that one month of their winnings will go to the families of the two tributes from that district (Rue and Thresh). As well when Katniss apologizes and thanks the District for their support she is honored by Rue's mockingjay whistle and the three-fingered salute, considered by the Capitol to be an act of dissent. At this point, Katniss and Haymitch tell Peeta about President Snow's threats.

As the tour continues, Katniss recognizes the defiance of the people in Districts 8, 4 and 3, who see her as a symbol of resistance. When it ends in the Capitol, knowing they have not succeeded in quelling the defiance, Peeta and Katniss attempt a public marriage proposal. This does nothing to remove the threat from President Snow.

As a result, when Katniss returns to District 12 she considers escaping into the woods with Gale, Peeta, and their families as well as Haymitch.  However, several things happen to cause her to abandon this plan.  First off,  the district's Head Peacekeeper has been replaced by a brutal man who enforces all of the Capitol's laws causing Gale to be whipped. Secondly, on a trip outside District 12, Katniss meets two survivors, Bonnie and Twill,  from District 8 who are intent on journeying to an unknown District 13. This district, they claim, has survived independent of the Capitol's influence because they have nuclear power.

And thirdly, President Snow announces that for the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, the tributes will come from the existing pool of victors from previous games. This means that two of Haymitch, Peeta and Katniss will have to compete again in the arena. Katniss cannot bear to face the horrors of the arena once again, but she decides that since she will likely take Haymitch's place, she will work to save Peeta. But unknown to Katniss, this time the games will have a very different ending, if those who wish it so, have their way.

Catching Fire is an unusually good second novel in this trilogy. It is well paced, with twists that continue to engage the reader at each step of the story. Suzanne Collins grabs her reader's interest by filling in the details of life after the Hunger Games for Gale, Peeta, Katniss and Haymitch. In particular, readers want to know how the love triangle between Gale, Katniss and Peeta plays out after the experience of the games. But this turns out to be a breather for the fast paced last half of the novel. Collins spends a good portion of the book setting the stage for the second round of the games which Katniss during which Katniss expects to die, but the effort is worth it.

One of my favourite characters is the novel is Haymitch, who seems to be a lost cause, yet in his moments of lucidness, shows his brilliant side. Peeta continues to be his steadfast, reliable self, while Katniss displays her typical intelligence and resourcefulness.

The ending is the perfect setup for the final novel, Mockingjay. This trilogy is likely to become a classic in the canon of young adult literature and unlike many book to film endeavours, appears to have a decent movie adaptation as well.

Book Details:
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Inc.     2009
391 pp.

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