Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
As usual, later books in a series will be discussed behind a pagebreak. If you haven't read The Hunger Games and don't want to be spoiled, don't click it! I won't be spoiling the end of Catching Fire, though, so if you haven't read it yet, you can still read my review.
Catching Fire picks up a few months after The Hunger Games ended. Katniss and Peeta have returned to District Twelve and have taken up residence in the Victor's Village. Katniss is deeply conflicted over her behavior throughout the previous novel. She feels terrible about having possibly used Peeta to win the Games, and can't decide whether her feelings for him were real or fake-- and can't reconcile either with her ongoing maybe-relationship with Gale. Meanwhile, she is racked with guilt over winning the Hunger Games, both for having killed other contestants and for not having adequately protected Rue, a twelve-year-old girl who had reminded her of Prim. She is in a pretty tough place, and then President Snow comes to see her.
Needless to say, the Capitol is still very much unamused by the poisoned berries trick that allowed her and Peeta to leave the arena alive. That some districts have started revolts in her name has added another layer to their resentment. Though Katniss protests that she had nothing to do with the revolts (true), nor were her actions motivated by anything other than love for Peeta (unclear), Snow doesn't believe her. He informs her that her love for Peeta had better be convincing during the Victor's Tour (in which the winners of the Hunger Games must visit the other districts and give speeches), implying that if it isn't, he will have her and Gale's families killed. Things go from bad to worse when a new set of Peacekeepers, who are far less tolerant of the black-market dealings and poaching that enabled the residents of District Twelve to scrape by, move in to District Twelve and start attacking Katniss' friends. Then Katniss learns that she and Peeta must return to the arena in order to participate the in Quarter Quell, an extra special Hunger Games celebrated every twenty-five years. This year's theme is that the competitors must be selected from the pool of previous victors, and Katniss and Peeta are the only viable candidates (Peeta refuses to allow Haymitch to go back in).
Clearly, the main theme of Catching Fire is conflict and divided loyalties. No matter what Katniss does, she can't seem to make anyone happy or keep herself and her family out of trouble. There's a lot to like about this installment. While The Hunger Games primarily focused on introducing the characters and allowing the readers to get to know them and their world, Catching Fire deftly explores the psychology of both. Katniss' character is really fleshed out, and her internal conflict over the decisions she has made (and the ones she will have to make in the future) reveals quite a bit about the effect that deprivation has on a person-- as well as showing that being a hero is far from all it's cracked up to be.
What really interested me, though, is the nuanced way in which Collins showed the interactions between the different Districts and the Capitol, and how they affected the behavior of the residents. The denizens of the Capitol, specifically, are kept in a state of child-like ignorance. Most of them (with the exception of rebel sympathizers) have no idea of how bad things are in the Districts, which ultimately leads to Katniss and Peeta taking pity on them-- a very interesting turn of events. Beyond that, the theme of the Hunger Games allows Katniss and Peeta to meet previous winners from other districts, and the long-term effects on the "Champions" become appallingly clear. Even if they win, they continue to be exploited by the Capitol for many years to come, and most of them are, to put it nicely, a mess in some way or other. Collins' portrayal of the other Champions is excellent and revealing.
4 out of 5 stars. The psychological complexity of Catching Fire makes it well worth reading.