Thursday, September 9, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Catching Fire'

** This is the second book in a series, so spoilers for the first will be present in this review. **

The Book: Catching Fire (Book Two of The Hunger Games trilogy)

The Author: Suzanne Collins

How I Found It: The series came on the recommendation of a friend. My review of the first book can be found here.

The Review: I've been wondering how much I can write in this review. Most others seem to barely scratch the surface of the plot, and pretty much anything seems to constitute a spoiler. So if you want to go into this book unaware, I'd recommend not reading any reviews and just beginning to read the book itself. I won't spoil much, but any plot details seem to be considered a spoiler these days.

At the end of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark inadvertently started a rebellion. With the rules cruelly and abruptly changed, with Katniss having to face killing a boy who loves her and who she cares for, Katniss made a choice. She and Peeta threatened to take poisonous berries, both of them willing to commit suicide if it meant not having to kill each other. The Gamemakers were thwarted, and Katniss and Peeta both survived. But the Capitol is not pleased, and this is where the second book starts off.

President Snow shows up in Katniss' house with a warning. Katniss survived the Games by keeping up the charade of being as in love with Peeta as he was with her. But back home, Katniss also left Gale, her closest male friend, the one who knows all her secrets. And Katniss' feelings for Gale are just as confused as those she has for Peeta. Of the two boys, whom does she love? From what President Snow tells her, she doesn't have a choice--if she doesn't continue the charade of being in love with Peeta, Gale will die, and so could Katniss' family.

Helpless to fight a government that can so easily destroy everything she holds dear, Katniss finds herself caught up in events she can't control. The annual Victory Tour of all the Districts of Panem makes her realize that a rebellion is underway, and that she is the face of that rebellion. Gale will barely speak to her, and she and Peeta have no choice but to push the act of their love further and further. But the worst comes when the Quarter Quell is announced. Every 25 years, to celebrate the anniversary of the Games, the stakes are raised. For the 75th anniversary of the Games, the contestants will only be drawn from the previous victors, which means only one thing: that Katniss and Peeta will have to enter the arena again. This time, only one of them will be allowed to survive.

I skimmed through reviews earlier in order to get a feel of what I could write in this review. Oddly, most of the grievances of other reviewers do not seem to be ones that trouble me. I found this book stronger than the first installment. It played on my emotions more and truly raised the stakes. I did have a few minor complaints: the first half is really "telling" instead of showing--instead of seeing major events, we get them relayed in paragraphs by Katniss, and that really slowed the pace some. I wanted to see certain things played out, not just have them told to me. And admittedly, the Quarter Quell idea was a very contrived way to put Katniss and Peeta back in the arena. Those were about the only complaints I had, however. In almost every way, this book was an improvement over the last one, in my opinion.

Some reviews seemed to take issue with Katniss' character. While I found her difficult to like in the first book, I came to sympathize with her here. Many cited her being weak-willed when it came to the rebellion and deciding her feelings for Gale and Peeta, but I think that her reactions were typical for any teenage girl with far too much to handle. Besides, any decision she makes would be invalidated by the fact that she knows she should die in the arena, as long as it means Peeta gets to live. I felt that her emotions and indecision were believable, and I actually grew to like Katniss here.

The love triangle between Gale, Peeta, and Katniss is expanded upon, but in a somewhat lopsided way. We barely see Gale, but we sure see plenty of Katniss and Peeta, whose relationship is sweeter and less forced in this book than it was in the previous one. I felt pleased with the development of the Katniss/Peeta romance; a major complaint of mine with the first book was that I hated how Katniss used that romance in a calculating way. Here, both of them are consciously using it to their advantage, but genuine feelings and concern for each other also come to the forefront in interesting ways. I only wish that Collins had squeezed Gale in a little bit more so that the balance would have been more even--it's a tad bit obvious how your love triangle will probably resolve when one side is featured much more heavily than the other. I also enjoyed seeing more of certain characters and learning the answers to questions raised in the previous book. The insight into Haymitch, especially, was welcome, not to mention getting to see a little more depth for Cinna's character.

As I said before, this book affected me more emotionally than the previous one. I only teared up once in The Hunger Games. Given that I took this one in during a day-long reading spree, I can't quite recall how many times I teared up, but it was certainly ranging around four or five times, and I cried outright once. I will give Collins credit once again for being able to touch places in readers that will no doubt make them think and reflect on how difficult it would be to be in Katniss' place and in the place of the citizens of Panem. The reality Collins crafts is truly horrific. The Games is only the last third of this book, as opposed to the two-thirds or so it got in the previous installment, but they are still scary and tense and difficult to predict as alliances shift and Katniss must strengthen her resolve about dying in order to save Peeta's life.

All in all, I felt this book to be a most definite improvement over the first one, and I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy, though I have heard some mixed opinions. The flaws I felt were apparent in the original book were fixed here, and the story was made more exciting and suspenseful. I can recommend this one to both young adults (perhaps ones around 13 or 14 who can handle it, given the violent content) and adults who'd like to be in on the interesting discussions.

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