Catching Fire

Katniss and Peeta have done the impossible:  they’ve survived the Hunger Games – together – and it’s made them famous.  The “star-crossed lovers” are a hit in the districts and in the Capitol – except in the office of the President.  On the day their Victory Tour is to begin, President Snow pays Katniss a secret visit, and makes it clear that she now has an agenda:  to put down the rebellion brewing in the districts – the rebellion for which she has become an unknowing figurehead.

In Catching Fire, the sequel to the Hunger Games, it quickly becomes clear that the Games don’t end when you leave the arena.  Katniss is still fighting for her life, and Peeta’s – but now she’s also fighting for the lives of her mother and her sister.  Snow has made it clear that if she fails to end the rebellion, everyone she loves is forfeit.  But it doesn’t end with the Victory Tour.  It’s the 75th Anniversary of the Hunger Games -75 years since the districts’ failed rebellion against the Capitol, and the Hunger Games serve as a brutal reminder that the Capitol is still calling the shots.  When the Reaping comes, the announcement shocks everyone:  this year’s Tributes will be chosen from the Tributes of the last 25 years.  Which means that Katniss and Peeta are back in the arena, and the Games are on – again.

Catching Fire has plenty of action.  Katniss, Peeta, and the other Tributes are trapped in that arena fighting for their lives in a world where the players, the rules, and the Games themselves are constantly changing.  The survival techniques she honed in the first  Hunger Games still serve Katniss well, but this time around, she’s had time to train, and she has a better idea of what to expect.  Or so she thinks.

Katniss is also still torn between Gale and Peeta, and the Capitol’s insistence on having them play the “star-crossed lovers” is only making that decision more difficult.  When she goes back into the arena, Katniss has only one objective:  to keep Peeta alive.  Unbeknownst to her, however, there are other people with their own objectives.  She thinks she knows the rules, but the rules are always changing – and so are the people in charge.

Sometimes the middle book in a trilogy is the least exciting.  Maybe that’s because it’s often just filler – a bridge between the beginning and the grand finale.  I’m happy to say that’s not the case with Catching Fire.  It’s exciting and full of action and intrigue – but Collins never shies away from what’s really underneath these stories:  the chilling and awful effect of violence.   Still, as grim as the world of the Hunger Games is – and it IS grim – it’s also fascinating.  I loved having a chance to get to know Katniss better in this second book, watching her change and adapt with each new twist.  Whether she’s strategizing in the arena, trying to understand the motivations of her fellow Tributes, or trying to understand her own heart, Katniss is a great character; I think she’s one of the best literary heroines I’ve encountered in a long time.

Catching Fire is another fast read – simply because you can’t put it down.  It also ends with one heck of a cliffhanger – so count yourselves lucky that Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy, is out now!

If you love this series and want a chance to talk about it, email me at kmusselman@ivpl.org – a discussion group is in the works and the more the merrier!

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