The Story: Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, opens with Katniss and Peeta’s victory from the previous Hunger Games. As they’re escorted across Panem on their Victory Tour, revolution is sparking in some of the districts. In an attempt to contain the blaze, President Snow decides to revamp the Quarter Quell games by drawing from the pool of previous victors. This means Katniss and Peeta will have to face each other, and death, once more in the arena. But they’re not without allies this time as dissension against President Snow’s reign is growing, even among the other tributes, who see these Games as a means to bring the fight to the Capitol.
My Take: Most of what I enjoyed about Catching Fire can basically be summed up in my review for The Hunger Games, so I won’t repeat myself too much here. Only Catching Fire takes everything I loved about The Hunger Games (i.e. its pacing, plot, characters, and themes) and ups the ante.
Even though I loved The Hunger Games, I actually enjoyed Catching Fire just a little more, mainly because from the start you know there is a conspiracy afoot and part of the fun is determining who is involved and to what aim. The cast has been expanded, too, and brings along more new faces to love, from pretty boy (with actual substance) Finnick Odair, to the tough-as-nails Johanna Mason, to the eccentric coupling of the genius minds of Beetee and Wiress. In these Games, most of the players are in an alliance to stay alive, which allows more time for their dynamics to evolve. Overall, character-wise, Catching Fire manages to expand its cast without becoming a rambling ensemble piece.
Plot-wise, this novel starts off with Katniss and Peeta’s Victory Tour but doesn’t languish over the details. It sets the stage for the revolution to come as well as toss up fragments of doubt regarding the state of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. While I’m not a fan of love triangles, I appreciate what Collins does between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. Rather than make Katniss the cliched plain Jane who has to choose over the hot guy or the guy next door, she creates a strong yet feminine character who has to choose based on his compatibility with her personality, not his looks. Katniss has the most in common with Gale but Peeta’s soft heartedness is hard to ignore. Even though I’ve finished this trilogy and know who Katniss ultimately chooses, her dilemma in deciding who to care about and why is still solidly portrayed minus the mushy, infatuation-infused insta-love that so commonly dominates most YA novels these days.
Much like in The Hunger Games, this novel maintains a rapid fire pace with each chapter ending on a high note that forces you to continue reading. Granted, it is slightly longer than its predecessor but it by no means sags, especially in the middle. The Games this time around offer a new environment and new dangers, which add to the suspense. Thus, for persons who perhaps weren’t fond of the seemingly static environment in The Hunger Games might be pleased to know there is more to see here.
Theme-wise, Catching Fire carries on the questions of how big and controlling a government should be as well as when revolution is acceptable. Once more, Collins weaves these concepts and “answers” throughout the story rather than bash readers over the head with deliberate exposition. The end of Catching Fire unleashes multiple bombshells (literally and figuratively) that serve to show that there might not be concrete answers to these questions.
Language – Nearly non-existent with perhaps only a handful of PG-level profanities.
Violence – This novel features an older group of tributes, so there is no older children/teen violence but rather adult-against-adult violence, which doesn’t occur on every page nor is it described in graphic detail, but it is brutal at times. Likewise, the arena is littered with lethal traps, from acid fog to killer primates, so death comes upon various tributes in ways other than hand-to-hand combat. Overall, this trilogy is marked for ages 12/13 and up, which is about the youngest I would recommend this for based on its violent content and thematic elements.
Sexual Material – None. There is some cuddling, kissing, and flirting between Katniss and Peeta (as well as Katniss and Gale) and a few veiled suggestive comments made by Finnick to Katniss. Also, a female character strips down in an elevator when she gets sick of her lame costume (though this is played up for comedic effect). Elsewhere, Peeta asserts on national television that he and Katniss were married in a private ceremony and she is now pregnant, but this is a ruse to try to spare Katniss from entering the Games again (which, sadly, doesn’t work).
Mercifully, Catching Fire avoids the dreaded middle book slump and, instead, capitalizes on – and even improves upon – everything The Hunger Games did right. So if you’re famished after reading The Hunger Games, then make sure to check out Catching Fire. It will only whet your reading appetite for more.