Last week I started a month long series that will be focusing on Suzanne Collins’ futuristic novels, The Hunger Games. This week I will be reviewing the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire.
*Please be warned: if you have not read Catching Fire, there are spoilers!*
“I hunt. He bakes. Haymitch drinks. We have our own ways to stay busy, to keep thoughts of our time as contestants in the Hunger Games at bay.”
Catching Fire picks up six months after The Hunger Games, just as the Victory Tour is about to begin. Katniss and Peeta now each have a house in the Victor’s Village, their only neighbor being Haymitch, their mentor and friend.
Katniss and Peeta now understand Haymitch’s alcoholism stem from the nightmares that follow The Hunger Games, and they each struggle to find something to fill their days, but most of all, to help them forget.
“Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem.”
Ever since Katniss’ grand entrance into the opening ceremonies, she has been known across Panem as “the girl on fire”.
But it is not her costume that disturbs President Snow. It is the fact that she single-handedly outsmarted the Capitol, not only by saving the life of her friend, Peeta Mellark, but by refusing to simply be a pawn in their games.
“You’ll never, ever be able to do anything but live happily ever after with that boy.”
When President Snow threatens to hurt her family and friends if she doesn’t convince him that she is madly in love with Peeta, and quell the uprisings popping up throughout the nation, Katniss is desperate to pull it off and save those she cares about.
But it is only when she shares her troubles with Haymitch that the reality finally hits her: she has no choice about her future if she wants to save her family and friends.
Yet, she has distanced herself from Peeta until there is only a frosty relationship remaining. Is it even possible to pull it off?
“Isn’t it strange that I know you’d risk your life to save mine… but I don’t know what your favorite color is?”
As they begin the Victory Tour, Peeta and Katniss reconcile and agree to become friends. Not lovers for the cameras, not allies for survival, but finally, to just be simply friends.
They begin by discussing colors, hobbies, and nightmares, until they are interrupted by their arrival at the first stop: District Eleven.
“I hear Haymitch’s voice. “You could do a lot worse.” At this moment, it’s impossible to imagine how I could do any better.”
The ceremonies of the tour begin in District Eleven, and Katniss realizes just how unprepared she really is. How can she face Rue’s family? What words can she say that will ease their aching hearts?
But it is when Peeta gives an unexpected gift to the families of Thresh and Rue that she is stunned, and realizes that perhaps she could really love Peeta for himself, not just the cameras. And she is inspired by his courage to give her own thanks, to share her own sorrow.
But it only causes trouble. For her, for Peeta, and for District Eleven.
“I’m speechless, staring at the pretty little glasses and all they imply. Peeta sets his back down on the table with such precision you’d think it might detonate.”
As Katniss and Peeta continue the Victory Tour, they draw closer, working hard to convince President Snow that they really are the “star-crossed lovers from District Twelve”. But when the Tour concludes at the Capitol with their engagement, President Snow extinguishes all of Katniss’ hopes with a shake of his head. He’s still not convinced.
So she pushes forward, trying to block out of her mind the severe consequences that are sure to follow.
But when her prep team encourages her and Peeta to drink a crystal-clear liquid from tiny wineglasses filled full, it is only at the last moment that the truth hits home: it is a potion designed to make them vomit up all they have eaten so they can eat more. And they are both sickened, thinking of the starving back in District Twelve, contrasted to the extravagant feasting of the Capitol.
“Peeta steps up on a crate against the wall of the sweetshop and offers me a hand while he scans the square. I’m halfway up when he suddenly blocks my way. “Get down. Get out of here!” He’s whispering, but his voice is harsh.”
When Katniss and Peeta return home to District Twelve, their lives begin to crumble around their ears. More Peacekeepers arrive to enforce the Capitol’s laws. The fence, once silent, is now buzzing with electricity.
The final blow arrives in the announcement of the third Quarter Quell, marking the 75th Anniversary of The Hunger Games. The tributes will be reaped from the existing victors.
Katniss is going back to the arena.
“I just want to spend every possible minute of the rest of my life with you.”
Katniss and Peeta relive the nightmares, training once again for The Hunger Games. This time they are more determined than ever to let the Capitol know that they think they are wrong, and that they won’t play along.
In their private sessions, they each use their time to rebel, to try and protect the other by drawing the hatred of the Capitol to themselves. Because neither expects to come out alive.
For the interview of all the victor-tributes, Cinna is commanded by President Snow to dress Katniss in the wedding gown that the Capitol chose for her– the gown she will never be married in.
Yet, Cinna has chosen to no longer be a pawn of the Capitol, and he fights back, transforming Katniss into not only “the girl on fire”, but also into a mockingjay, a symbol of revolution and a slap in the face of the Capitol.
Some words of caution to parents: while I found Catching Fire to be just as wonderful and thought-provoking as The Hunger Games, once again, I would not recommend the book be given to a young person under the age of thirteen, possibly older, depending on the maturity of the child.
There is a large amount of violence described in Catching Fire, though I certainly would not describe it as gratuitous. No foul language used in the book, however the author does reference the use of obscenities, though they are never directly used.
One other aspect that parents should be aware of before giving the book to their children is that on the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta often sleep together to ward off their severe nightmares. Their relationship is completely honorable, however, with the author being clear they are not sleeping together in a sexual way. Peeta also lies to Caesar Flickerman, saying that they are secretly married and expecting a baby at the interview prior to the games, trying to keep Katniss from having to go back to the arena, or at least to cause the other victors to have pity on her.
One obvious, albeit nauseating, comparison Suzanne Collins draws between the Capitol and ancient Rome in Catching Fire, is the practice of vomiting in order to empty the stomach and continue feasting.
“Cinna has turned me into a mockingjay.”
Throughout Catching Fire, we see the character of both Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark develop.
Katniss becomes more aware of how her actions affect others (1 Corinthians 12:26); she faces the Quarter Quell, determined to see Peeta make it out alive (John 15:13); she is tender with the elderly victor-tributes (Psalm 82:3); and once again, she does not kill except in self-defense (Exodus 20:13).
While obviously not a perfect book, I found Catching Fire to be a book that is both thought-provoking and powerful. For a mature audience, I believe the book to be worth reading and discussing. I would give the book a “B+”.
Have you read the book? If so, what are your thoughts?