Book Thoughts: Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic

Release date: September 1, 2009

Goodreads description:

Sparks are igniting, flames are spreading and the Capitol wants revenge.

Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol– a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

In Catching Fire, the second novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, testing her more than ever before… and surprising readers at every turn.

I decided not to write a review for Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. As with that first book in the series, it’s long past release date and there is really no need for a formal review. There is enough chatter and there are plenty of reviews already written to get an adequate picture of what to expect in this sequel.

Although I’m not reviewing it, it would be much easier for me to review this book than The Hunger Games as my thoughts on this sequel are much clearer. There is no movie to cloud my judgment and it didn’t so closely parallel one of my favorite books of all time to come up just a bit short in comparison.

While I am not reviewing it, I have rated it. And my rating for Catching Fire is 5/5 stars on Goodreads – which amounts to “amazing” on the blog. And while there were a couple of things toward the end of this book that did fall just a bit shy of perfection they were not enough to keep this from being a five star, though my reaction is more a “really, really, really loved it” than an “amazing.”

From just reading the first few chapters I knew that I was going to enjoy this book much more than The Hunger Games. The worldbuilding I felt was lacking in that first book was more than present here. The emotional connection to the story and characters I wasn’t able to make in THG, was one I made early on and which continued to grow as the story progressed. The depth to the story I felt was missing in book one wasn’t absent in book two. And the strong similarities I felt to other books and films were almost non-existent until the end.

I enjoyed getting a peek at the other districts in this book. It gave me a clearer picture of what this world was like, who the characters were that were sent to the games and what their true feelings were about what was happening to them.

Seeing the reactions of the people in the districts from the glimpses the author gave, helped me to understand this dystopian society and to connect with the story. I was able to see just how different each district was – in size, level of confinement, strength of its people and its means of survival. And I could see just how the Capitol kept them isolated from one another in order to keep control.

My connection with the suffering of the people in Rue’s district was immediate. It was the strongest connection I made to any of the districts, including District 12. I was able to get a taste of their strength, their resilience and their need to make a stand. And I was heartbroken when their show of defiance cost them. It stuck with me for the entire book.

The obliterated District 13 that I felt most intrigued by in The Hunger Games was brought into Catching Fire. And while it hasn’t yet been fully incorporated into the story, I have a feeling that there will be much more about it in the final book in the series. And I’m very much looking forward to finding out just what secrets it holds.

I grew to like Katniss much more in this story than I did in the first. While she’s still not my favorite character, I think by the end of the trilogy she just might be. I still don’t feel a strong emotional connection to her though, but I do now sympathize with all that she is going through and all that she’s had to face and will have to face in the final installment in the series.

I admire her strength to survive and her instinct to protect. I love her stubbornness and her readiness to sacrifice herself for those she cares about. She is brave. She is stubborn. She is fiercely independent. And even though she hasn’t yet developed into the leader that she needs to be, I believe she will.

But while she has grown as a character, she is still incredibly indecisive. Which is what frustrated me the most about her. She flip flops about almost every major decision. About Peeta and Gale. About staying or leaving. About the alliances she’s made. One minute she’s a friend, the next an enemy. One minute she is so sure about one boy, the next it’s the other. She’s impulsive at times and yet incredibly cautious at others. Sometimes she shows great intelligence and other times she’s completely clueless.

While I love a flawed character, especially one that grows, I felt that the two sides to her were so at odds, so often, that it was like watching a tennis match. In one inner monologue she could change her mind so often it gave me no real sense where her loyalties lay.

Yes, I was frustrated by her and wanted to shake her and tell her to stop blaming herself and to make a decision and stick with it. But the fact that I did want her to do all of these things made me realize that I had made at least some kind of a connection to the character. One that I didn’t have in the first book. I cared about her survival and the choices she made, where I was indifferent at the end of The Hunger Games.

And where I didn’t feel like I really got to know Peeta in that first book, I felt like I got to know his character a lot more in this book. And he has become my favorite character in the series. I found him to be brave and selfless and smart and kind and caring. And not as much of an open book as I had thought.

I also thought I would like Gale more. But after his actions in this book, I think he’s a bit too much like Katniss – impulsive and so quick to write someone off – and not nearly as likable or strong as she is.

Finnick was a definite surprise. He added an exciting dynamic to the story that it didn’t have with just Katniss, Peeta and Gale. And while not part of that love triangle, he did bring a different energy and personality into the mix, which was refreshing.

Once again, though, when things got back into the arena I felt similarities to other stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen. It didn’t feel unique. I got that sense of déjà vu and found myself wondering what the author could have added to make it stand out.

And it just wasn’t as detailed or developed as I thought it could have been. I didn’t get a sense of the horrors that awaited the characters in all of the sections of the arena. The deaths of a majority of the tributes were vague and unexplained. At times it just felt too quick, too easy and too rushed. And if it weren’t for Finnick, I think this last section of the book might have caused my rating to drop.

I did love Catching Fire much more than The Hunger Games. I loved getting to know the characters from that first book just a bit more. I loved seeing the progression. I was excited to be back in the world. I was creeped out to no end by President Snow. I was devastated by the Peacekeeper’s actions in Rue’s district. My heart sunk when Gale was caught and punished. It sunk further when the new Avox was introduced. And it broke just a little bit for Katniss’ prep team.

And while I just knew it was going to happen, I nearly screamed when the mandate for choosing the Quell participants came through. But my biggest heartache was for Cinna who was smarter and braver than just about anyone.

If I were to write a review – which I’m not – I would say that this sequel had action, twists and turns, surprises and heartbreak. The world was intriguing. The story captivating. The characters more exciting. And the threats more numerous and even deadlier.

While missing some of the complexity and depth to this story of others in the genre, it was incredibly entertaining, there were characters to like, love, hate and pity, the writing flowed beautiful and there was a cliffhanger that leaves you no choice but to read on.

I’m glad that I continued on with this series. And I most definitely plan to read Mockingjay in the next few days. While Catching Fire may not have blown me away as I had hoped it would from all the chatter, this sequel is one that I absolutely loved, was riveted to, connected with and had moments that I thought were pretty amazing.

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