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Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

March 17, 2011

The Wednesday before last I posted my review for The Hunger Games, a modern-yet-already-beloved young adult book. Here is the review for the sequel. Surprise! I think the sequel is awesome. Next time around I’ll post the review for the final book in the series, because hey, you gotta finish what you started. Remind me to get back to The Dark Tower and Dune series sometime.

I just finished the follow-up to The Hunger Games, and it took all of my willpower to not start the final installment of the trilogy, Mockingjay. This series is more addicting than All My Children! Catching Fire begins with our beloved badass Katniss hunting in the woods outside of District 12, the bleak city-state she calls home. She’s recently returned from winning The Hunger Games and is trying to find some normalcy. Although she’s set for life as all victors are, her BFF/crush/pretend cousin Gale’s family still relies on illegal hunting to fill their bellies—plus, it’s a great comfort for Katniss. She recounts to the reader, briefly, the events from the last book and what we should expect now: a “victory tour” where she will travel to all of the districts, rubbing her victory in their wounds. These districts, after all, each lost two tributes as she survived.

But Katniss won the Games with a move that subtly defied the district. For this, she’s turned into a symbol. Katniss, the Girl on Fire, is now the symbol of a revolution. (If you don’t pick up on this at first, Collins hammers it in your head by the end of the book.) The creepy long-reigning President Snow, who always smells of roses and blood, knows this. Because she’s a victor, he can’t make her disappear like he can other rabble-rousers, but he can put her into an uncomfortable position. One of the things I like most about Katniss is that she’s an atypical girl, and she constantly reminds the reader of this. For an adult it may be repetitive, but I think the target audience—teens—needs to be reminded. If you are a badass, be a badass. Katniss has never wanted children, marriage, or that fairy tale life. If you want that for your life, then take it. Just don’t conform to others’ expectations. Snow knows Katniss doesn’t want to marry, so he uses that to try to break her: if she doesn’t marry (who, I won’t say—I’m being purposefully vague here, in case you read the trilogy), he will have her loved ones done away with.

So that’s where we’re at as Katniss departs for the victory tour. She and her mockingjay become the symbol the starving, haggard people in the districts have been waiting for, and they greet her accordingly. When she visits her deceased once-ally Rue’s district, the crowd shows their appreciation (61):

Then, from somewhere in the crowd, someone whistles Rue’s four-note mockingjay tune. The one that signaled the end of the workday in the orchards. The one that meant safety in the arena. By the end of the tune, I have found the whistler, a wizened old man in a faded shirt and overalls. His eyes meet mine.

What happens next is not an accident. It is too well executed to be spontaneous, because it happens in complete unison. Every person in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand against their lips and extends them to me. It’s our sign from District 2, the last good-bye I gave Rue in the arena.

This bit of spitting in the Capitol’s eye didn’t go unnoticed, though, as Katniss sees the old man killed by government “Peacekeepers.” Needless to say, I cried here, for I am a sap and Collins sure can manipulate her readers. This is perfect, though. We want to side with the rebels, and we want to see the rebels side with Katniss for a good reason. She can’t be an empty symbol, after all.

Katniss returns to District 12 to her home in the Victor’s Village, where she continues hunting, working out her feelings. At this point, she thinks it’s best to take her loved ones and run, to try to eke out a living on the land, avoiding whatever punishment Snow means for her—until Gale gets caught poaching. He is whipped to an inch of his life, which makes Katniss realize that there is no running from the Capitol. They’ve already hurt her and her loved ones, and running away is the result of fear, not rational thinking—”Gale is right. If people have the courage, this could be an opportunity. He’s also right that, since I have set it in motion, I could so much. Although I have no idea what exactly that would be. But deciding not to run away is a crucial first step” (123).

The symbol has realized her importance. (Oh my Science, that must weigh on one’s shoulders!) She must now determine how best to subtly stoke the revolution, while still serving as a mentor for the Games (as that’s what victors do; Katniss’ mentor, Haymitch, won the games 25 years prior). However, every 25 years the Capitol does something special for the “Quarter Quell” games: one year, each district had to double the number of tributes. This year, the Tributes are picking from each district’s pool of victors…Katniss is going back to the arena. What happens in the arena isn’t important here. Read the book. What’s important is Katniss has to realize, that as the symbol, she provides hope but she doesn’t make all the plans. This will be the hardest part for her: trusting others.

After reading The Hunger Games I said I wanted to teach it. After reading Catching Fire, I still do. I look forward to Mockingjay continuing this feeling. There are so many invaluable themes: the importance of trust, of family, of friends; how government control backfires; that it is ok to live life on your own terms, even if that means being alone; running away is not a solution; et cetera. Discussions would be so fruitful and passionate.

Hopefully the economy will recover and I’ll find a teaching job within the next ten years. If I don’t, I’ll probably be too bitter to teach a book that focuses on finding yourself & revolution: “It doesn’t matter what you do, kids. I did everything—within reason, while being a good person—to get what I wanted. It didn’t work. All I have are some crows’ feet, an alcohol dependency, and student loans I’ll never pay off. You kiddos can take your hope and optimism and shove it.”

KK

Next up is Mockingjay, the final book. This trilogy is like crack. (If it were actually crack, I’d tell you not to do it.)

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