Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Year of Publication: 2009
Length: 391 pages
Genre: young adult – dystopian thriller
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 4+ stars
Spoilers: Armed and active for both this and The Hunger Games; I don’t know how to talk about this book without them, unfortunately.
The last time I felt this way about a series was starting Harry Potter, back almost a decade ago. Nothing else in recent memory has matched the sheer irresistibility of this series. I’m a little floored, honestly, by how much I’m taken with this series and how desperately I need to move on to find out what happens. But I thought it important to pause and capture my thoughts now.
Catching Fire ups the ante in a big way. It continues more or less seamlessly on from the end of The Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta are expected to go on a Victory Tour around all of the Districts. The trouble is that unrest has been sizzling in some of them for a long time, and Katniss finds herself the inadvertent mascot of rebellion. No true uprisings have broken out yet, but you can feel them simmering, low-burning embers, all through this book. And that’s terrifying the living hell out of the Capitol. Enough so that the President himself feels compelled to visit Katniss and make a few well-placed threats against her family and friends.
This includes Gale, who was kind’a-sort’a Katniss’s boyfriend before she went to the Games, but who she’s had to treat as an amiable “cousin” ever since she got back, since her only thread of protection lies in being able to claim that love for Peeta made her act so defiantly. There’s a lot of emotional entanglement between the three of them, and I think it’s handled very well. It’s not overblown or made into the stuff of melodrama. Instead, all three act in the time-honoured manner of teenagers everwhere: with extreme awkwardness. They don’t know what to say to each other, how to act. And it doesn’t help that just as soon as poor Katniss is thinking she’s set her heart on one, the other will do something spectacular to sway her around again. And yet, all without turning her into just some pathetic chick.
Is it wrong of me to hope that Katniss will get to live polyamorously happy-ever-after with them both? Yes. Yes, it is. That would barely pass muster in fairly edgy adult fiction; it’s going to be another century or so before you could get away with that in young adult. What I then assume is that either Gale or Peeta has to die. So, then, is it wrong for me to hope that it’s Gale? Nothing against the guy at all, but he’s not the one we, the readers, have spent as much time with. My emotional investment lies far more in Peeta.
So. All of that’s going on, and then District Twelve has a really hard year. It’s partially to punish Katniss — law enforcement becomes really strict, the minor infractions (like hunting in the woods) that folk used to be able to get away with, they can’t anymore — and it’s partially just bad luck, from a really hard winter. Desperation’s sinking in, and even while Katniss feels the urge to rebel burning deep inside her… she can’t. Not with so many people relying on her. Not with so many innocent lives at stake.
And then the Capitol changes the rules on everyone again, and announces that for the 75th Hunger Games, they’ll be drawing only from a pool of prior victors — who are supposed to be exempt for life. The second half of the book deals with this. With no other female victor living, Katniss has to go for 12, and though their mentor Haymitch’s name is chosen, Peeta immediately volunteers to take his place. So they’re back, and have to quickly determine who among the other tribute-victors they might be able to trust at least long enough for a temporary alliance. The arena designed for the 75th Games is diabolical and utterly ingenious, and in some ways I wish they’d gotten to it earlier in the book in order to spend more time examining it.
Some other reviews I’ve seen charge that Catching Fire suffers from middle-of-trilogy syndrome and that it’s slow to get going, that too much time is spent on exposition in the beginning. I couldn’t disagree more. I think this book is superbly strong, and I don’t feel it has any of that lag. In fact, I sort of wish they’d spent more time on the Victory Tour, describing the various Districts — but that’s because I’m obsessed with world-building, especially in dystopias. I want to know everything. From what I can gather, District 4 is probably Gulf Coast (wherever the coastline actually is now), because their main industry is fishing. 3 seems like it might be Detroit-ish, as they focus on electronics and manufacturing. 7 seems like Wisconsin-Minnesota, timber country. 11 I can’t quite place, because it might be either the South or the Midwest. I’m guessing Midwest because the agriculture seems a bit more wheat-and-corn, though in Book 1 Rue does talk a lot about orchards — but also because, if part of the cataclysm leading to this world setup was rising waters, most of the agricultural south is probably under the Atlantic Ocean now. Anyway — I wish I knew more. I want to know about all the Districts, where they are, how many people, how they got to be the way they are. What we do learn along the way is that District 11 is much more strictly controlled than 12 has been, and that the people there seem to be getting sick of it.
So. This book is fabulous, the series is fabulous, I’m moving on to Mockingjay as fast as may be — and it looks like it’s going to have pretty much my favourite thing over. Not just a dystopia, but a dystopian rebellion. I am aquiver with excitement.