Thursday, October 01, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Plot Summary: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

This book is the second in a trilogy, the first being THE HUNGER GAMES. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a comparison between HUNGER GAMES and BATTLE ROYALE, two similar books that sparked many discussions about whether HUNGER GAMES was a rip off of BATTLE ROYALE. Surprisingly, the comments on that post are still going.

But we are here to talk about CATCHING FIRE.

There is no question that Suzanne Collins knows how to write a fast-paced, can't-put-it-down-even-though-it's-3am kind of story. I read the book in one sitting, which I didn't intend to do when I sat down with it. Also, she is incredibly creative and comes up with great devices with which to torture her characters. That said, I am beginning to wonder at her ability to shift a premise into something truly unique and original – though that doesn't mean I think HG is a rip off of BR. :)

But I did think several of the elements in CATCHING FIRE were too similar to HUNGER GAMES.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below. Big ones.

I think the reader knows from the beginning that Katniss will go back to the games, but as a mentor instead of a participant. I thought she’d have to mentor both Gale and Prim. But Collins throws us a twist and sends Katniss back to the games as a participant. Peeta, too.

I understand why she did what she did, and I like the way she resolved it. But it just didn't have as big an impact on me the second time around. Even with Katniss's changed attitude and goal of keeping Peeta alive, it still felt the same. So, to me, the second Hunger Games felt like filler in order to get to the real stuff, which will be in book 3. I kind of wish she'd spent less time in the arena and instead gotten to the real story: the uprising.

Plus, I just didn't buy that the other players in the game were also trying to keep Peeta alive. It seemed so obvious that Katniss was the real goal. And there were other aspects of the story where I thought Katniss should have caught on easily, like the games director’s watch. It gets frustrating when I, the reader, figure things out before the main character does.

I wish Collins had played the games differently this time around, and let Katniss figure out what was going on with the other champions. It would have heightened suspense, because they are constantly monitored and the Capitol could expose them at any time. And it would have given an entirely new flavor to the games themselves, rather than the same old same old of trying to figure out how to stay alive. That was incredibly compelling the first time around, but the second? Not so much.

I also had trouble with her connections to both Gale and Peeta. About halfway through the book, she seems to have made a choice. Then, at the end, she seems to go back on that choice. Why? We don't know because she never tells us. She doesn't even think twice about it, which doesn't make sense. Based on her personality, I think she would have.

Still, I enjoyed the adventure, and will read the final book when it comes out. But I’m not dying for it.


Rebecca Knight said...


I'd have to politely disagree with you on her going back into the Games. Maybe it's just me, but the horror of the Games the first time around was so intense, that her going back into that scenario, after she thought she may be "safe," felt like the worst possible thing that could happen.

I was reading at nighttime and gasped loudly at the point where the quell was revealed. My husband just laughed at me :P. But yeah, it shocked the pants off me and upped the tension.

I loved hearing your viewpoint on the same scenerio :).

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I must politely disagree as well. I totally wasn't expecting her to have to go back as a participant and I liked the mystery of not knowing what the other players were up to. None of them can just reveal it when their lives are so closely monitored. She might guess at it but how would she know for sure? I found the tension and growing depth of her relationships believable. Different strokes and all that.

Tabitha said...

Rebecca - Oh! I must not have been clear. SPOILER WARNING

I thought it was a good surprise that she went back as a participant. I was just disappointed that the games were nearly the same as the last book. I wanted a bit more to them. And I found it hard to believe that Katniss wouldn't even speculate on who was behind the uprising. But I was shocked (in a good way) that Katniss had to go back in the arena.

Tricia - I wasn't expecting it either, so that was a very good thing. And I definitely think the mystery around the other players was good, but what I didn't believe was that Katniss didn't even speculate on who might be behind the uprising. I can see why she'd try to be the good girl and not provoke the Capitol, but that would give her even more motivation to speculate on who was behind the uprising. If at least to avoid those people, so as not to bring down the Capitol's wrath on her family.

Overall, it was still an interesting and engaging book. I just think it wasn't nearly as effective as it could have been.

Rebecca Knight said...


Ahhh, okay, gotcha ;)! I was also a little disappointed that the Games didn't go differently. The clock part was fascinating, but didn't feel nearly as threatening as last time.

Plus, seriously. These people have all just been utterly screwed by the Capitol, too. You don't think maybe they're up to something? Come on, Katniss :).

Unknown said...

Hmmm...I never noticed any of these issues while reading, but do notice them now that you pointed them out. Huh. Must be a sign of her Collin's good writing that I didn't notice :)

I did feel the clock was a bit anticlimactic. I think the game keeper's watch was a weird clue--I thought he was telling her a time of a secret meeting--but I did wish she'd questioned that more. But overall, I didn't notice many of the issues while reading.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I love Suzanne Collins, but I was disappointed with this book, too. I mean, I read it cover to cover barely stopping to eat, but the games should have been different, the players should have acted differently since they'd been there before.

I wanted to smack Katniss for not getting the clues with the bird on the cracker and the watch. And what's with suddenly having this 13th district? The end made me feel like the whole book had just been a big tease for the 3rd.

That said, I still marvel at how concise her writing is and I love to reread her books. So of course I'll have to read the next one!

Christina Farley said...

I didn't read the spoilers since I haven't read the book yet, but I can't wait to do so!