Todd’s Review of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I consider myself an avid science fiction fan, so I already had an inkling that I would enjoy the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Add to this the fact that Kim loved the series and continuously bugged me to read it and you could say that I had my work cut out for me.  So, with the first book in the series already read and reviewed, I turned my attention to the sophomore novel, Catching Fire.  In this work, we meet up with Katniss and company soon after she and Peeta triumphantly conquer the 74th Hunger Games.

At the start of Catching Fire, we follow Katniss as she prepares for the “victory tour”.  This is held every year for the victor of the previous Hunger Games, as he or she tours all of the 12 districts as well as the Capitol to commemorate his or her victory in the games.  Of course, this year the tour will feature two tributes: Katniss and Peeta, who triumphantly conquered the previous Games and defied the Capitol with a double suicide attempt that was blocked at the last second.  Although Katniss attempted the suicide to rid herself of the oppression and hate that embodies the Capitol, she was conversely hailed as a hero along with Peeta; their act was viewed as the spark that ignited rebellion in several of the districts following the Games.  Therefore, facing this potential threat, President Snow visits Katniss in her home, telling her in no uncertain terms that he will kill her family and those that she loves (most especially Gale) if she makes an attempt to incite further uprising amongst the districts.  Determined to save her family and friends and please Snow, Katniss tries to act as if her actions are those of a girl disillusioned by love, and acts out her infatuation to Peeta in the fullest.  However, the turning point comes when Katniss again meets with Snow on stage in the Capitol, discreetly asking him whether or not all the work she put in was enough to save herself and Panem from full-scale rebellion.  Sadly, he answers no.  Not only does Katniss feel a sense of dread that Snow will carry out his threat, but she is further faced with the revelation that for this year’s Hunger Games (a quarter quell, as it is known), will consist of tributes being pulled from the pool of existing victors of the previous Games.  In short, she will have to face the Games again for the second year in a row.  Will Katniss be able to survive the games?  Will she be able to save her family, Gale, and Peeta from the threat of President Snow?  Will they be able to survive a full-scale rebellion against the Capitol by the districts?

As I stated in the opening of this post, I really enjoy a good sci-fi story.  Of course, often these go hand-in-hand with a dystopian society, such as Farenheit 451 or 1984.  Collins’ Catching Fire had both of these elements: a cool science fiction component that integrated futuristic technology and ideas, as well as the totalitarian regime of the Capitol presiding over all of the outlying districts.  Perhaps what I like most about these two elements is that they dovetail so well into a story of revolt and rebellion against overwhelming odds.  The mixture of years of oppression coupled with the inequality between those have control versus those who don’t makes for an amazing and inspiring story.  This is perhaps why I liked Catching Fire so much.  You can easily feel the aggression and anger that all of the citizens of the districts carry around as they watch the Capitol parade around in their wealth, using the Hunger Games as a means of cruel and sadistic entertainment.  They are so removed from day-to-day life that the only thing that brings them the greatest joy and entertainment is the killing of others.  Therefore, when this illusion is broken and the citizens of the districts begin to rightfully revolt and take back what is theirs, I can’t help but feel excited and root for them as I read.  The only complaint I had with the novel was that it took a while for the plot to build.  I realize that in any good story it takes time to lay the groundwork, but at times I felt that Katniss’ inner turmoil over her love life was a bit too drawn out and over-analyzed.  However, despite this I truly enjoyed the novel.  Watching Katniss grow from her position in the initial Hunger Games to what she becomes in this novel is inspiring.  Katniss unwillingly becomes the greatest symbol and unifier of these people, and makes her journey that much more important and inspirational.  Collins definitely does not disappoint in this follow-up to The Hunger Games, and it’s definitely a powerful addition to the series.

4 out of 5 Stars

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, Inc (2009)
Hardcover 400 pages

Check This Out – The Hunger Games Fireside Chat

Tonight is the seventeenth episode of The Hunger Games Fireside chat, hosted over on the Picktainment website by friends of the blog Adam S and Savanna!  Todd and I were both asked to join in on this special edition where they’ll be discussing the differences and similarities between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale.  For those of you unfamiliar with Battle Royale it’s a similar book/movie in which teenagers are forced to battle to the death in an arena.

For the full list of tonight’s participants and a more specific breakdown of discussion points, check out the promo here.  You can follow along the discussion on Twitter as well.  Participants and their twitter names are below:

Adam Spunberg (Host): @AdamSpunberg
Savanna New (Co-Host/Producer): @MlleNouveau
Down with the Capitol: @HungerGamesDWTC
The Hob: @TheHobOrg
Crystal: @pikko/@mockingjaynet/@FictionalFood
Natalie: @nataliezutter/@crushabledotcom
Kim and Todd: @lifeand100books and @ttotheodd
Rebekah: @Rebekahdg
Jon Rosenthal: @tgtsnbn
Ariel: @Madam_Pince

Todd and I are super pumped to be joining all of these great participants tonight.  We hope you listen in!

Happy listening!

Check This Out – Hunger Games Fireside Chat

About a month ago I got an email from Adam Spunberg, a co-creator of the Jane Austen Twitter Project, thanking me for the kind blog piece I wrote about the project.  The two of us began emailing back and forth talking about author events in our area and also about books that we loved.  Adam mentioned that he thought I would like the Hunger Games trilogy.   He told me about how awesome they were and about a podcast he was starting to discuss the books and the film that was going to begin production.  I went out that weekend and got all three books in the series, finished them, and proceeded to email Adam to tell him how much I loved them!  He was kind enough to offer me a guest spot TONIGHT on The Hunger Games Fireside Chat podcast.

For a brief rundown of what is going to be discussed tonight, along with the other guests, and a link for the podcast click here.

For my reviews of the books in The Hunger Game trilogy click below:

The Hunger Games

Catching Fire

Mockingjay

I have to thank Adam Spunberg and Savanna New for the awesome opportunity to be on the podcast! The podcast begins tonight at 10pm eastern time.  I hope you decide to tune in!

Until then, happy reading!

#26 A Review of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

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Picking up several months after the end of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire throws us back into Collins’ politically charged world known as Panem.  Peeta and Katniss are the first co-Hunger Game winners ever.  As such, much is being made of their publicity tour of the twelve districts.  The world still believes them to be young and in love, but little do they know that the two have barely spoken since arriving back in district twelve.  Katniss’ struggle to figure out her true feelings for Peeta has only been made more difficult by her return to district twelve and in turn the renewal of her friendship with Gale.  Gale has been her hunting partner and best friend for several years, but he’s also been her confidant and knows her better than anyone.  While Katniss struggles to figure out whether her feelings for Peeta are real, she becomes more in tune for her yearning for Gale.  Just when Katniss through her life couldn’t get any more complicated, President Snow, ruler of Panem, comes to make a personal visit to let Katniss know that there have been uprisings in the districts, and that he is holding her responsible because of the berry stunt she pulled at the end of the Hunger Games.  He tells her that the only way she can save her family, friends, and her district is to make everyone believe on her press tour that the berry stunt was done out of despair in a love-crazed act of finality.  Will she be able to convince all of Panem that she loves Peeta?

On top of all of the other problems Katniss is facing, it is the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, also known as the third “Quarter Quell”.  It is announced that instead of picking tributes from the districts, tributes will be picked from previous Hunger Games winners.  This means that Katniss will be going into the games with either Peeta or Haymitch.  Will she be able to survive a second time, or will her luck finally run out?

I absolutely loved this novel for multiple reasons, chiefly Collins’ ability to create intricate layers of conflict in her characters.  Katniss is a prime example of this multi-layered conflict effect.  She is dealing with a. the fact the she survived the games and the grief and guilt that comes along with the win b. the love triangle that her feelings for Gale and Peeta form c. President Snow laying the weight of Panem and the uprising on her shoulders and d. her struggle in facing the games again not as a mentor but as a tribute for the second time.  Katniss is not the only character that has multi-layered conflicts.  Peeta is dealing with trying to figure out a strategy to keep Katniss alive in the games while also knowing that her love for him was all a strategy ploy.  Gale is trying to deal with his anger with the Capital for what they’ve done to Katniss, as well as dealing with his inner turmoil of jealousy about Peeta.  The list of conflicts goes on and on, and these are just some examples of how complex and intricate Collins’ writing can be.

The ending of Catching Fire is just like the ending of The Hunger Games in that it is a perfect cliffhanger.  If I had read these books when they first came out, I don’t think I would have survived the wait time inbetween the publications.  I literally finished The Hunger Games, picked up Catching Fire, read it cover to cover, and then picked up the third in the trilogy, Mockingjay, finishing all three in under 24 hours.  While all three books are told through the eyes of Katniss, I would have loved to have seen some of the other characters’ thoughts, most specifically Peeta’s.  While it’s certainly engaging to be in Katniss’ head for her love triangle turmoil, I would have liked to have known how Peeta was feeling about it all.  All in all, Catching Fire continues the stellar and unique story that Collins began in The Hunger Games and leaves the reader greedily wanting more.  She continues to ask us to look at the deeper meaning in her writing and learn something from her themes of survival and indepdence. 

5 out of 5 Stars

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, Inc (2009)
Hardcover 400 pages

My Top Ten…Modern Classics (Part II)

As promised yesterday, here is the second half of my top ten books that will become (I hope) modern classics!

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5.) A Separate Peace by John Knowles (Published in 1959)

While on the surface this story seems like just a coming of age tale, it’s actually much  more.  A Separate Peace is credited with helping further the naturalism literary movement, which basically stated that one’s environment, family, and social conditions all come into play in shaping who you are and what you do.  The main character of the novel, Gene, treads down an enormous introspective path of trying to figure out who he is and why he’s led the life he has.  The story is told via flashback as he dwells on events from his teen years at Devon, a prep school.   The story seems to be solely a journey of self discovery, yet deep within the writing are thoughts on war and youth.

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4.) The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins (Published in 2008-2010)

I’ve only recently read these books (literally I just read them over the course of 24hrs this past weekend) but I’m still reeling from their amazing-ness.  The three books in the series are PACKED with heavy themes that while directed at teens, sure do hit at home.  The ideas of governmental control, survival of the fittest, independence, unrequited love, power, sacrifice, interdependence, etc are all present here.  It’s stunning how much is jam-packed into these three novels without seeming overwhelming.  The plot is incredibly gripping, due in large part to the hauntingly realistic and relatable characters.  As we watch our own country fight multiple wars and deal with political infighting, this series hits close to home.

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 3.) The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Published in 2006)

It seems like the most simplistic plot: a man and his son walking down a road in a post-apocalyptic world.  However, it’s much deeper than that.  The Road is truly a character driven novel, with little detail and no tangents to get in the way.  It is a story about relationships: with family, with emotion, with strangers, with our environment, and with ourselves.  McCarthy creates a frightening land where cannibalism is commonplace and hope is scarce, yet the man and his son persevere.  The themes of survivorship and family shine throughout, and the reader is given new hope for a better tomorrow despite the despair of the present.

2.) Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (Published in 1996)Cover Image 

Frank McCourt’s autobiographical memoir is a rough read in terms of subject matter, but is written so beautifully and elegantly that you look past all the depressing pieces and just see hope.  Telling the story of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland, McCourt sadly but humorously covers every detail of the poor streets of Limerick, from the row of dilapidated houses that he and his siblings were forced to live in, to the various odd jobs he took to earn money for his mother.  This book will always be relevent because even though McCourt and his family faced hardship after hardship, he never lost sight of his hopes and dreams, making this a must-read for adolescents of today and in the future.

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1.) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Published in 1958)

This novel easily makes it into the top five books I’ve ever read.  Set in Africa during times of colonization and religious missionary influence, a local village leader named Okonkwo experiences a fall from power as he refuses to accept any of the influence of the colonials.  An important lesson I learned from this novel is one of perspective.  Just because one thinks what he/she is doing is correct doesn’t always correlate to what is correct for the other party.  This also plays into the theme of the power of change.  Change for the sake of change isn’t always good, and change for the sake of one set of ideals to match your own is often narrow-minded and intractable.  There is a reason why the world is full of individuals with different ideas, personalities, and beliefs.  It is when we begin changing this to make everyone the same that we become some form of a real life dystopian society.

Well readers, what are your thoughts?  What books do you think I’ve missed??  Let me know in the comments below!  Until next time…happy reading!