#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

#25 A Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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Imagine a post apocalyptic world where no one is safe from governmental control, least of all children.  This is Panem, Suzanne Collins’ creative world in The Hunger Games. Panem is made up of thirteen districts and one capital city in what used to be known as North America.  The capital controls all of the districts and doesn’t allow for there to be any mingling outside of one’s own district.  Each of the districts are responsible for one characteristic of survival: agriculture, mining, fishing, textiles, electronics, etc.  74 years prior to the start of the book, the thirteen districts joined together and formed a rebellion against the capital.  Unfortunately, they did not win, and as punishment the thirteenth district was completely destroyed and the Hunger Games were instituted.  It is these games and the districts’ unhappiness with the capital that mark the major plot points of the Hunger Games trilogy.

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are about to have their lives completely changed.  They are District 12’s tributes for the 74th Hunger Games.  Each year as a reminder that the districts are at the mercy of the capital, they are forced to send a male and female child as tributes to fight in a battle to the death.  Over the course of several weeks the 24 children, aged twelve to eighteen, fight to the death in a man-made arena filled with all kinds of traps and wild animals that can either help or hurt them.  Only one teen can win and return back to their home district to live a life of wealth and fame.  Each tribute is given a mentor, a previous Hunger Games winner from their district that will help them strategize and coordinate their sponsorship gifts.  These gifts can be the key to winning or losing the games, so it’s a bit of a shock to Katniss and Peeta when they are introduced to their mentor Haymitch, a thirty something drunk who can barely keep himself upright.  Katniss and Peeta realize if they are going to have any chance at winning the games they need to get Haymitch sober.  They succeed in helping him drink a bit less and are informed by their team that they are to appear as though they are partners in everything.  During the interview rounds Peeta reveals that he’s been in love with Katniss, his entire life.  This comes as a complete shock to Katniss and is the reason that makes the crowd fall head over heels in love with them.  The two try to use their “love story” as strategy in the games which causes Katniss to become very unsure of whether or not Peeta really loves her and what her true feelings are for Peeta.  This creates a lot of uneasiness for her, and as the games continue her feelings become more clouded.  She wonders how she’ll act if the time comes for her to kill Peeta.  Will she find that she’s fallen in love with Peeta, or will she have to kill him for her own survival?

The book is also filled with hauntingly realistic and relatable characters, most specifically Peeta and Katniss.  Katniss is a bit hardened from her life in District 12.  Her father died in a mining accident when she was younger and she has been forced to take care of her sister and mother since then.  Due to their financial difficulties Katniss takes to hunting illegally to make ends meet.  Peeta on the other hand lives in the merchant area of District 12 above his family’s bakery.  He’s good-looking, strong, and hasn’t lived a life as rough as Katniss’.  The two characters work so perfectly together especially during their “star-crossed” lover moments.  The inner turmoil that Katniss goes through is so realistic that at times the reader is confused as to her true feelings. 

I also wanted to make a note that when some people read the summary of the book they might be deterred to read because of the talk of violence.  I just want to state that even though there are a lot of deaths, Collins writes them in a way that doesn’t deter you from wanting to read the rest of the book.  They aren’t overly graphic and are done in a tasteful and respective manner. 

The Hunger Games was one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.  It’s loaded with symbolism and heavy themes that hit close to home; government control, independence, sacrifice, interdependence, survival of the fittest, unrequited love, etc.  They are themes that we can all relate to considering the political world we live in.  I would highly recommend this book for any age, as there is much to learn from the characters, themes, and circumstances in the novel.  Collins is challenging us as readers to look beyond the fact that it’s a fictitious novel and see the relevant meaning in her work in relation to the world today. 

5 out of 5 Stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, Inc (2008)
Hardcover 384 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!