Sunday, January 9, 2011

This is No Place for a Girl on Fire

This review is for those who have read The Hunger Games or don't mind knowing what happens in it. Catching Fire, however, will remain spoiler-free.

Catching Fire
~Catching Fire~
The Hunger Games
Book 2
By Suzanne Collins
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Katniss and Peeta have won the Hunger Games. For the first time in its 74 runnings, two tributes were allowed to win—to survive. They thought the worst of it was over.

Who knew so much could be triggered by a handful of berries?

It's time for the annual Victory Tour, where the winners are to visit each District and deliver inspiring speeches about their triumph in the Games. It's a time of celebration masking dread as the masses are reminded that they're half-a-year closer to another reaping. But with these tributes' victory hinging on an act of love (or possibly defiance), the Districts are teetering on the edge of rebellion.

When President Snow stops by for a chat, you know you're in trouble.

Katniss is already dealing with an internal war of her own. Gale, her best friend since forever, has made it clear that he wants to be something more. Peeta, on the other hand, has been something more, but how much of that was real and how much was just to survive? But before she's able to sort out her feelings for either, President Snow hands her an ultimatum: Convince the masses that she's still madly in love with Peeta, or Gale dies.

Quite the send off.

Determined not to have any more lives ended by her actions, Katniss prepares herself for a long tour. District 11, the home of her fallen friend, Rue, is the first stop, which brings up a whole slew of other emotions. But when even a small gesture of gratitude and honesty can spark a rebellion, Katniss will have to keep her emotions in check if she wants to keep those around her safe.

Then again, perhaps her emotions are just what the nation needs...

Equally brutal, but for different reasons. Where the first book was mainly about a horrifying competition, the second shows the beginnings of war. From the disparity between the empowered few and the enslaved masses—parties where guests fill their stomachs then vomit to do it again and again versus families starving to death—to the Capitol's attempts to control any dissidents—mainly through fear and violence—this book definitely has a darker tone about it. And you thought kids killing each other on live TV was dark...

I think what hit me hardest about this book were the similarities to our world. This may be an extreme case of Proletariat and Bourgeoisie, but I kept seeing examples of things we have going on now. And not just in the case of technology or landscape (since it's based in the future US), but in the disparities between the rich and poor, and the few controlling the many. But perhaps that is best left for a discussion, rather than a review.

Katniss is as strong a narrator as ever. With her return from the traumatic Hunger Games, her emotions are still pretty raw, but her personality and her sense of morality are unchanged. There's no doubt in your mind that she's strong, and yet she is still vulnerable when it comes to her friends and family. She'll do anything to save them, even if it means making herself unhappy or putting her in danger. And rather than adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, or an I'm-not-worthy one, she is extremely level-headed when it comes to her own abilities.

The secondary characters rely a lot on their previous introductions from the first book. There's a little growth here and there, but many of them are the same as before. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing; if you loved them before, you'll love them still. Even the memories of characters—Rue especially—were powerful enough to make me cry. And it takes a lot for a book to make me cry.

Peeta, however, grated on my nerves. It annoys me that he's portrayed as a simpleton 90% of the time—like when he doesn't understand Katniss's acting—and yet he shows these flashes of brilliance—picking up on the slightest hint in a conversation that he needs to cover up something—that it makes me wonder how he can be so blind! I'm not sure if this is an intentional part of his character, or an unintended inconsistency.

I also found it frustrating how the book takes a huge turn half-way through. On the one hand, I'd connected to the characters and so their surprise and rage was mirrored in myself, but on the other I honestly wanted to keep exploring the initial storyline. Not to mention it made it really difficult to write a teaser...

But parts 2 and 3 of Catching Fire honestly did nothing for me. There were times where I was really excited, because of all the possibilities that arose...but they all kept passing by... I almost feel like the initial story was delayed in order to make a third book. Off of a cliffhanger, no less. I guess I'll just have to read Mockingjay and see how I feel.

Overall, if you're invested in Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, and the rest you'll probably want to check this one out. However, if you're only in it for the romance you should probably turn back now. It's definitely grimmer, and the initial themes explored only intensify, so it is still probably best as a discussion book. You will want to talk about it.

Approximate Reading Time: 6 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Carolyn McCormick
Length: 11.6 Hours
Listened at 1.9x Speed

At this point, it's going to be hard having anyone else try to voice Katniss. McCormick continues to bring her personality through perfectly, as well as the voices of the other characters. I love how I can pick Haymitch's instantly out of a crowd. Granted, some of the smaller characters (various villagers/mothers)may have similar voices, but they're never in the same area at the same time so it works out alright.

I noticed the editing a little more this time around. There were a couple lines in particular I could tell were recorded separately because the emotion didn't match the rest of the paragraph. Nothing huge—you probably wouldn't notice if you weren't listening in headphones—but they were there.

It is in large part McCormick's talents that bring the stories to life for me. The emotion she brings through her performance is a major reason I can't bring myself to stop reading, even at chapter breaks. And the tears I shed for Rue...I credit that to her. I can't recommend listening to these books enough (so long as you aren't driving at certain points), and I can hardly wait to pick up the final book.
Started and completed this the weekend of January 8th,
so I earned me this lovely badge from Bewitched Bookworms!