Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic     2009
391 pages     YA

My grandson Maxwell was here visiting me with his family for the Christmas holiday. He asked if he could stay for a few more days. He's 16, and I was honored that he wanted to stay with his grandparents. So, among many other things, we watched The Hunger Games on Netflix and went to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire in the theater.

I had promised myself that I would read the book Hunger Games: Catching Fire before I went to see the movie, so I quickly began reading the book in anticipation. Didn't quite get it done, but I finished the book yesterday, after Maxwell went home. 

We were both very pleased with the movie. His quote was: "It exceeded my expectations!" That's how I felt, too, and that is how I feel about the book. It definitely exceeded my expectations. Katniss Everdeen is such an interesting, original character. She is not a caricature or a superhero, which is what I like the most about her. She has skill and intelligence, and she is able to mine those resources for her own survival as well as the survival of Peeta, her Hunger Games tribute partner. What she may not be able to survive is the machinations of the Game Keepers, and the country's evil president. 

The book is intense; I couldn't read fast enough, even though I had just seen the movie and knew what was going to happen. I was so angry with the Capital and President Snow. I hated what was happening to the tributes--I hated the whole idea. Yet, I couldn't stop reading.  Thus the beauty of Catching Fire. This unlikely heroine is caught in the juncture of politics, survival, love, altruism, and sadism. 

The District 12 mentor, Haymitch,  keeps reminding Katniss: "You just remember who the enemy is." Yet, Collins keeps reminding her readers that there is goodness in people, and many of the characters in Catching Fire have good in them. I was particularly engaged with the designers sent by the Capital to prepare Katniss and Peeta for the games. They drop their silly, fluffy personas when it becomes obvious that the Capital has become truly sadistic and they are helpless to counteract the menace.  They offer Katniss and Peeta friendship and support even as she offers them consolation. They are willing to sacrifice everything for the love of their young tributes.  The other tributes who align with Katniss and Peeta also offer support and friendship, although Katniss is wary of being betrayed by them. Just how long will their friendship last? 

Is this a book for kids? As I have said in this blog before, I believe that reading a variety of books is one way that children can learn to navigate a hostile world. I think, however, that this is a series of books for teenagers older than 13. What I particularly like about the Hunger Games books is that Collins handles mature concepts in a way that allows young teenagers to process them. The New York Times reviewer says: " Katniss is more sophisticated in this book, and her observations are more acute. We see this when she notices how much more difficult it is to kill people once you know them, or when she observes the decadent (and for the reader perhaps uncomfortably familiar) citizens of the Capitol gorging and then taking pills to make themselves vomit, or with her gradual realization that she may just stand for something greater than herself. All this is accomplished with the light touch of a writer who truly understands writing for young people: the pacing is brisk and the message tucked below the surface." 

Now, the third book in the series, Mockingjay, is calling my name. I need to know what happens next--now that rebellion is imminent.

Suzanne Collins website:

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