While I was home for Christmas, I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with my mom and sister. I loved it. It was one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen, because it didn’t strictly require knowledge of the first movie, but it built beautifully on what had been established. Reading Catching Fire, the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, was a similar experience. It built beautifully on the first book (see my review of The Hunger Games here), but it is its own story as well.
It ought to go without saying that this review will contain spoilers for The Hunger Games (the first book only), but just in case:
HERE BE SPOILERS.
You have been warned.
Having made history by surviving the Games, Katniss returns to District 12 with a new mission. The whole country believes she only tried to subvert the Games by nightlock suicide because she was insanely in love with Peeta. Now, she has to keep them convinced of that love in order to save her life and the lives of everyone she loves: Prim. Her mother. Gale—what about Gale?
As victors, Peeta and Katniss don’t get much of a rest before visiting all twelve districts, plus the Capitol, on the Victory Tour. Even after the Victory Tour, they will have to return to the Games as mentors for the next set of District 12 tributes, as Haymitch has done for many years. As Katniss notes, the Hunger Games never really go away. Oh, and remember which number the Games were in the first book? Seventy-four. That’s no coincidence. Katniss’s first challenge is to keep up her pretend (or maybe not pretend) romance with Peeta. Her next big challenge rocks her whole world and beyond.
In The Hunger Games, Collins demonstrated her ability to tell a gripping, well-paced, action-packed story. Catching Fire is her opportunity for character development (well, at least before the action picks up again). We get to know Gale and his family. We get to see District 12, the Capitol, and all our familiar characters on a new level. Best of all, we get real about what’s going on inside Katniss’s head. Her role as primary provider for her family made her too self-important. She is still just a teenage girl. In this book, Collins makes it clear that Katniss is not as important as she thinks she is. Things are happening in her world that are bigger than she is and that would move right on along without her. The world is playing grown-up games where she’s just a pawn, a figurehead. This point of view is unheard of in YA (young adult literature). Standard YA requires that your teenage protagonist be the center and driving force of the world. Catching Fire shows us that Katniss is important, but she’s not everything.
With the end of Katniss’s story in sight, I have a better understanding of just what I enjoy about these books. I’m not ashamed to read books written for fifteen-year-olds, but the ones that stick with me the most are those that go beyond their basic categorization. Harry Potter is a coming-of-age story, but the action and classical legend surrounding that story make it richer and more appealing to adults. The Hunger Games is also about growing up, but the action and political thrills keep you entertained even if you couldn’t care less whether Katniss chooses Gale or Peeta. What is so captivating is that, in the Information Age, when so much about us is exposed to so many, these characters come to understand the world around them through great trials. I’m headed into Mockingjay next, and I can’t wait to see how this world turns out.
Next time: Mockingjay, the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy