Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins
Published: 2009
Website: Wikipedia Page

The second book of The Hunger games Trilogy was, like so many sequels, quite a disappointment. It fell prey to the classic traps of reusing previously successful material while shoehorning in new plot points in an attempt to balance continuity and novelty. There are many solid ideas in the book that are formulated poorly, clumsily or not much at all.

The undeveloped political undertones of the previous book are brought into full force as Katniss becomes the symbol of revolution against the despotic and brutal Capitol. While this was a refreshing change, Katniss is hardly an inspiring figure. In fact, she is an accidental heroine, with neither the force of will needed to take a stand nor the courage to take advantage of her unique position. Instead, she fumbles around with her unbelievable romantic struggles while being pulled along to greater success and power by more skillful compatriots (boy, no wonder Harry Potter fans like these books). Certainly, there is a story to be found in her transition from running away from danger (always her first instinct) to standing up for what she believes in, but the manifestation of the latter is mostly her observing injustice rather than actually taking steps to remedy it. Even the twist ending involving the beginnings of real revolution is completely unknown to her, and is orchestrated by much more capable players in the political game.

As for the romantic element, I can only compare Katniss disfavorably to Lyra Belacqua of the Dark Materials series. There, too, is a girl characterized by strength, self-sufficiency and some measure of emotional distance and frankly, immaturity. However, Phillip Pullman, ably and patiently tracks her growth through three books until her deep romantic love for Will becomes believable and exquisitely touching. Katniss’s surge of hormones, on the other hand, comes mostly out of nowhere. Gale is a smart, competent character with a distinct personality and much fondness for Katniss, but with the dynamic set up by the first book of brotherly affection, there isn’t much room for sudden transitions to kissing. Peeta is, as in the first book, interesting and charming at the beginning, and then completely useless (why is he always injured and out of commission? What is that doing for the story?) from the midpoint on. The only good romantic moment was one kiss between Katniss and Peeta that shows Katniss’s changing understanding of her own ability to love and care. The rest of the romance is almost vulgar in its lack of execution.

The book also suffers from compartmentalization. There are romantic parts, political parts, Games parts, action parts and Big Important Plot Twist parts, and you could draw a color block chart showing where those are. They’re all important to the story, of course, but Collins makes almost no attempt to pull them together. Even the plot twists, though interesting and occasionally surprising, elicited no more than an “oh, that’s where this is going” especially since she makes even greater use of the built-in Deus Ex Machinas than last time.

Finally, Katniss suffers from Carrie Bradshaw syndrome, which is the literary failure of making the main character (this almost exclusively happens to female characters) as generic and nondescript as possible so as to ensure that everyone will be able to relate to them. The interesting, possibly (god forbid!) off-putting character traits are left to the other characters (Haymitch’s craftiness, the Game Master’s cleverness, Peeta’s purity of heart, Johanna’s impulsive courage). Note to Suzanne Collins: You had a decent thing going. Just remember that women are allowed to be interesting.

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One Comment to “Catching Fire”

  1. I actually think I would really like this book if it weren’t for the characters.
    – Chana

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