Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Catching_fireReading level: 7
Series: The Hunger Games series book 2
Genre: Dystopian
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

First of all, re-reading Catching Fire made me appreciate Katniss and Peeta as characters all the more. I feel like I know and appreciate them now that I’ve taken my time to get through the series again. Now there is no doubt that Peeta is in love with Katniss and would sacrifice himself for her, because he has more faith in her than she has in herself. I’m confused, though, why he loves her so incredibly much. The first time they have any real contact is in the Hunger Games the previous year, and half of what they said and did was staged, while another chunk was them fighting. Anyway…

Katniss just keeps on getting increasingly complex, but in a painfully realistic way. Although she struggles with how she feels about Peeta, she really does love and respect him, even if she’s not in love with him or even Gale. Her determination to keep Peeta alive shows us this. It’s terribly painful as they’re in the Quarter Quell and are trying their best to keep each other alive at the expense of themselves.

Catching Fire also truly begins to show us how evil the Capitol is. We don’t hear much from President Snow or other important figures. Most of what we know is speculation about how the Capitol operates, which makes the whole government seem even more dangerous. Only a truly evil person (or government) could force loved ones, children, the elderly, and the sick to fight against each other, only to cause the victors to go insane, drown the memories in alcohol, or take drugs to forget. Suzanne Collins brilliantly creates such a heinous entity without showing much about it.

Fan girls around the world are drooling over Finnick Odair. Like Katniss, I didn’t really like him (or Johanna Mason) to begin with. He is an interesting character because he is definitely not what he appears: an attention-loving, womanizing, self-loving man. In this book alone we learn that who he really loves, what he’s willing to risk, and that he is trustworthy, never mind that whole “sugar cube” bit at the beginning that was completely and utterly flirtatious in a rather disgusting way. Johanna is even redeemed by her keeping Katniss and Peeta alive even though she clearly doesn’t like Katniss one bit.

And poor Gale. He never stood a chance.

See the post about The Hunger Games for a discussion of appropriateness for schools and English language learners. I could say the same things about Catching Fire as I did The Hunger Games, except that this text is less violent than its prequel.

Edit: I ended this post feeling as though it was severely lacking. That is, I found myself unable to say many critical, smart comments. Now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I believe that part of the problem was that this book is much more focused on the love triangle and confused emotions, which is pretty lackluster and typical of YA fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I really really really loved this book. Katniss just isn’t quite as enjoyable or tough. Or, if she is, it’s countered by her confusion about love. And as much as I adore Peeta, there isn’t much substance to him. He’s fighting to keep alive a girl he hardly knows; that’s about all we know about him. Oh, and he’s good at public speaking. I still feel for Peeta because he loves Katniss so much, but all he gets in return is confusion and sometimes hostility. I think that my 5-star rating of Catching Fire and my general love of it comes from the real way that Katniss is portrayed along with our growing knowledge of the Capitol despite the love triangle aspect, which gets us nowhere and is, to me, rather annoying.

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