Since returning to District 12 as the co-victor of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen's life has changed. She now lives in a nice house in the Victor's Village, and she and her family want for nothing. However, her friendship with Gale has become strained, and she barely talks to Peeta. All she wants is for her life to go back to normal, but she and Peeta are expected to go on the victor's tour to promote the upcoming 75th Hunger Games known as the Quarter Quell.
Before the tour is set to begin, President Snow visits Katniss, making veiled threats toward her and those she loves if she doesn't convince everyone that she is indeed madly in love with Peeta. As she and Peeta travel through all the districts and the Capitol, they play their parts to the hilt, but in several of the districts, they witness hints of discontent among the people. By the time Katniss and Peeta return home, their beloved district has been turned into a police state with a new head peace-keeper being installed, and there are rumors of uprisings in other districts. As Katniss contemplates whether to attempt an escape with her family and friends or stand and fight, the rules for the Quarter Quell are announced, stunning everyone. Will the Capitol's evil plan backfire on them, or will they finally succeed in getting what they want - Katniss and Peeta's deaths?
Catching Fire was a fabulous follow-up to The Hunger Games and the second book in the series of the same name. I wasn't sure what Suzanne Collins could do that would possibly top The Hunger Games, but somehow she managed to create a book that was equally good if not slightly better than the first. It had plenty of action, adventure, and taut suspense that kept me turning the pages. There were a number of surprises along the way, as well as plot twists and turns to keep me on my toes, and the cliffhanger ending makes me so glad that I already have the final book of the trilogy on my TBR pile, ready to read as soon as I have the time.
Katniss is no longer just the girl on fire. With her winning the 74th Hunger Games in a way that was perceived as rebellious to the Capitol, she has unintentionally sparked a mutiny among the people of Panem. She has become an unwitting, and at times, unwilling, symbol of hope in the face of hopelessness, and President Snow will do just about anything to squash that before it gets out of control. Katniss, on the other hand, would do just about anything to protect the people she loves from the Capitol's threats, including sacrificing herself. She is a very strong, independent-minded young woman who doesn't take kindly to being used as a pawn. She likes to live life on her own terms and when someone takes away her choices, she automatically fights back. Katniss is also a young woman with very conflicted emotions. She thinks she might be in love with her long-time friend, Gale, but at the same time, she can't deny that she feels something for Peeta as well, although what exactly that is, she's not sure. I think that in some ways, she fights her feelings for both of them, but more so for Peeta, because she views him as the Capitol's choice. A match between her and Peeta is what the Capitol wants and more than anything Katniss desires to distance herself from their manipulations. Still, she harbors a reluctant respect for Peeta and often finds herself turning to him for help and comfort.
Being the only other person Katniss personally knows besides Haymitch who has survived the Hunger Games, Peeta understands her and what she's going through in a way that no one else does. Survival for them came at a high price. Both suffer from nightmares of their time in the arena, and both of them are being unwillingly pushed into their roles as victors and mentors. Peeta finds outlets for his pain through his art and his words. Katniss doesn't possess his talents, so he becomes a strong shoulder for her to lean on when her own strength fails her. Peeta is a young man with an underlying, internal strength that is sometimes easy to miss, and for that, I absolutely adore him. He is smart, resourceful, and affable, naturally winning over nearly everyone with whom he comes in contact. He is peaceful and diplomatic and would far rather negotiate with someone than kill them. But I think that perhaps Peeta's greatest strength lies in his unwavering and devoted love for Katniss. She is his whole world, and he would do anything to protect her. Peeta is definitely going to go down as one of my greatest literary crushes of all time.
I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games that for the last couple of years, the series has made the top five on the ALA's most banned/challenged books list. In my opinion the maturity level increased a bit from the first book, but as a parent of teens, I still no problem with teenagers of about 14-15 and up reading it. The violence level has increased somewhat in this book, because it is no longer contained only in the arena. It has begun to spread as the people rise up in protest and the Capitol responds with greater brutality. Several characters die in various ways throughout the story or are severely punished, but when taking into account the fact that a revolution has been sparked, it was not nearly as violent as it could have been. It was less about graphic details and more about eliciting an emotional response from the reader through the use of suspense and an overall sense of peril throughout. However, I will admit that the violence has the highest potential of being objectionable content. There is no bad language, and little in the way of sexual content. A couple of characters engage in nudity or near-nudity, but it is intended more to intimidate other characters than to titillate, and as with the first book, there is a scene where it is done in the context of helping someone who's injured. There are several tender kisses, one of which turns a bit more passionate with mild descriptions of how Katniss's body is responding. Two characters often share a bed, but nothing more occurs between them. On the positive side, there are many wonderful messages to be gleaned from this book about loyalty, love, courage, friendship, what it means to be a family, and doing what's right in the face of evil.
Overall, I can't recommend Catching Fire and the series in general highly enough. It was very difficult to put down and I was always anxious to get back to it. Ms. Collins has a real talent for ending each chapter with a strong hook that keeps the reader coming back for more. With the cliffhanger ending, I can't wait to read the final book to see how everything turns out, and I'm also eagerly awaiting the movie version that will be released in a few months (Nov. 2013).
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