Strong female protagonist Katniss Everdeen is back for an unprecedented second trip into the Hunger Games in Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. Like its predecessor, this novel explores themes of oppression, power/control, and love. However, it is even more aggressive in that it spends more time dissecting complex systems of power, breaking them down for the reader (and Katniss, who still can be a little thick sometimes) so that the networks of control are fully exposed.
Collins fleshes out characters like Haymitch and Gale in this novel, adding complexity and complicating simple black&white understandings of right and wrong. Alongside Katniss’ inability to decide between Gale and Peeta, we get a more well-rounded view of the effects the Hunger Games have on participants and their families and communities. We also see that emotions and politics have at least one thing in common: they’re messy and complicated.
The rebellions undertones of the first novel are no longer undertones in Catching Fire, as [SPOILER ALERT!] Katniss’ escape from the Arena and transportation to District 13 — the district everyone believed had been destroyed by the Capitol during the Dark Days — throws her into the midst of plans for open rebellion. Even in the beginning of the novel, Katniss’ tour through the other districts gives the reader a glimpse of how her small act of rebellion at the end of her first Hunger Games has influenced an already oppressed and disgruntled populace.
In this novel, characters change as they gain complexity. Peeta gains depth, as does Gale; the other citizens of District 12 become more clear; even Haymitch seems more real. However, the interesting effect of this is that in becoming more human, they became less likable for me. That’s not to say that I didn’t like them, but that there were serious shades of gray. Peeta’s suicidal desire to keep Katniss alive, for instance, struck me as somewhat obsessive and controlling where before it had simply seemed naively sweet. I’m not criticizing here — I like that the characters were complicated, and that my relationship with them changed as I learned more about them and their motivations.
GOOD FOR: Anyone in the mood for a good ol’ fashioned uprising, people considering the ills of the world, and those who read The Hunger Games and wanted more.
BAD FOR: Those who prefer things to stay simple, people not looking for a political commentary, and anyone who just wants it all to end happily ever after.
COMPATIBLE WITH: Ender’s Game, Fahrenheit 451, and A Brave New World.