turn this blog over to someone else. Sure, I've done interviews, but I've never allowed anyone to wrest this helm from my cold, diamond encrusted hands (ha!). But, then there's the encruster.* He has unusual sway over me. And by golly, since he had something to say about Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins's sequel to her blockbuster, Hunger Games, and I had no intention whatsoever to spend any time on the most reviewed title of the season, I thought why not? Besides, he just introduced me over at the Cybils.
Being the wonderful librarian and fiancé that she is, Jackie handed me Hunger Games to read on our recent vacation to Michigan. I read the whole thing in three days, and, as she reasonably expected, I loved it. Looking around on the internet and talking to friends of Jackie, it's very clear that I'm not alone. Hunger Games is just one of those great books.
Jackie and her mom, giddy about their success of getting me, a typical non-reader, so interested in a book, quickly got my hands on Catching Fire, the sequel. However, I can no longer say that Jackie is now batting 1000, because in so many ways, Catching Fire failed in all of the places where Hunger Games succeeded. By the end, I found myself frustrated with just too many things to enjoy what I felt could have been a good story.
So naturally I was quite surprised when Jackie tells me that she'd be interested in having me write a review and post it on her blog. I've never written a book review before, let alone one that's going to be read by as many readers as Jackie has. Not to mention, this is a sequel to a very popular book - the second in what is going to be a very successful trilogy. Who am I to affect other people's reading of this book? However, I will still try my hand at this.
The end of Hunger Games is a good non-ending. In fact, it is so good, that it could have stood on its own without the promise of a sequel (I could go on for a while about my opinion of sequels and non-endings, but not now). I spent some time between finishing Hunger Games and starting Catching Fire thinking about how the sequel should play out, and I struggled coming up with anything good. The games were over, Katniss had successfully defied the Capitol, and she had broken two hearts in the process. But back home, she would once again be a powerless teenager. The only hope I saw for an interesting story was for something to happen that would cause her to become the strong character that she was by the end of the first book, the survivalist with a strong grasp of humanity, character, and defiance.
Well, that "something" happens in Catching Fire. Suzanne Collins puts in the perfect story arc that could precisely pull out the crafty, cunning girl that I'm begging for Katniss to be. Except, to my dismay, the arc happens at the end of the book, and the arc doesn't cause any transformation in Katniss at all. Instead, we are treated to 2/3 of a book full of angsty love tryst where Katniss realizes over and over again that yes, both boys in her life are perfectly nice boys who she could end up with if she had to, and yes, it would be unfair if she had to.
In the meantime, a rebellion is starting all around her, and Katniss is practically oblivious to it except to feel fear and guilt whenever someone gets hurt. The entire time, I felt like reaching into the book and strangling her saying "Where's the anger? Where's the defiance?" Instead, except in a few small instances, the only defiance she shows is a completely illogical defiance of her friends who she is aware are going out of their way to save her. She simply doesn't care. What I assume is supposed to be seen as a decision based on logic and self-sacrifice instead comes across as a decision based on the selfish belief that it’s better to die than to live in guilt even if it means making everyone else around you live in guilt. The level-headed thwarter to the Capitol from the last book suddenly became the emotionally-wrecked thwarter to her level-headed friends. This goes so far as to make me wish that I could listen to another character narrate for a little bit just so I would stop wringing the book in my hands.
Katniss remains completely unaware of the situation around her until the last few pages of the book when the whole mystery is explained in one unsatisfying quick paragraph. I think that it was supposed to be a mystery to the reader as well, but it was too obvious to not guess. For a character who, in the first book, was so quick to correctly judge a situation or a hidden message, the entire final third of this book was filled with way too many things that were clear to the reader but somehow not so clear to the smart girl that we wanted to root for.
The ending of the book sets the stage for the third book, and it does so in a way that successfully makes me want to pick it up and read it. Some of that optimism is because I think that the only way to write the third book is to have Katniss step up and become the strong character she was always meant to be. However, there's a worry in the back of my mind that Collins is going make the same mistake as Catching Fire, and spend too much time dealing with the main character's irrational emotions and less time dealing with actual plot advancement.
It's Jackie again. If that wasn't apparent.
Ah, how I love disgruntled reviews. They are by far the most entertaining to read, don't you think? I asked Kyle whether he was Team Gale or Team Peeta, he decided that she should just dump both of them (well, he did after I explained what Team Fill-in-the-blank WAS) and move on with her life.
If you are a tweet-a-holic like us, you can follow Kyle (and me!) if you so desire!
*By the way, Kyle reallly doesn't want me to call him the encruster. He really prefers something sappy, like fiancé, or beloved betrothed. I'm liking encruster. Personally. ;)