Monday, February 20, 2012

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire. NY: Scholastic Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-439-02349-8. $17.99. 14 & up.

Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ popular dystopian trilogy, will certainly satisfy a reader’s taste for suspense; however, this action-packed follow-up to The Hunger Games has a very political core.

Katniss must pay for the actions she took to save both Peeta and herself during the 74th Hunger Games. Some citizens have interpreted her overall success in the arena as an aggressive act of defiance towards the Capitol. The districts are buzzing with rumors of unrest and rebellion. As the “faces” of the supposed revolution, President Snow forces Katniss and Peeta to put a stop to it. The Capitol does not like to be made a fool, it demands revenge; thus, it threatens everything that Katniss and Peeta hold dear in order to salvage control of the nation. And President Snow hopes to regain the Capitol’s grasp on the districts through the conveniently timed “Quarter Quell,” an event that occurs every 25th year of the Games and allows the Capitol to introduce a twist in the way the Games are executed. As the 75th Hunger Games are set before her, Katniss must decide her role. Is she to be the face of the rebellion? What will she do to spare her family? To shelter Peeta? To protect Gale?

Once again, Katniss is faced with tremendous psychological distress, as she never feels completely safe from President Snow’s pervading threats and nearly omnipresent scrutiny. Readers witness the previously strong protagonist practically wither, due to the pressure of knowing that she might not be able to protect her loved ones. Katniss almost looses her sense of self-reliance, as it seems that President Snow is so set on her demise that she believes she is doomed before she can even attempt to make things right. However, what seems to wear on her the most is the heavy guilt she feels from the awareness that she is ultimately responsible for the needless deaths that have occurred, and will continue to occur, due to the “rebellion” she incited.

Readers adopt Katniss’ despair, and experience her same feelings of anxiety and near-paranoia throughout the entire book as she frantically attempts to attain some sort of clarity concerning the constant threats, and utter turmoil, that surround her. And yet, at the very end of the text, the author uncovers the truths that have been purposefully kept from Katniss (and the reader) throughout the entire novel. Collins sets up the next, and final, book in the trilogy by leaving Catching Fire in a complete state of questioning. Katniss does not know whom to trust, after she learns that her previous allies, like her mentor Haymitch, have kept such great secrets from her.

Collins presents a compelling and suspenseful narrative that ensnares her readers all over again. However, it is evident by the end of Catching Fire that Collins is clearly shifting the focus of her writing from character development to political and social commentary.

Caitlin Kennedy

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