Sunday, February 14, 2010

A taste of middle-child-syndrome with CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

OK Junkies, confession time: my first couple of years teaching were so awful that I had to break up the school year with little things to look forward to.  I'd count the weeks/days/hours until each holiday.  Oh what, you think that sounds normal?  I'm not finished.  In addition to counting down to holidays, I'd also count down the days and weeks until other moments of joy.  I would know at any given day, how many months until the next Harry Potter book came out, or how many weeks until the next Lemony Snicket installment, or even how many weeks until the next Harry Potter movie was released (in theaters and on DVD).   I told you, I'm an addict.

Well, in an attempt to ease some of my bitterness at having to work on Presidents' Day, I've decided to reinstate the countdown.

As of today, there are exactly:

But Junkies, let's back up a second.  Before we can get all giddy about the third installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, we need to talk about Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.


You know that family member who yells at the TV during a sports game, or worse, the news?  Yeah, that was me while reading this book.
"No!  We can't go back into the arena.  Come on, Katniss, escape, revolt, go light stuff on fire with Gale. No!"  and "The watch!  Katniss, you saw the watch-with the bird, hello? Doh!" 

Suzanne Collins has created a great character with Katniss Everdeen.  Katniss is passionate and courageous.  She acts on instinct, but she can also be a little naiive.  None of these are great qualities for planning a secret revolution.  So Catching Fire is full of behind the scenes planning that Katniss is not aware of.  Unfortunately, because she's the first-person narrator, this means that the reader is also unaware of it. 

We get a few clues that Katniss doesn't understand the significance of, which can be a tad frustrating.  But, the thing is, Junkies, even though I shouted at the book and rolled my eyes a few times at Katniss's obliviousness, Collins knows what she's doing.

While The Hunger Games was full of physical suspense--is she going to die?  who is she going to kill?  Can she save Peeta?
Catching Fire is all about emotional suspense--what will she do?  When will she figure it out?  Who does she love?  Why won't Haymitch throw her a bone?

The middle book in any trilogy is tricky.  It struggles to compete with the excitement and originality of the first book, yet it has to continually build up to the climactic events to come in the third book.  It's like the middle-child-syndrome.  Or, I like to think of it as The Empire Strikes Back syndrome.  And like The Empire Strikes Back, in Catching Fire we spend a little too much time in the snow waiting for something to happen.

But in some ways, Catching Fire did surpass The Hunger Games.  Suzanne Collins is a genius at crafting characters and Haymitch and Cinna come alive in the sequel.  And we thought we knew Katniss and Peeta in the first book, but the second book really lets us see who they are, what they live for, and what they're willing to die for.

I do wish we got to know Gale a little more in this second book, though.  Because really, if we're going to have a love triangle, I need to know WHY Katniss loves Gale.  So as of right now, I'm in camp Peeta all the way, baby.

So, although I don't think it lived up to the awesomenes of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is still a badass book and I can't wait until Mockingjay is in my hands 27 weeks from now.

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