Katniss Everdeen has survived the Arena, but the bizarre ritual of the Hunger Games is far from over. Now, she sets off on a Victory Tour of the twelve Districts, whose citizens are forced to celebrate her triumph, and she must face the neighbors, friends, and families of the opponents she killed and the allies she failed to protect. Katniss discovers her daring rebellion against the Games’ supreme rule that only one contestant may survive has sparked revolt among the people of the Districts, and her privileged status as a Victor is not enough to protect her and her loved ones from the wrath of the Capitol. The mere hope of escape from the Capitol’s tyranny is the ultimate sin, to be crushed without mercy.
Katniss has unwittingly become the symbol of that hope–the Mockingjay, the Girl on Fire, the Girl Who Lived.
Where the first volume of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy centered on Katniss’ battle for survival in a world ruled by an evil totalitarian dictatorship, the second volume, Catching Fire, reveals the unintended consequences of her victory in the Hunger Games. Despite the Capitol’s best efforts to use her as a pawn in its demoralizing propaganda campaign, Katniss is now the focus of a desperate rebellion, and she quickly learns that to become a revolutionary, even an unwilling one, is to make herself and everyone she holds dear a target for the merciless reprisal of the Capitol, and its wrath will fall first on the most innocent and vulnerable. The danger is real and personal and imminent. There will be sacrifices, and treachery, and blood. It becomes impossible to distinguish between friends and enemies. The only defense is to keep fighting, always fighting, until the end.
The story’s pace is brisk and urgent, and any readers dismayed by the relatively mild action at its outset will be amply compensated later. Katniss’ emotional struggle to choose between her childhood friend Gale and her Arena comrade, Peeta, becomes even deeper and more complicated. We see glimpses of the other Districts and hints of the web of lies woven by the Capitol to keep them in line. Nearly all the characters wrestle with difficult ethical decisions under extreme pressure, and while some of their choices are murky, it’s encouraging that they’re striving so valiantly to do the right thing in a world that’s lost its moral compass.
What I found most striking about this story is its perspective on revolution. Despite our national heritage, modern Americans have little appreciation for the very real costs of rebellion against a tyrant. We write catchy pop ballads about starting revolutions and changing the world. We organize marches against authority figures and chant slogans as we throw rocks and bottles. We wear t-shirts bearing the images of “revolutionaries” unworthy of the title, or bits of uniforms and insignia from the larger, crueler tyrannies they spawned. Catching Fire shows that revolution is a deadly serious thing, and freedom, once lost, is murderously difficult to recover.
Catching Fire is a powerful, gripping tale that sustains the momentum of The Hunger Games and ends with a shattering revelation that nicely sets up the third and final volume, Mockingjay. The Capitol government still feels like an anonymous cloud of evil, despite the larger presence of its leader, President Snow, and that’s my biggest gripe. Given that the story is written from Katniss’ perspective, I expect I’ll gain more enlightenment, and satisfaction, on that front when she does.
Like the first volume in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire is for older teens and up, mostly due to the violent nature of the Games and the Capitol’s brutal tactics. It’s a great story for parents and children to read and discuss together. Though depictions of violence are restrained, they are often jarring. No profanity or explicit sexuality. Some alcohol abuse with consequences. Non-sexual cuddling/sleeping together by two characters trying to cope with severe emotional trauma.