Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

*WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Trilogies, whether they’re books or films, are always tricky to pull off because they so often fall into the same basic pattern: Part 1 introduces us to the characters and the conflict, then gives us a simplified version of the Big Climactic Ending that’s being planned for Part 3. Part 2 might introduce some new twist or conflict, but mostly its job is to set up Part 3. Part 3 is where everything pays off and the trilogy ends in either a brilliant blaze of glory, or a godawful mess. (see: Godfather III)

As we can see, Part 2 of any given trilogy is bound to be the weakest part, because it has the worst job. Think about all the trilogies and their second installments. The Empire Strikes Back is just Luke dicking around with Yoda until he learns to be a Jedi in the third movie, Attack of the Clones is just Anakin dicking around (and being a general whiny bitch) until he turns into Darth Vader in whatever the last Star Wars movie is called, and The Two Towers is just one big parade of dicking around – Frodo and Sam dick around near Mordor; Merry and Pippin dick around with the big tree; and Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn dick around in Rohan. In all of these films/books, everyone is just biding their time until Part 3, when all the shit they’ve worked to build up finally hits the fan. (“Say dick again.” “Dick.”)

In case you couldn’t guess where I’m going with this, Catching Fire had a disappointing legacy to live up to, and it did this quite well. Once again, the whole book is mostly just Collins setting up the Big Important Climactic Fight that will Decide Everything Forever and generally Fuck Shit Up, and of course none of that happens until the third book. In the meantime, we get a lot of information on how Katniss basically ruined everything in the last Hunger Games and unwittingly started a rebellion so now the President wants her dead, and also her mockinjay pin is a symbol of the rebellion (o hai, Book 3 title!), and also she has to compete in the Hunger Games again due to a Very Convenient Loophole.

It’s all very interesting and well-paced and exciting, but no matter how good Catching Fire gets, we can’t escape the sensation that Collins is just biding her time, distracting us with this second-Hunger-Games plot while she works up to the book that really matters – the third one. It’s an entertaining stalling tactic, but a stalling tactic none the less. Now I understand why my roommate immediately downloaded Mockingjay on her Kindle as soon as she finished this book. We have to get to the good stuff!

Okay, now I’m going to discuss two major issues I had with this book, and since they are both spoiler-riffic, I’m going to give you one last chance to exit out of this review and avoid ruining the ending.

 

Okay, we still here? Excellent, let’s get to the bitching.

Major Issue Number One:

So, as part of a sympathy ploy, right before the Games start Peeta announces to the whole world that Katniss is pregnant. Everyone instantly believes him and flips out over how unfair it is that an expecting mother has to compete in the Hunger Games. Here’s my problem: did anyone, at any point, ever think, “This seems very convenient. Why don’t we just give her a quick pregnancy test, just to make sure?” I mean for God’s sake, this is the future. She probably wouldn’t even have to pee on a stick and wait ten minutes, I bet they just have some kind of litmus paper she can suck on and it’ll turn blue if she’s pregnant. My point is, why does no one think Peeta’s announcement is a little weird? It also doesn’t help that Katniss doesn’t even try to commit to the lie – she has maybe two moments during the Games when she thinks, “wait, maybe I should be acting like I’m pregnant…nah, we pulled it off.”

Major Issue Number Two:

If you’ve read the book, you probably know what I’m going to talk about.

That’s right, Plutarch Heavensbee, also known as the Plot Twist Heard ‘Round the World (as soon as it was introduced).

So, Katniss is talking to Heavensbee, the new Gamemaker, at a party. By this point she knows a) there’s an underground rebellion going on in the districts and b) the symbol of the rebellion is a mockinjay. Heavensbee is talking to her, and then out of the blue, he shows her his watch with its disappearing mockingjay symbol. How does our brilliant heroine interpret this gesture?  Exact quote: “Maybe he thinks someone else will steal his idea of putting a disappearing mockingjay on a watch face.”

Yeah. That’s totally it. It couldn’t mean, oh, I don’t know, he’s working for the rebellion as a double agent? I mean, come on Katniss, HAVE YOU EVEN BEEN PAYING ATTENTION?

That part takes place on page eighty-two. The revelation that Heavensbee is with the rebellion, which takes Katniss completely off-guard, doesn’t occur until THREE HUNDRED PAGES LATER.

There is one thing that frustrates me above all other things in literature, and that’s when the main character is dumber than me. It’s obnoxious and maddening and makes me lose all faith in the protagonist, especially when she’s incapable of figuring out something so blatantly obvious. This book was, as a whole, not too bad, but Katniss Everdeen has a lot of work to do in Book 3 if she wants to win back my confidence in her abilities as the hero. Girlfriend needs to seriously step it up.

One last thought, I swear: what IS IT with YA heroines and their ability to make EVERY TEENAGE BOY CHARACTER in the book fall madly in love with them with no effort? Seriously, it’s getting stupid.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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