25 November 2019

Review: Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Acquired July 2012
Read August 2019
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I was a little worried about this book going in. I didn't have good memories of the film, where I felt the first half was rushed and the second half repeated the first film over again. Plus, I've recently read a lot of contemporary YA that had the same style the Hunger Games books do (first-person present-tense narration) and really bounced off most of them.

Well, I needn't have worried. The movie's first half is actually the novel's first two-thirds, as Katniss tries to navigate her new post-game life, balancing her personal needs with the needs of everyone around her. In the films, it's hard to care about the character I could only ever remember as not-Peeta, but in the books you see her struggle over Gale much more clearly because you're always in her thoughts, so even though Gale isn't actually there very much, you see her thinking about him. There are a lot of nice bits that didn't make it into the films, like Katniss and Peeta watching footage of Haymitch's games. The other tributes in the Quarter Quell feel more like real people, too.

The actual Hunger Game doesn't feel repetitive, either, mostly because Katniss's mindset is completely different. In the first book, it was mostly about keeping herself alive. Here, it's about keeping Peeta alive, and working with a team. Back when I read The Hunger Games, I argued that the point of the novel was to reveal that cooperation is our natural way of being, but oppressors disrupt that: "'Survival of the fittest' isn't a natural ethos, it's imposed on human beings by a small subset. The natural inclination of human beings, we are shown multiple times throughout the novel, is actually to cooperate with one another. It's only when a powerful force compels them that they fight with one another." The thing is, I'm not sure that Katniss really learned that lesson. She wants to look out for Peeta, but is bad at doing it; she is really bad at imagining that other people could possibly be looking out for her, and why. Catching Fire is about how far she has to go to learn about cooperation, because the Capitol has done such a good job of forcing its subjects to prioritize survival of the self above all other considerations. During the Games, she is constantly learning that other people want to help her, and underestimating them anyway. I look forward to seeing how Collins develops this in the final book; I saw the third film but not the fourth, so I don't know how it all ends.

Also: I kind of feel like Peeta is a wet blanket in the movies. In the books, his steadfastness quickly made him into my favorite character. I'm Team Peeta all the way. Not in the sense that I want Katniss to be with him romantically (she should pick whoever she wants), but in the sense that he is clearly a stand-up guy that deserves happiness.

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