Catching Fire

If you want to see a Hunger Games-head combust, tell the fan that you read book one, dug it enough, but haven’t read any others in the series. Then back away slowly. There are going to be octaves involved. According to Emily Post, one is supposed to read the first book and then light the second off the first, the third off the second. A true fan chain reads.

I didn’t read Catching Fire right away because I have a to-read list to last me until I’m shriveled and toothless and I simply didn’t require the Katniss and company fix. What would make this more egregious to superfans: I own the entire series. It’s all on the shelf. One would just need to crack it open. So hard.

Eventually my pop culture curiosity called and I answered instead of letting it go to voicemail.

The second book of the trilogy starts with the post-Games tour, something I imagine being like “American Idol” finalists waving at fans in shopping malls. It’s all very much a ruse, as biggies at the Capitol aren’t stoked about the stunt Katniss pulled that allowed for both her and her dim faux beau Peeta to share the victory. The government considers this the act of a rebel, and while they put on a smiley face for cameras, they are itching to get rid of the expert archer.

Meanwhile, residents of other districts have used her insubordination as a rally cry. They’ve begun mini revolts within their sectors, and her mockingjay is a symbol. These are hush-hushed by the media, lest they spark more revolts in other districts, but Katniss is hip to the jive and catches a whiff of discontent. Plus, she hears a rumor that something big is happening in District 13 a long-forgotten area that history says was demolished the last time the common folk stepped out of line. But there is something a little fishy about that, too.

There is still some love triangle stuff going on: Gale loves her; Peeta loves her. She’s giving them both her most sincere “You’re nice, too.” Though, as part of the star-crossed lovers story she and Peeta are spinning, he proposed to her and the Capitol volunteered to throw the lovebirds a wedding. Personally, I think Katniss should ditch the duds and hit up Cinna. (Was he gay in the first book? Because he is so super NOT gay in the movie). Gale gets my second pick. Peeta is dead weight. He just limps around skill-less, talking about how he has to keep her safe. What is Peeta going to protect Katniss from? A life without cake?

Then, less than halfway into the book, I thought maybe author Suzanne Collins lost her footing. The story was becoming excitingly claustrophobic, the security noose tightening around Katniss’s neck, no one she loves is safe and she is completely unable to act in a way that is satisfying to those who are large and in charge. So Collins made a terrible plot decision that I believed at the time smelled a little bit like a crusty security blanket.

I actually set the book down and said aloud: “Oh, come on.”

I was wrong, friends. I’m not used to trusting writers, especially when it comes to something this popular, fiction that has teens in a braided-hair, leather jacket tizzy. Collins did the right thing and despite stepping back into the same arena, it’s different and colorful and inventive and exciting and homegirl certainly knows how to cliff hang a chapter. Is this the finest writing in all the land? Meh. And Katniss is, admittedly, a bit of a hothead and prone to weird decision making when it comes to trust and loyalty. I suppose that goes with the age. Regardless, this is a fun read but I probably won’t read Mockingjay until at least 2014.

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