Catching Fire is the sequel to The Hunger Games. It continues pretty much where the last book left off, and having survived the Hunger Games hasn’t actually solved any of Katniss’ problems. She needs to set off on the victory tour—the publicity stunt the government uses to keep the Hunger Games fresh in everyone’s mind.
President Snow pays Katniss a secret visit and tells her that rebellion is brewing. While some saw her ploy with the berries as romantic, others viewed it as an act of defiance against the government. She needs to play a role in dampening the uprisings, and part of doing that is convincing everyone that she’s head over heels for Peeta.
Part way through the book, rebellion is starting to boil over. As a special celebration for the 75th Hunger Games, the tributes will be chosen from each districts’ victors. That means Katniss and Peeta are going back to the Hunger Games. I have to admit that this felt like a cheap plot twist to me—I was annoyed more than horrified. But the second half of Catching Fire is certainly not a retread of the first book.
Rebellion is spreading, rallying around the symbol of the Mockingjay—the bird on the pin that Katniss wore during her first Hunger Games. There are rumors that there’s a rebel stronghold in District 13, which was supposedly bombed into oblivion during the original uprising. Katniss has to choose sides, choose what she’s willing to risk, and who she can trust.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Still so much brutal violence, and not just during the games. Gale is whipped, quite severely and graphically. Cinna is also beaten severely and dragged away to his death, just before Katniss enters the arena. He’s punished for his own actions, but punished in front of her to increase the chances that she’ll be disconcerted and die quickly in the arena.
Much of the violence in this book is emotional—threats to loved ones are used to torture and control the tributes. Brutality comes in many forms.
One of the tributes is a mother of three—her death affected me as I imagined those motherless kids. One of the tributes is an elderly woman. She sacrifices herself to save the younger tributes. A man who whistles Rue’s tune as a sign of support for Katniss is shot through the head. Those are just a few that stand out. Then the book ends with District 12 being firebombed, as if the body count wasn’t high enough.
One thing I appreciate, though, is that the deaths are written so that they will affect you—it’s not just a mounting body count, but a spiral of a corrupt government scrambling to regain control. Katniss feels these deaths, and takes responsibility for them—perhaps to an unhealthy degree—because she feels her actions have led to this.
Gale kisses Katniss, adding fuel to her conflict over the whole “Peeta or Gale” thing. Katniss remembers that one of the officials in District 12 used to have girls selling their bodies for food. There is some scandal when Katniss and Peeta start sharing a bed, although they do nothing but kiss occasionally. Right before the Games, Peeta lies and says that he and Katniss were secretly married and that she’s pregnant with their child—he knows only one of them will be allowed to survive this time, so he’s trying to raise sympathy for her. Finnick, one of the previous victors and a current tribute, has quite a reputation for being a ladies’ man. He flirts pretty outrageously with Katniss.
Drugs & Alcohol
Haymitch of course still spends most of his time drunk. He has severe withdrawal symptoms when he tries to give it up. Katniss, following his lead on how to deal with untenable situations, gets completely smashed when she finds out she has to go back to the Hunger Games—she regrets that course of action. Two of the tributes are Morphlings—drug addicts who are happily wasting away. Morphling is a potent and addictive pain killer.
The government, as embodied by President Snow, is revealed to be even more corrupt, manipulative, and evil than Katniss’ worst suspicions. Even in the woods, she’s being spied on. Of course her new home in the Victor’s Village is completely bugged. They’re actively out to get her and will squelch the rebellion at any cost.
This feels like a middle book to me—I devoured it, but mostly to move the story along. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I think it’s the weak link of the three.
As everything in the story starts to escalate, I have to suggest that reading age should as well. This might be suitable for 12 and up, perhaps a little younger if read with an adult. Fair warning: Catching Fire ends with a cliffhanger, so before you start it, make sure you have Mockingjay on hand and that you’re ok with your kid reading that one. And man, it’s bleak. You could probably take a break after The Hunger Games, but don’t plan on it after Catching Fire.