Suzanne Collins took the book world by storm with the first novel in her Hunger Games trilogy, aptly named The Hunger Games (for my review of it, go here). She ended the first novel with somewhat of a cliffhanger; thus, the second and then the third novels in the series.
Catching Fire is the second novel in the series, and picks up directly where The Hunger Games left off. (NOTE: You should probably stop reading this post if you haven't yet read The Hunger Games. I'll try not to spoil the trilogy for you, but it's difficult not to give away at least some of the plot from the first book in discussion of the second novel within a trilogy. Suffice it to say both books are amazing -- as is Mockingjay, in spite of the bad press it received. So, go out and read them immediately! They are perfect weekend reads, beach reads, middle-of-the-week reads -- anytime reads.) Now, back to Catching Fire:
When Katniss and Peeta survive the Hunger Games in the first novel, it is a first in the history of Panem. Previously, no two tributes were ever allowed to survive together. But Katniss changed that with her actions at the end of the first novel. Historically, winning tributes have been glorified in both their Districts and in the Capitol. However, Katniss moved herself into an enemy position when she forced the Capitol's hand and saved both her own life and Peeta's. As a result, she is less glorified and more disdained. The people of Panem -- and of District 12 -- are not in on this fact. The battle is a private one between Katniss and President Snow.
So Katniss and her family move into the tribute neighborhood, a housing subdivision with nice homes and 24-hour electricity. They also have all the food they can eat. Katniss, however, is less than happy. She fears President Snow, and she has also forced herself into the spotlight. This makes hunting difficult if not impossible. Additionally, her love life is no picnic. Gale sought a job at the mines, so he is often unavailable; even if that weren't true, they live very different lives. Peeta is also at odds with Katniss, after he figured out that her affection during the Games was only a ploy to win over the audience and help them survive. So for the most part, Katniss is lonely. Lonely for her old way of life, difficult thought it may have been, and lonely for companionship.
I found myself bored with the beginning of Catching Fire. It seemed to drag on forever with little conflict to drive either the plot or the characters. However, once the Quarter Quell is announced and Katniss begins traveling as part of the lead-up to the next Games, things get more interesting. I also loved that the plot required Katniss and Peeta to interact in the second half especially. While some think Peeta is a less-than-masculine, poor substitute for Gale, I happen to love his character. What some readers infer as whiny, I see as genuine. I also think Peeta contains a quiet strength, rather than an outward physical strength.
Katniss is also unlikable in her depressive state at the beginning of the novel. Having never found myself in a life-or-death situation like the Hunger Games, however, I don't find myself in a place to judge her resulting feelings. Halfway through the novel, she became much more enjoyable a character, though. She is, truly, the "girl on fire", in more ways than one. Although much of the dialogue, setting, and even plot seems similar once the second Hunger Games in the series begins, Collins also manages to add enough newness to the story that Catching Fire is worthy of reading after the fantastic The Hunger Games. As one teacher I work with put it, "You really just want to know what happens to the characters."
The ending, in true Collins style, is every bit as exciting as Katniss's Shakespearean moment in the first novel. I'm not sure how readers of Catching Fire when it was first released stood the not-knowing. I, for one, am glad that all three books in the trilogy had already been released so that I could read them in quick succession. Coming up in the near future, my thoughts on Mockingjay.
Don't miss Book News on Fridays, which lately have featured stories about the progress being made on The Hunger Games movies. Jennifer Lawerence was cast as Katniss, news which was great to me (I loved her in Winter's Bone), but disappointing to some. The film will be released in 2012, and should be followed by movie versions of both Catching Fire and Mockingjay.