August 14

Catching Attention with Catching Fire: A Critical Review

Suzanne Collins wrote a wonderfully compelling book about a girl who has unintentionally fueled and become the symbol of a rebellion she isn’t sure she should stop. Readers are immediately drawn into Catching Fire from page one because Collins raises questions while providing answers through details. The very first paragraph in Catching Fire opens with Katniss Everdeen sitting in the woods:

I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.  My muscles are clenched tight against the cold.  If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor.  I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.  I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months. (1)

Collin’s descriptions and word choices build tension. Clasp is indicative of a tight grip on an object.  The word “clasp” frequently has connotations of being in distress. This gives us a hint as to the narrator’s emotional state, which makes readers ask the question, “What is wrong? Why is she upset?”

Since flasks are usually insulated and the tea is cold, readers can infer that she has been out for a long time, since the once warm tea is now cold. Readers also know that the weather is freezing. So they begin to wonder new things: Where is she? Why is she outside? Along with the original question: What has her distressed? These questions only become more demanding, with the next sentence, “My muscles are clenched tight against the cold,” while re-affirming what readers have already guessed: it’s cold and the character is miserable. Readers know their inference that it is cold was correct. The word clenched also suggests Katniss is uncomfortable, possibly in pain.

The next sentence, “If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor” brings new details to the readers attention and new questions.  Readers know wild dogs are native where she is and they are a threat to human life.

Readers immediately wonder, where exactly is she?  Is she in the mountains? Are there no domestic dogs? When this sentence is compounded by  the fact she thinks “I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs” ,  readers suspect she may have had to climb trees before for to escape wild dogs before. This suggests the threat, the possibility of attack, is familiar to her. And readers must wonder: why is it familiar? And is it the same for everyone where she’s at? Or is she upset because she’s in a dangerous place where that’s a possibility?

Collins follows up with the mention for Katniss’ need to move with, “But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.” This statement lets readers know several things.  Due to an internal conflict or problem, not because she was hurt, Katniss is incapable of moving. She’s sitting on a rock and watching the sunrise, which seems like a mundane thing to do. However Collins has already set up that Katniss is upset about something. When we loop back to the implication that Katniss has been out for an extended period, readers know that she’s been outside for several hours before dawn.  Again, readers wonder, “Why?”

The statement “I can’t fight the sun,” lets readers know that she doesn’t want the sun to rise, hinting at the reason for her distrust. But the next statement provides clarity: “I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.” Readers know for certain that something is going to happen today that Katniss dreads. Again, readers wonder, why? What is going to happen today that is so bad?  Fortunately, Suzanne Collins knows that she can’t keep that information from readers much longer and the next paragraph, she starts explaining what has distressed Katniss: the beginning of the victory tour.

Suzanne Collins then slowly reveals what bothers Katniss through the same technique of revealing and withholding information. This structure keeps readers engrossed in the world Collins has developed, as they seek answers to the questions Collins has raised through details, and word choice.

August 5

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

I thought, pacing-wise, that Catching Fire was better than Hunger Games.  If I hadn’t been told how good Hunger Games is, I would have stopped reading half-way through the first chapter.  I couldn’t get into it. And even once the plot started, I kept wanting to put it down.  I was interested in it enough that I kept reading, but their were a lot of areas where I just put it down and let it sit for a day or two before going back to it.  Also, with Hunger Games I wasn’t too worried about completing the series. It was a good book, but not good enough for me to want to spend money on its sequels. I had none of those issues with Catching Fire.

Catching Fire was hard for me to put down.  The pacing was faster.  The stakes higher and I was more invested in the characters, the outcome and the story. Katniss had some tough decisions to make and obviously some of those decisions resulted in devastating consequences.

However, that is not to say Catching Fire is without its flaws. I did find Catching Fire on the predictable side, which ruined some of the story for me. I wish Collins could have left out some of the major clues that let me know how the book would end.  However, I’m not sure how she would have managed to do that.  I also thought this Game Field setup was kind of…meh.  Once the characters figured out what was going on, they had no real problem getting around the Field, which took some of the tension away. Collins did compensate for the lack of physical danger with more emotional danger though. But if the characters hadn’t figured out what the arena was and had the emotional danger element to it, I think the book would have been much better.

The ending sucked. It’s not because it was a cliffhanger, guaranteeing more people would buy the next book.  But it felt… convenient. Katniss has been threatened by the Capitol, her family has been threatened.  We get warnings of that.  But their didn’t seem to be enough of a warning for what happened at the end of the book. I wanted more of a buildup. Perhaps the theory would be raised by one of the characters.  I don’t know something more before the event.

The ending worked.  But I felt kind of played at the end of the book.

Pick it up. Read it.  It is the middle-child of books. So it’s good. But it’s obviously something meant to connect book one to book three with a lot of backtracking and character development, etc. etc.  I mean was the Victory Tour even required? It set some things up beautifully, but other than that set-up it didn’t do much. We could have learned about the revolts through characters in the arena, news stories, more threats, etc.