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In Paperback: Catching Fire

By (June 3, 2013) No Comment

Now in Paperback: Catching Firecatching-fire

by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, 2013

However frequently you may browse the buffet that is pop culture, you’ve heard of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. From watchers of Downton Abbey to gamers enslaved by the latest Assassin’s Creed–the heroic exploits of Katniss Everdeen aren’t to be missed

She’s the capable (and likeable) teen literature star who recently replaced sad-sack Bella Swan, of the Twilight series, in our hearts. How? Well, hers is a world gripped by Appalachian squalor and sweatshop manufacturing conditions. Panem, as the land is called, was created after nukes helped flatten an “uprising.” It has thirteen districts, and the Capital rules them all, basking in the natural resources and lush modernity denied everyone else.

And, for the few who haven’t heard: “The Hunger Games” is a reality show where children from each district fight to the death in savagely rigged environments. Catching Fire is the second book (released in 2009), finally out in paperback, to stoke our appetite for November’s film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.

Now, today’s do-or-die question is: should the uninitiated, this far into the craze, bother reading Collins’ trilogy? That would be, writ high in the sky with fiery letters, a resounding yes. The books are more than the teen romance that embroils Katniss, fellow contestant Peeta, and childhood sweetheart Gale. They are more than a ripoff of the schlocky Battle Royale. The Hunger Games novels are future classics that comment on this young new century as not merely celebrity-obsessed, but psychically degraded by a militant government.

Catching Fire finds Katniss and Peeta (along with their advisor Haymitch) living in District 12’s comfortable Victors’ Village. There, they wait for the Capital to dangle them like baubles before an admiring public. Collins’ raw, urgent writing illustrates that hard-bitten habits die hard: “Peeta smiles and douses Haymitch’s knife in white liquor from a bottle on the floor. He wipes the blade clean on his shirttail and slices the bread… I hunt. He bakes. Haymitch drinks.” But then she reminds us that there’s more at stake than looking perfect for the cameras:

I twist the polished knob and step inside. My nose registers the conflicting scents of roses and blood. A small, white-haired man who seems vaguely familiar is reading a book. He holds up a finger as if to say, “Give me a moment.” Then he turns and my heart skips a beat.

I’m staring into the snakelike eyes of President Snow.

It’s thrilling to imagine Jennifer Lawrence–and Donald Sutherland, who plays the president–performing this scene. His first words to her are, “I think we’ll make this whole situation a lot simpler by agreeing not to lie to each other.” By situation, he means the ways in which she and Peeta have been expertly manipulating both the public and the game itself.

But Snow, naturally, won’t see his dominion overturned by clever teens. During Katniss and Peeta’s Victory Tour, the districts face escalating fascism from the president’s Peacekeepers. Floggings and executions, however, only spice the air more heavily with threats of open rebellion.

Much like its predecessor, Catching Fire serves up an entire giblet bag of impeccably timed twists. The chapters themselves, as they pile on, become more enthralling with each cliffhanger. By the time the 75th Hunger Games (and the new rules) are announced, Collins has uproariously outdone herself. We’re her pawns, and wouldn’t have it otherwise.