Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Funny Games

I just finished Catching Fire, the sequel to Hunger Games and the second book in the Mockingjay series by Suzanne Collins. Collins doesn't lose any of the momentum of her first book, and the sequel ratchets up the tension.

When the first book ended, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark had returned from the Capitol's Hunger Games as the victors, but Katniss' last act of defiance in the arena haunts her. Established in their Victor's Village houses, Katniss can finally provide for her family, yet she and Peeta have to keep up their charade of being wildly in love with each other for the cameras.

The return of Panem's murderous, serpentine President Snow lets Katniss know that she's in the shit, as they say, but with limited options, she can only wait and see what revenge Snow will take. The next Hunger Games happens to be the 75th Games, or a "Quarter Quell" with special rules governing the reaping. Snow announces that this year, the tributes will be made up of past victors from each District, and Peeta and Katniss are sent back to the arena.

This time, the stakes are even higher. Their opponents are former victors, a mixture of the pathetic and the powerful. Katniss has an encounter in the woods with two strangers and has been hearing rumors of uprisings, although the Capitol-sanctioned television stations continue to show everything as normal. Every action has taken on a greater significance, and this time, she's determined that Peeta will survive to carry on what is promising to become a full-fledged revolution.

Catching Fire ups the brutality, violence, and sexuality. There's more overt physical violence, and Katniss' entanglements with Peeta and Gale are becoming more significant. This book's arena, a deadly jungle surrounded by water, is also more inventive and terrifying. As the ending makes clear, the scope of the novel is going to widen significantly in the third book.

Catching Fire still feels like there's a second book hiding behind the first one - I would have loved to have this be an adult novel instead of YA, but Collins does an admirable job of conveying complicated themes and emotions in relatively simple language.

Also, I know I'm not a sooper doooper internet reveiwwwwer, but I thought this review from Entertainment Weekly was not only sloppy, but missed the point. Reviewer Jennifer Reese slams the book for lacking the "erotic energy that makes Twilight so creepily alluring." Firstly, Twilight is about as alluring as a case of scabies. Secondly, Reese writes that Peeta and Gale, Katniss' two love interests, are virtually indistinguishable and that Katniss' interest in the two of them clumsily sketched.

Well, see, here's the thing, Jenny, not every YA book has to be about the sexy sexy sexytimes or some pallid emo kid with a circulation problem. It's refreshing, after the tide of literary crap that Twilight spawned, to see a YA novel with a heroine who doesn't spend her time moping around in the forest. For Katniss, romance is kind of beside the point...because when you're being pursued by a pack of bloodthirsty Careers, you don't really have a lot of time to sit around and moan about why that cute guy in chemistry who needs more sunscreen doesn't seem to like you. And besides, I find Collins' handling of Katniss' confusing feelings for both young men refreshing. She doesn't think she can figure it out right away, but she prizes loyalty and bravery over hair gel.

And finally, if you're going to slag a book, at least bother to pay attention to the details when you read it. The carnivorous "candy pink birds" with skewer beaks weren't even in Katniss' arena, the 'glitzy outfits' are replaced with camouflage forest gear in the first arena and jumpsuits with flotation devices in the second...and all the tributes wear the same outfit in the arena. Good lord, I finished this book on my lunch hour, you'd think you could at least read it before you review it.

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