TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
It was well worth fighting the crowds at Book Expo to get "Catching Fire" … I even snagged an autographed copy! Thank you Scholastic.
The short version of this review — I loved it! It's different than "The Hunger Games," but the same rapid pace, emotional complexity, unexpected plot twists, and steamroller intensity are on full display here. Initially, I thought there would be no way Collins could match "The Hunger Games," if for no other reason then that book's concept was utterly unique and compelling. Fear not! Without revealing any of the juicy plot points, District 12 victors and pretend-but-maybe-real lovers Katniss and Peeta are once again thrown into a sadistic ritual by the chilling President Snow and the unseen powers in the Capitol. And, I promise, you will basically devour every page in a frantic rush to find out what happens next!
I vowed there would be no spoilers here, and I'll do my best to adhere to that promise. I can say that the book starts out back in District 12, where Katniss, Peeta, and drunken mentor Haymitch are now living in an upscale victors' village. It's a big change from the unrelenting poverty Katniss had known before the Hunger Games, but it comes with a heavy price. Rumor has it that Katniss' poison berry suicide ploy during the Games and her wearing of the mockingjay pin have helped stoke a simmering revolt in some of the districts. President Snow peronally visits District 12 to warn Katniss that the Capitol basically owns her now. I liked how the overarching threat here of a brutally repressive government is so dark yet believable.
Katniss is also having some issues reconnecting with old best friend and former hunting companion Gale. For me, Gale still hasn't evolved as a complete character, making any potential love triangle problematic at this point. I'm not sure this is even Collins' fault; it may be that we've simply spent too much time with Peeta. Throughout "The Hunger Games, we witnessed firsthand his quiet bravery and devotion to Katniss. With Gale, we don't have that connection, making mere descriptions of his feelings for and bond with Katniss feel hollow by comparison.
Ok, so I'll stop right there, because to go any further may spoil the fun for you. I'll let you experience for yourself the fantastic blend of action, suspense, betrayal, sacrifice, pain, and triumph, since so much of it came as a complete surprise to me. Know that we also get lots of new characters, which at first may seem overwhelming. But we slowly grow to know, care for, or loathe Finnick, Joanna, Nuts, Volts, and Mags. These characters have such depth that we feel something for each of them, which is extraordinary.
The middle book in a trilogy can be difficult to execute, since it typically involves laying the foundation for the big climax in book three. "Catching Fire" is pretty close to perfect. It truly exceeded my expectations, as it's different but no less engaging than "The Hunger Games." It deserves every last bit of praise that it is sure to receive upon its official release on September 1st. I can't wait for the final installment. How long until September 2010?!