Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire: The Second Book of The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2009. 391 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-439-02349-8. This book is intended for grades 6 and up, or ages 12 and up, depending on reading level.

So many of my students have asked when Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins would be released that I feel compelled to make this new novel, the second installment in The Hunger Games series, the first review of the new school year. As a sci-fi fan, I have been waiting as impatiently for Catching Fire to be released as my students have, and I am not disappointed. Ms. Collins delivers, as I had hoped she would, another rip-roaring dystopian novel about a future world that uncomfortably feels too much like ours. It may start just a bit slowly, but once it gets going, the ride is dizzying.

Katniss Everdeen, now 17 and finally able to relax after winning the 74th Hunger Games, goes on a victory tour through Panem’s 12 districts with her faux fiancé, Peeta. However, Katniss soon realizes that all is not as it appears, and relaxation becomes the last thing on her mind. She stayed alive in the last Hunger Games by threatening suicide with poison berries, and that was viewed as an act of defiance by both the government (that hated it) and its citizens (who loved it). In a private meeting, President Snow reveals that there have been problems and potential uprisings in the districts, and he threatens Katniss with her best friend (and potential boyfriend) Gale’s death if she does not sell the government’s lies about her loving marriage to Peeta and her love of country to the people of Panem: “‘Only you’ll have to do even better if the uprisings are to be averted,’ he says. ‘This tour will be your only chance to turn things around’” (29). Katniss promises to do what she can, but she knows her future is in jeopardy. As things grow gradually worse in District 12 and news spreads of growing unrest throughout Panem, dread builds over this year’s 75th Hunger Games, called a Quarter Quell because it falls on a 25-year multiple from the first Games. Quarter Quells are known for their difficulty and ruthlessness, and anything is possible.

It is clear that Ms. Collins has borrowed from many sources to create The Hunger Games series, and at times, I felt like if I tweaked a few things, I would be reading Haddix’s Shadow Children series instead. However, Ms. Collins successfully recreates the tension, suspense, intrigue, and adrenaline-pumping action of the first novel in Catching Fire, so the point becomes moot. Her series is original enough, and I cannot wait for the last installment. Her characters may not be brilliantly painted, but they are both memorable and likable; I especially enjoy the banter of Kat’s stylists, Cinna, Flavius, Venia, and Octavia; listening to their conversation makes me feel giddy like an eavesdropper under a salon hair dryer or in a gym locker room. Catching Fire arrives where most other YA novels have merely attempted to go, to that nebulous land where morality, humanity, and authority get melted in a crucible and truth emerges. It’s a scary and crowded place, but don’t worry: there’s always room for one more.

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