16 February 2010

Book of the Week (48): "The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

I always worry when it comes to trilogies. If I loved the first volume, there is always the chance of shattered expectations when the second one comes along. Well, I’m glad to announce that the second volume in Collins’ terrific trilogy is another ‘can’t put down’ success.

We left Katniss in what seemed like a relatively safe spot – having won the blood curling Hunger Games, poverty and danger should be behind her, and the wellbeing of her mother and younger sister guaranteed. There was, however, the emotional turmoil to sort out, as Katniss is torn between co-winner Peeta, publicly endorsed as her ‘one true love’, and Gale, her childhood hunting companion for whom she harbours deep, yet confusing, feelings.

But at the opening of the new instalment, Collins doesn’t dwell too long on inner conflicts, though they remain in the background throughout, as Katniss finds that the tyrannical Capitol sees her as a threat, and will stop at nothing to destroy her. Her act of rebellion, and consequent victory when the rules of the game are broken and both she and Peeta come out of the arena alive, has sent shockwaves through the nation, and the disquiet in the Districts grows, threatening the status quo. Katniss is now more than just a girl, more than another winner – she is a symbol, and her famous mockingjay broach now the logo of a silent revolution. If she thinks the forced marriage to Peeta would be the low point of her future, she soon finds out that her fate is far worse.

What I love about this book are the characters. Many action-packed futuristic page-turners compromise on the depth of their characters, opting for identifiable stereotypes. Collins’ protagonist is feisty and a good hunter yet can appreciate a beautiful outfit. She may be unsure of her feelings towards two different young men, but unlike the coy Bella of Twilight, she allows herself to explore the physical aspects of both relationships. I liked Katniss, and her honest voice carried me easily through the twists and turns of the plot. Here’s hoping that part three will be just as good.

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman also takes place in a future America where teenagers can be ‘aborted’ by their parents if they are branded trouble-makers. These teens are sent to be ‘unwound’ – each and every organ harvested from their bodies to become transplanted elsewhere. Three unlikely companions challenge the system and attempt to escape.
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – a first of a trilogy following Todd, his talking dog, and a strange girl running from Mayor Prentiss’ man-only regime in search of a safe place on an alien planet.
  • Epic by Conor Kostick – in Erik’s colony, everything is decided by Epic, a complex computer game, where your skills can get you status and wealth in real life. What seems like a fair chance for all has in fact resulted in huge social gaps where Central Allocations – the powerful and rich elite – control society, while many are overworked and poor. Erik sets out to change the system in part one of a riveting saga.

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