April 2012: One of the things I talked about in my review of The Hunger Games was how well it held up on a second reading. Catching Fire holds up, but it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as THG, in large part because of the way Collins structured it as “the middle book.” Like a lot of middle installments, Catching Fire is designed to bridge the gap in between the beginning and the end, and it can’t really stand on its own as a story. You need to have read book one, and you will need to read book three. There isn’t a single plot thread that is introduced and resolved in this book. All of them either began in THG or will conclude in Mockingjay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does have the effect of making Catching Fire (in retrospect for me) the least effective book in the series.
That doesn’t mean I still didn’t enjoy the hell out of this book. As I noted in my shorter review upon first finishing, this series has the narrative force of a bullet train. You just cannot put it down, even if you already know what’s going to happen. So many things are clear on re-read, and it’s amazing how much plot and thematic set-up Collins pulls off in this book, setting the stage for her ending. We don’t realize it until we finish Mockingjay, but even as far back as the ending of book one, it’s clear (especially on re-read) to what extent Katniss is a just a cog in the machine, being used for other people’s ends (even the “good guys” do this to her).
In that sense, I liked Catching Fire better this time because I could see all that thematic groundwork being laid in place, and it was extremely satisfying, but I also liked it a little less for other reasons. Because I knew what was coming I was able to emotionally compartmentalize in a way that I couldn’t before, and look at the book as a whole. I really think the fact that this book can’t stand on its own is to its detriment (but just slightly). It’s all about transition and consequences, and things that can’t be resolved until the end of the series, and that’s not really something that matters the first time through, but when I stop to think about it it kind of rankles.
But those are piddly complaints, really, because some of my favorite moments in the series are in this book: Peeta and Katniss on the beach, Katniss kissing Gale on the table (so what, I like kissing eff you), Katniss and Haymitch bonding over their damaged souls, getting to look into the deeper history of the games, Peeta and Katniss cuddling (I SAID SHUT UP), the actual set up of the games, FINNICK ODAIR, etc. I also really like Katniss’s confusion, how people keep demanding things from her and she never stops questioning it.
And the cover is pretty, all red and gold. A+ for design, guys.
September 2010: Although I thought the ending was rushed and confusing, and that it was a bit more structurally weird than its practically perfectly constructed predecessor, I read the hell out of this book. I read it even faster than I read The Hunger Games. I appreciate that Collins has written a book that engages young people with real ideas and that doesn't talk down to them, and I enjoy that Katniss is a flawed heroine. It makes her relatable. And yes, I will admit, I'm a little a lot in love with Peeta. I can't wait to finish this series.