Surprise! In anticipation of the new Hunger Games movie coming out this week, we’re running EXTRA CONTENT on top of our regular schedule! This is possible because I already wrote these posts, like, three years ago, on my personal blog. We ran the first Hunger Games about a year and a half ago, and with the third movie coming out, this seems like a good time to revisit these old posts for the second book, as a sort of recap of what’s just happened before the next movie comes out.
Two things to keep in mind are that, 1) I wrote these posts before BBGT was a thing, so they’re kind of a rough precursor to the blog as we know it today (and also might be dated… I might not even agree with all my old opinions in the post below) and 2) Ariel and I disagree about the quality of the Hunger Games sequels. Ariel liked these books, but I utterly despised them. Although I thought the Catching Fire movie was a FAR superior adaptation, the book itself… well, you’ll see.
Happy Hunger Games!
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Just really quickly before we start, I want to recap my thoughts from the end of The Hunger Games, or, more specifically, about the idea of there being sequels. First of all, I’m somewhat opposed to it. As I said at the end of my reading, an open-ending where Katniss has the rest of a life full of an Orwellian government that sees her as a threat and pretending to be in love with someone she isn’t in love with ahead of her seems considerably more effective and haunting to me. Yet I also concluded that the one thing that could legitimize the existence of sequels would have been, which I realized somewhat shamefully, the love triangle, because there’s a lot of potential to manipulate that in a way that really draws the reader into the hellish world of Panem. Now, will the sequel actually do it right? I dunno. I haven’t read this book. Let’s go do that right now.
So what happens after Katniss undermines an Orwellian dystopia at their own game? Everything is awkward. Both of Katniss’s boys have been hurt by her and don’t really want to talk to her and there is young adult fiction drama. Peeta’s boyishly sheltering what’s left of his broken heart. Gale still doesn’t have any lines. In a way, little has changed. Like, very awkwardly little. The aftermath sort of makes sense in a “calm before the storm” way, but for the most part, it’s not very convincing that anything’s really happening. It’s back to life as usual, but only sort of, and it doesn’t feel anywhere near as tense as it should be, since the socio-political tension following Katniss’s act of rebellion should be much, much bigger than this. Definitely off to a slow start.
Okay, things got better pretty quickly. During my reading of the last book, I criticized the portrayal of President Snow because it completely lacked any small amount of characterization. He shows up at the end (hell, he might even have been named for the first time at the end, I’m not sure. That’s how far from memorable it was.) of The Hunger Games, seems cold, and is apparently a horrible villain. I guess.
NOPE. THAT’S ALL OVER.
This scene is maybe the best thing that’s happened in the series so far. Snow is a fantastically cold and manipulative villain and he totally works. Even better, his dynamic with Katniss is flawless. It is mesmerizing how these two characters work together. The two are legitimate threats to each other and their weighted conversation is simultaneously so calculated and so effortless that this battle of the minds is almost more engaging than any physical battle during the hunger games themselves. I already want more of this.
And just when you thought this chapter couldn’t get any better, GOOD GOD YOUNG ADULT FICTION DRAMA. Apparently Gale kissed Katniss and Katniss just kind of didn’t feel like telling the reader this until now? I’m still very worried that this series will go all Twilight on us at the tip of a hat, but for the time being, I’m perfectly content with how unbelievably hilarious it is that the stability of the entire fucking Orwellian dystopia revolves around Katniss’s love triangle.
So apparently in this book there’s this new thing that the Hunger Games do sometimes when it’s convenient for the plot where every twenty-five years they call it a Quarter Quell instead and they add some extra horrible twist to it and it’s like the Super Hunger Games? Actually, wait, I’m just going to call it “Super Hunger Games” instead of “Quarter Quell” for the rest of my reading, because “Quarter Quell” is a really stupid name. Happy Super Hunger Games, guys!
But seriously, I’m wary about this because it seems kind of stupid. Plus, if they up the ante like this in book two, what’s left for book three? President Snow can’t die unless Katniss finds and destroys his horcruxes?
On the plus side, one thing I really like about this chapter is that there are clear signs of emotional growth from Katniss since the first novel. Even though she was already a very strong character in the first one, it’s a reassuring sign for the narration to see that her experience in a twenty-four person fight to the death has changed her perspective on life, in addition to her perspective on boy drama.
sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.
Like I said, I really like this. It’s a good sign that we can expect better from Katniss the narrator this time around.
“…every year they’ll revisit the romance and broadcast the details of your private life, and you’ll never, ever be able to do anything but live happily ever after with that boy.”
The full impact of what he’s saying hits me.
Goddammit, Katniss, I just vouched for you.
Of course I could do a lot worse than Peeta. That isn’t really the point, though, is it?
This right here is why I’m tentatively okay with things getting a little Twilight-y. Because it’s not doing it because AW MAN THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY BOYS WHO LIKE KATNISS, but rather to make a point about how unjust the society they live in is. Katniss isn’t free to have young adult fiction drama, and that is not cool. This goes back to my point about how the love triangle legitimizes the idea of sequels (potentially) because, in the first place, the story gave us a legitimate reason to hear about young adult fiction love triangles.
I’m guessing that this novel’s going to be more about getting to see the dystopia Katniss lives in and, also importantly, what she’s done to it. I’m good with this, because we’re not going to care about two novels of rebellion (the only reason for writing any sequels to any dystopian novel, for the most part) if we don’t get to see what they’re rebelling against. Fortunately, it seems to be going okay so far. It mostly works because Katniss can’t help but make huge problems for herself, like when she accidentally makes an entire district start rioting.
“…I always respected [Thresh] … For his refusal to play the Games on anyone’s terms but his own.”
Yeah, Katniss, like that’s not going to cause any problems.
So we have a legit revolt and shit is crazy and Katniss and Haymitch fill Peeta in on what’s going on with the government and the revolts and the young adult fiction and he gets legit pissed off and shit is crazy. As predictable as Peeta’s character is, it’s nice to see him finally get angry even if we all knew it was coming.
“Was that really the only time you kissed Gale?”
I’m so startled I answer. “Yes.” With all that has happened today, has that question actually been preying on him?
KATNISS, THE BOY FUCKING LOVES YOU.
I’m the one who suggests the public marriage proposal. Peeta agrees to do it but then disappears to his room for a long time. Haymitch tells me to leave him alone.
“I thought he wanted it, anyway,” I say.
“Not like this,” Haymitch says. “He wanted it to be real.”
So things just got incredibly depressing, between the nightmares and the drugs to help Katniss sleep but only make the nightmares worse and Katniss and Peeta sleeping in each others’ arms to help keep the nightmares away, which probably only makes Peeta’s nightmares worse. Like, “Hey, so I pretended to be in love with you on national television but don’t actually and it’s kind of unfortunate that you’ve literally always been in love with me, so, um, yeah, want to sleep in my bed platonically?”
This man deserves a fucking medal. [Update: Not that I mean to go through this and point out every instance where I changed my mind, but I’m kind of less critical about this point now than I was then. This still isn’t totally fair for Peeta, romantically, but for all I know, maybe the trauma they shared largely overrides this. ]
So Katniss decides, after failing to convince President Snow of something that he already told her he knew wasn’t true four chapters ago, that the most logical course of action to take now is to get all of her friends and family and run away from an all-powerful Orwellian government into the woods. Sure, Katniss, because all of your other plans have worked out so well so far. And then President Snow and Katniss play more of their mindgames.
Oh, the fun we two have together.
What’s weird is that they really do. Their dynamic is far and away the best thing in this book so far.
Actually, now that we’ve actually gotten to know who’s in charge of this horrible Orwellian dystopia government that makes children fight to the death every year, I’m kind of feeling like it’s about time for us to get some more information about how it works. Like how is President Snow the president? Was there a president before him? If so, how did Snow succeed him? How will somebody succeed Snow? What exactly does “president” mean? I’m assuming he wasn’t elected, but how did he get to be where he is now? These are also important questions, because we have an actual figurehead here in charge of everything, and it would be nice to know them before we start fighting it.
So then there’s a huge banquet thing thrown by President Snow for Katniss and Peeta for their engagement to rub salt in the wound and there’s such a wide variety of much food there that people drink stuff that makes them throw up so they can eat more and this is what it takes for Peeta to decide that maybe encouraging rebellion would be the right thing to do. Not that he was forced to participate in a twenty-four person fight to the death as a teenager, but the bulimia drinks. Uh, okay, Peeta. At least you got there.
Anyway, after this happens, Katniss meets the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee.
Plutarch has run his thumb across the crystal face of the watch and for just a moment an image appears, glowing as if by candlelight. It’s another mockingjay. Exactly like the pin on my dress.
I’ll bet anything that Katniss has already inspired a rebellion and now her mockingjay pin has become a symbol of some sort of secret resistance. Even more exciting, this suggests that 1) it already exists and is doing things beyond Katniss’s power, and 2) the new person in charge of the Hunger Games is in it. Of course, Katniss doesn’t catch on because KATNISS NEVER CATCHES ON TO ANYTHING, so who knows when we’ll get to find out more.
“I had a dream, though,” I say, thinking back. “I was following a mockingjay through the woods.”
Okay, don’t beat us over the head with the symbolism now.
Effie gives a little wave to two Capitol attendants who have an inebriated Haymitch propped up between them.
I love this guy.
So Katniss has a conversation with Madge (Remember her? Apparently we’re supposed to.) about mockingjays and OKAY. WE GET THAT MOCKINGJAYS ARE SYMBOLS OF RESISTANCE. GOT IT.
More importantly, for all the fuss that Gale’s caused, this is the first time he actually has, you know, lines since the second chapter of the first book. Guys, this is a long time to not have any Gale. It’s annoying, but as much as I mock it, the series isn’t really pushing the young adult fiction love triangle as much as I’m constantly worried it’s going to, so it’s mostly annoying because he seems likeable and like he’s got a good grasp on what’s going on and, dare I say, is a bit more hit than miss so far as being charming goes, rather than it being annoying because we’re getting constant reminders that two boys love Katniss and Katniss doesn’t know how she feels about either of them.
His voice drops to a whisper. “I love you.”
I come up with what must be the worst possible response. “I know.”
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA okay, I can’t take this book seriously anymore.
Oh, and then Gale is immediately whipped within an inch of death by some new Peacekeeper, thus effectively taking the possibility of a supposed main character ever saying words out of the narrative again. Talk about playing hard to get.
Okay, nothing is happening in this book. I thought the narrative pacing in the last one was bad, but this is horrendous. Nobody has any idea what’s going on and they’re just biding their time until something does happen, and it is getting very boring. Like a character just nearly got beaten to death and the most interesting things that happen in this chapter are all young adult fiction and I hate everything.
“I didn’t even know Madge knew Gale,” says Peeta.
“We used to sell her strawberries,” I say almost angrily. What am I angry about, though?
Oh my God, is Katniss jealous that one character who never has any lines is secretly in love with another character that never has any lines? Young adult fiction, motherfucker.
It’s the implication that there’s something going on between Gale and Madge.
What the fuck, seriously? It’s been like two paragraphs. This isn’t rushed at all.
I touch parts of him I have never had cause to touch before.
I know that’s not what they’re talking about but snerk.
I remind myself that it was not Clove but Thread who gave me this wound.
Okay, in addition to how slow and young adult fiction this novel’s been so far, I just remembered how stupid all the characters’ names are. But seriously, everything that’s wrong with Catching Fire so far can be summed up with one sentence:
I really can’t think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite.
Katniss has no idea what the fuck is going on, is unable to do anything, and as a result every single event in the narrative has had something to do with young adult fiction. Things keep being incredibly boring and nothing happens and everything feels incredibly directionless and honestly I don’t feel like the rest of the chapter’s even worth talking about because this is so boring.
This is why I was apprehensive about the idea of there being a sequel to The Hunger Games, instead of it standing on its own. Sure, the story continues, but it’s a boring story. This is the boring part of rebellion, and I’m not convinced this is better or, most importantly, more haunting than just leaving The Hunger Games as a standalone narrative with an open-ending would have been.
It feels pointless to even try to make predictions about the rest of the novel, because one third in, we have no idea what direction this novel’s going in. Hell, I don’t even know if any fucking Hunger Games are going to take place. That is how misguided this narrative is: I’ve read 163 pages of it and have no idea if a major part of it is going to revolve around children killing each other. That is not a good sign.