Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I've Caught Fire

Yesterday was a day like any other until I arrived home from work. Because, you see, when I arrived home from work there was an envelope by my door with this return address:

"Oh, cool, a new book," I thought. The awesome people in publicity at Scholastic send me books on a regular basis, so I figured this was another standard mailing. Then I saw this sticker on the lower corner of the envelope:

Then my thoughts went from "Oh, cool, a new book," to "OMG OMG OMG NO WAY!" with a side of hyperventilation. I threw my mail on my living room floor, retrieved Henry, who'd gone for a stroll in the hallway outside my apartment, and opened the envelope. Inside was this letter

and it was kind of like getting your letter of acceptance from your dream college. I read the important words, squeed, and dove for the rest of the contents. I still didn't believe there could be a copy of Catching Fire in there. I mean, I've been planning my entire Book Expo experience around the time Scholastic put out the Catching Fire galleys, especially because I couldn't go to Suzanne Collins's signing. It had to be promotional materials. A CD maybe. Bookmarks. Pamphlets. Publication date is September 1. No one was getting the actual book before BEA, right?


I cancelled my exciting Laundry And Chinese Food plans for the evening, made sure the cats had food and water, and settled down to read.

If you're expecting to be as blown away by Catching Fire as you were by The Hunger Games, you're in luck. There's a catch, however: Remember how you felt watching The Empire Strikes Back? That's the feeling you get while reading Catching Fire. The pacing of this book is slower, with a focus more on character development and world building than on action. If you've come for the action, though, don't give up; there's plenty of it here.

When we last saw Katniss Everdeen, she was headed into a life of fame and luxury as one of the winners of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games. She knew she was also headed into a life of trouble because of the way she saved her own life and the life of her competitor/boyfriend Peeta Mellark at the end of the Games. Because of what she did, she now fears for her own safety as well as the safety of her family and friends. Even worse, the time for the post-Hunger Games Victory Tour has arrived. That means Katniss will spend a lot of time traveling with Peeta. Katniss and Peeta must maintain the outward appearance of love, which saved their lives during the Hunger Games. Problem is, since the end of the Hunger Games their day-to-day relationship is lukewarm at best, with neither able to speak with the other about anything of consequence. Remember Gale, Katniss's best friend and hunting partner from District 12? He doesn't really want to talk to her, either. There's barely time to think about Gale, however, when Katniss begins to hear rumors of a Panem rebellion against the Capitol, a rebellion for which Katniss and her actions during the Hunger Games are the symbols.

Now, Katniss has a lot of decisions to make, ones that affect not just her, but the entire country of Panem. Defiance or acquiescence? Physical comfort or peace of mind? And most importantly, Peeta or Gale? Will she even survive long enough to make that decision?

In my opinion, this book does everything the second book in a trilogy should do. It solidifies the reader's vision of District 12's environment and gives us insight to the lives of people in the other eleven districts. It gives us a sadder-but-wiser Katniss who still retains that sense of "the world is all about me" that we expect from teen main characters. Peripheral characters get their own personalities. One of the things I liked best about books 4 and 5 in the Harry Potter series was the expanded, more jaded world view and the way Harry began to see that the wizarding world wasn't just divided into good people and Death Eaters. Katniss has some of the same revelations Harry did (minus the Death Eaters, of course). Catching Fire has its own storyline and some incredible revelations about Panem, its history, and its people, but it also sets us up to dive headlong into the final book. It's absolutely terrifying and thrilling, but it leaves us...let's say it leaves us not without hope.

In the course of reading this book I consumed part of a whole wheat baguette spread with goat cheese, 5 grilled jumbo shrimp, 1 grilled scallop, 2 redskin potatoes, 3 small Dove dark chocolate eggs left over from Easter, 1 coffee cake muffin, an iced latte, and 3 16-oz glasses of water. And that was only because I forgot about the grapes and toaster waffles in the freezer.

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