18 May 2012

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #2
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia, Sci-Fi
Published:  September 2009
Pages: 472
My rating:

The BlurbKatniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the annual competition described in Hunger Games, but the aftermath leaves these victors with no sense of triumph. Instead, they have become the poster boys for a rebellion that they never planned to lead. The Capitol is very, very angry ... and wants revenge.

So… after dying to find out what would happen next to Katniss, Peeta, Gale and the others I threw myself into ‘Catching Fire’, practically starved. In some ways the book satisfied me, in other ways not even remotely. In retrospective, it was somewhat disappointing even. Which is why I kept postponing this review.

The structure of this book is almost similar to the one of the first book, where the first part is merely an introduction of sorts. At first, things develop slowly. Very slowly. Nothing seems to have changed, even when everything has. Katniss and Peeta still live their lives separately and despite Katniss’ riches, she still hunts whenever she can. Not to provide for her own family though, but for Gale’s family, since he won’t accept her money.

The strongly written characters are interesting enough. Even the new side-characters are interesting and developed sufficiently to be more than just background noise. Katniss definitely grew further in this instalment but surprised me by still being insecure (maybe even dimwitted) about so many things. Like her feelings regarding Peeta and Gale. It’s refreshing to read a book not entirely focused on romance, but on real emotions and doubts. Not the standard formula.
I love Katniss’ (self-)wits and her interactions with Peeta, for example. The humour is a welcome change in the (mostly) heavy story.
The consequences of Katniss’ actions during The Hunger Games -and the sign she gave off with those actions- dawn on Katniss. At first she’s convinced she will have to keep up the charade of the romance she and Peeta have, up until the point of marriage even. Soon she realises it’s not about her own future or happiness, it’s about the lives of everyone she loves. It’s about the entire country even. It takes a LOT of time until she realises her true worth though. 
‘I am the Mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol’s plans. The symbol of rebellion.’
I like the artistic way Peeta deals with the events that happened, the way he tries to right his wrongs, not aware that his good deeds will backfire. I love how Katniss starts developing feelings for him once again because of his kindness. How he’s the one person whose presence helps her sleep when every single night she is haunted by nightmares. But Gale feels so right for her, according to her own thoughts and feelings. She and Gale trust each other with their lives, and I know this sounds weird: in a totally different way than Katniss and Peeta do. Born from something entirely different, not forced in any way, naturally.

Everyday life gets more gruesome in ‘Catching Fire’. Punishments had been lacking until now, starvation was the District 12 inhabitant’s greatest enemy, instead of whippings when one was caught hunting. How heart wrenching it was to read this cruel scene. But the realisation Katniss has then, is kind of worth it. Sadly this incident is only the beginning of a totally reinforced District 12 where nothing illegal is tolerated anymore, making life so much harder for everyone. Which only makes the people eager to revolt more.
Of course the question that must be playing on many people’s minds is whether or not District 13, once brutally destroyed by the government to stop its rebellion, still exists or not.

I was as shocked as Katniss herself was at the turn the story took at the announcement of the third Quarter Quell rules. Shocked at the cruel, too coincidental, concocted crime conveniently cooked up by the Capitol. I had not seen this coming at all and kept thinking maybe it wouldn’t happen. But it did. Obviously, since there is still another sequel, it was clear Katniss would survive once more, but whose lives would have to end this time?
Actually, after finding out this twist, the disappointment part kicked in. It felt less creative and original, because I had been there already. No matter how different the surroundings were this time. It felt like a break in the actual story, the actual plot. I wanted to get ON with the rest of the story and not be stuck in this part again!
Which is why this book appealed less to me than its predecessor. Also, I assume it is why I haven’t yearned to read ‘Mockingjay’ yet. I will though, soon. Don’t get me wrong. This was still a very good read, yet not quite what I had expected. I guess it’s hard to be the middle book in a trilogy.

The pace of this book is something Suzanne Collins seems to struggle with. There are pages full of information only covering hours, then months are skimmed over just as easily within mere paragraphs. Overall it was written very well again though, very vivid. I will leave you with some of my favourite quotes, powerful words in my opinion, expressing feelings with heavy mental imagery.

‘I breath in the smell of snow-dampened leather and smoke and apples, the smell of all those wintry days we shared before the Games.’ 
 ‘And I’m left staring out of the window, watching District 12 disappear, with all my goodbyes still hanging on my lips.’ 

5 May 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #1
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia, Sci-Fi
Published:  January 2008
Pages: 454
My rating: 

The Blurb: Sometime in the future after the destruction of North America in a nation known as Panem, the 74th Hunger Games begins. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, every year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised event in which the participants, or "tributes," must fight to the death in a dangerous, outdoor arena, controlled by the Capitol, until only one remains. The difference this year is District 12 has had its first volunteer probably in the whole history of the District... Katniss Everdeen, who volunteered to take the place of her younger sister, Prim; and she's already making an impression.

Yes, I’m late. Very late even. How late? I’m so late the first movie’s already showing in cinemas! Which, ironically, is what made me decide to read this book after all.
Yes, I loved the movie. Very much. Which isn’t helping when it comes to writing a review for the book, because there’s no denying the similarities, as there is no escaping the omitted -as well as added-  flavour.

Despite my reading the occasional dystopian book – I do not dislike dystopian books at all- the theme of ‘The Hunger Games’ did not appeal to me. Ever. No matter how many raving reviews it got. I simply felt it wasn’t my cup of tea, reading about so much grim violence. However, I was up to seeing the movie. And the movie did a good job convincing me to finally read the series: the weirdly dressed/groomed citizens of the Capitol, the surreal beauty of that same Capitol, the contradictions between everyday life in some districts and the Hunger Games, the harshness of the society, but most importantly Katniss Everdeen. Katniss really got under my skin and I wanted to explore her more, wanted to know what she was really about, what her true feelings regarding Peeta and Gale were and… how things would continue for her and her family from now on.

From the first sentence of the book, I was drawn in. Which means quite a lot considering it’s written not only in present tense but also in the first person. For the life of me I cannot figure out why so many writers use present tense nowadays. As of late stories written in the first person are slowly but steadily creeping up my skin-crawling-list as well. However, the beautiful prose and images planted immediately in my head (I am about to contradict myself on this subject a little further down, but I hope you understand my explanation) made me forget all about my list. Or should I say Katniss made me forget about my minor irritations? The unconditional love she feels for her little sister Prim (and those projected feelings onto Rue), the responsibility she takes for keeping her mother, sister and herself alive since the day her dad got killed, her vulnerabilities, her strengths, her doubts, her fears, her physical pain even. The way she is so very human.
So you see, there’s definitely  nothing wrong with the characters. They’re not cut-outs, they’re real. Actually Katniss’ point of view adds more depth and interest to them. You get to know people from her perspective, rather than know everything there is to know at once. You get to feel her confusion of what’s real and not.
Some people call the romance awkward and I agree. But only because it has been written to be awkward. Imagine being in Katniss’ shoes, trapped with almost no future prospects, and finding safety with someone. The world turns to a very weird place, as does your mind. Imagine having to play out a romance between you and the guy who could end up having to kill you, or the other way around. Imagine his presence as the only one you can rely on – and not rely on at the same time. Imagine the confusion when you feel you want to be near him because you actually desire it and not because you’re expected to. I am all for reading about romance but the ‘lack’ thereof in this book came very natural. It’s been done just right, not too much focus on romantic feelings when survival is the main issue. No clear feelings when the world isn’t clear.

After seeing the movie it’s hard not be biased. But if I had to judge the book without having seen the movie, I’d say it lacks some description. The movie put better images in my head than the book ever could have. (Don’t get me wrong, everything came across the way it was supposed to be. The writing was vivid enough and even poetic at times. Quote-worthy lines throughout the book.)
I don’t think the moviemakers were too liberal regarding the images, I think they had the possibility to be that liberal because the book left many things open. The world building could have been better, I guess. As well as the descriptions of people. Yet it seems that lately many books I have read are written  that way, a bit ‘open’. Maybe it’s just my personal opinion though, wishing things to be thoroughly described. Maybe, had I read the book before watching the movie, I would not have agreed with the images I saw. Maybe I would have though. No telling now…

As far as plots go, this one is an original. Yes, I am old enough to know ‘The Running Man’ movie. Yes, I have read other peoples’ reviews comparing the plot to that of ‘Battle Royale’. Since I haven’t read that book I can’t state my opinion on the similarities. I do propose this: point me to a book with an original plot, something NEVER before written about and I’ll be convinced it is possible to truly write the unwritten. Everything has been done before. Before ‘Twilight’ was even thought of, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ had fallen  hard for a vampire already. And before Buffy there have been others as well. I’m just saying.
The idea of ‘The Hunger Games’ seems somewhat preposterous, what government would allow such things to happen? Although… more gruesome truths have existed throughout history, and still do. And in the light of the story it works. Suzanne Collins made me believe in the possibility of this reality.
The story has slower passages intermitted with action-packed blood-spattering scenes, not for the faint-hearted. But it is constantly the story itself (the emotions) that prevails. There’s not a single uninteresting moment, no matter how small the events may seem.

The almost-ending was nothing short of heart-wrenching. I don’t understand why they changed it so much in the movie. Did they run out of time? The book-ending was more fitting and especially more satisfying. From the chaos back to the sterile environment, Katniss unaware in all areas: Peeta, her feelings, the future. The weirdness that is Panem to its full extent.
Thankfully, that weirdness is not finished. Katniss is not finished. Her life, her feelings, her future: everything needs sorting out. And you bet your @ss I’m sorting them out in the sequences ‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Mockingjay’!

Maybe I was late in joining the craziness that is ‘The Hunger Games’, but I’m here now and I won’t go away until I’m satisfied! If you haven’t joined the bandwagon I suggest you do so, you won’t be disappointed.