Catching Fire (Book 2 in The Hunger Games) [Book Review] – Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has come out triumphant from the Hunger Games. But at a price. Her last attempt at bringing Peeta and herself out of the arena alive was seen as an act of defiance by the Capitol. And they cannot remain silent.

Going back to her home district, life for Katniss is not easy. Gale, her best friend, keeps her at ice-cold distance. Peeta has also turned his back on her. It is then that President Snow drops her a visit to tell her than on the Victors’ Tour, she needs to convince all the districts of Panem, the dystopian country they live in, that her act to save both her life and Peeta’s was nothing more than an act of love – maybe it could help quench the fires of a rebellion starting to spread across Panem, a rebellion that Katniss isn’t sure she wants to quench.

But there’s a twist. Creeping up on Panem is the 75th Hunger Games, which would be made special by introducing new rules. What could those rules be? How will it affect Katniss and Peeta? And what could the 75th hunger games mean for Panem?

If you thought The Hunger Games, the first book in the trilogy, was addictive, then Catching Fire will get your heart to catch fire as it races through the pages. It is a unique and engrossing storyline; the characters you met an installment ago change as your hands flip through the pages. You cannot but feel the need to root for them. The descriptions are exquisite, thorough and gut-wrenchingly real.

The setting, similar to the the first book, is both real, fantastical and sad. The mood for this book is even darker than The Hunger Games. It is also more concise and poignant. Catching Fire has action, romance, hope, despair and, most importantly, humanity. Political themes are the underlying current of the book but they’re not flagrantly in your face, making it a dense read for adults whose imaginations want to wander off and a light read for teenagers who take it at face value.

With Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins has met the expectations she created for herself with The Hunger Games. The plot is unpredictable in many circumstances and is energetic throughout. In fact, the energy and pace keep on building right to the ending which creates a cliffhanger that will leave you shocked and searching for book three.

The main purpose of Catching Fire is to serve as a transitory bridge between The Hunger Games and Mockinjay, the third book in the series. And it does so perfectly by gradually changing the frame from the first book and creating a new dimension for the author to base the final installment in. Some might feel such transitions do not make great books. I beg to differ. You cannot read Catching Fire just to finish it. You can’t but read it to know what happens.

Within its few hundred pages, Catching Fire has, like its predecessor, humor, treason, death, love, life, loss, pain. “Girl on fire, I’m still betting on you….” How could you not?

9/10

The Hunger Games is NOT Twilight

I had no intention to write such a post. But when I saw people on various platforms saying that The Hunger Games is just another Twilight, I simply had to step in to say no. Just no. And I think I am a qualified person to make the comparison. How so? Well, I’ve actually read both book series before the hype for their movies set in.

1 – The Books

There is a drastic difference between the themes of the books to begin with. The Hunger Games does not have supernatural human beings, let alone vampires or werewolves that have been so ruined in their portrayal that they’ve become a common source for jokes. The main characters of The Hunger Games are not driven by their incessant need to be loved but by their primal instinct for survival. Both may be intended for young adults and have a central female character but when it comes to the plot, protagonists and reception, the two series couldn’t be more different. Twilight is a fantasy love story, while The Hunger Games is an adventure about survival. That alone create a huge difference in the central elements of the book: where characters in one search for a boyfriend, the characters in another prepare for a revolution.

This brings me to point 2.

2- Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan:

Bella’s struggles in Twilight is to choose between the sparkly vampire Edward and the transform-at-will werewolf Jacob. Her character is also nauseatingly one dimensional, useless and completely infatuated with mundane things, making her unlikeable.

Katniss is the exact opposite. Where Bella had things handed for her on a silver platter (boyfriend trouble don’t count as life problems), Katniss has to survive a world where the government has made the people hungry, where her mother is disconnected from the world and where she has to care for her only sister. Katniss’ world does not revolve around a boy, unlike Bella.

Bella is driven by her infatuation with Edward. Katniss is driven by her need to survive a cruel world. Katniss is a character young readers should look up to. Bella Swan is not.

3 – The Movies

Both movie series are turning out to be immensely popular. The Hunger Games has grossed over $25 million from midnight screenings alone. Twilight movies have broken records. Where they differ, however, is in the drastic critical reception. The Hunger Games has an aggregate score of more than 90% of positive reviews. Every single Twilight movie has been certified rotten by critics. You can read my review of The Hunger Games here. I didn’t even find it in me to review the latest Twilight movie. Enough said.

Perhaps both The Hunger Games and Twilight can be considered as a “teen” series. How that’s a bad thing, I’m not sure. The difference remains that one is absolutely relevant to what we’re living through today: revolutions, war, famine while the other lives in lala land. The fact remains that people need to get it in their heads that not anything that rings true with young adults needs to be compared with a preceding cultural phenomenon. Twilight was compared to Harry Potter. The Hunger Games is being compared to Twilight. How ridiculous, I know. When will such unfounded thoughts end? I have no clue.

The Hunger Games (Book Review) – Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is the first book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It is already a top seller and will soon be released as a motion picture, being one of 2012’s most anticipated releases.

The Hunger Games takes place in the nation of Panem, in a post-apocalyptic United States. The state is divided into twelve districts, each of which is specialized in a trade, all centered around the Capitol. Each year, the Capitol holds The Hunger Games, an event to remind all twelve districts of their submission to the power of the Capitol. Why? A few years prior, there were thirteen districts with District 13 starting an uprising against the Capitol. The revolution failed and District 13 was eradicated and so arose The Hunger Games, whose is quite simple: a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected as tributes through a lottery to represent their respective district in The Hunger Games. The  total of 24 candidates will then battle each other to the death, as all 12 districts are forced to watch their sons and daughters getting killed and killing. The winner gets a life of ease, which in the harsh world of Panem is almost tempting enough to enter the games. Some districts actually train their youngsters for the games.

Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorn are best friends from District 12. They also have their names in the lottery more than once as a way to get food to their hungry families. Their chances for getting selected are rather high. But both their names are not drawn. Instead, Katniss’ sister, Primrose, is selected – with her name being in the lottery once. In a burst of courage, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. Gale is also not selected and instead Peeta Mellark is chosen as the male representative of District 12. Together, Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol where they will try their best to build an image that will help them while inside the games, not knowing that there’s way more going on behind the scenes than they know and that the slightest “wrong” move on their part will cost them dearly.

The Hunger Games is probably one of the most riveting books you might read. The action goes on at breakneck pace, not leaving any dull moment for you to take in what has passed or think about what might happen. You cannot let the book down before finishing it. I had to learn this the hard way with a major exam coming up and finding myself reading this book instead of my anatomy textbook.

Don’t let the fast pace undermine the book’s value, however. The book is perfectly paced. It doesn’t linger on sequences more than it should and, seeing as it’s a book about life and death, it doesn’t dwell on details that are irrelevant to the ultimate goal of its characters: survival. The text may become violent at points, but it remains hypnotizing and chilling.

Simply put,  it is one of those books, which are immensely suspenseful, that will get glued to the palm of your hand and refuse to let go until you turn the last page, only finding out that the story has not been fully resolved and you’ll have to read the second book, Catching Fire, to know what happens next. And before you know it, you have that book in your hands and you’re at it again. The Hunger Games takes you aboard its cycle and doesn’t let you go. Even the love triangle, which the author tries to set up, becomes irrelevant to you as a reader with everything else going on in the book.

At the end of the day, The Hunger Games, despite being totally rooted in fiction, has strands of real-life intertwined in it. There’s humor, there’s treason, there’s death, there’s love, there’s life, there’s loss, there’s pain. All in a couple hundred pages. A must-read, definitely.

9/10

Harry Potter Author J.K. Rowling To Release New Novel in 2012

Harry Potter author, turned first self-made author billionaire, J.K. Rowling is set to release a new novel later this year. Announced through this website, The Blair Partnership, with whom she has an agreement, the book is apparently very different from the Harry Potter series and it will target a more adult audience.

In fact, J.K. Rowling left a note on that website saying: “Although I’ve enjoyed writing it just as much, my next novel will be much different from the Harry Potter series.”

I have no idea what the book might be about but I’m sure very excited for this.

Update: It looks like Little, Brown have won the rights for the book. Here’s a more extensive quote from Rowling regarding the book:

“Although I’ve enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series, which has been published so brilliantly by Bloomsbury and my other publishers around the world. The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry’s success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher. I am delighted to have a second publishing home in Little, Brown, and a publishing team that will be a great partner in this new phase of my writing life.”

The Help (Book Review) – Kathryn Stockett

For the movie review, click here.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi and raised at the hands of a maid, Kathryn Stockett knows firsthand how it was to be a “superior” white person in the American South in the 1960s. The black maids tend to the white children, watch those children grow up and eventually become their bosses.

So it is with that sort of autobiographical flair that Stockett approaches her debut novel: The Help. No, the book is not an autobiography but it feels very real because it draws upon life-like elements and historical events to drive its plot. Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan is a fresh college graduate going home to Jackson in 1962 after a failed attempt at securing a job with important New York publishers. As she settles in the hierarchal routine of her hometown, Skeeter starts to realize that she doesn’t really belong in the bridge circles her friends have every week or their banquets. She’s also not as interested in the mundane elements of their lives that they love to share so much. So as Skeeter looks upon her friend’s maid, Aibileen, she asks her if she wished things were different. Aibileen cannot reply. But in a world where the white people of Jackson were trying to pass a regulation whereby colored individuals would have a different bathroom just because “they” carry different germs that do not go well with them while folks, Aibeleen has every reason to want change.

It is to the backdrop of racial segregation, fear, the KKK and white supremacists, mostly in the form of Skeeter’s friend, miss Hilly, that three women: Skeeter, Aibileen and a third maid, Minny, embark on an extraordinary quest that is really ordinary in all of its details: write a book about the stories of the maid of Jackson, a book that talks about the help including all of the bad, the ugly and the beautiful moments they have lived with their white employers.

The Help is told in three main parts, divided according to each character. The three parts intertwine as the story progresses but they are as distinct as they can be mostly due to the drastically different natures of the characters outlining and driving each part. Even the english language employed by Stockett is drastically different for each part: Aibileen’s part is mostly slang, Skeeter is proper English and Minnie finds a middle ground between them.

What is common to the three parts, however, is that all three characters driving them jump off the page due to their complex structure, warmth and exquisite character. Aibileen is the mother who cares about her employer’s little girl, Mae Mobley, as much as she cared about her son. Minnie is the angry, scrappy character who can’t stand silent to her employers berating her, who can’t stand by as Miss Hilly accuses her of being a thief. Skeeter is the woman wanting change in a time when people like her even existing is frowned upon, in a time where even the people she was trying to help are wary of her.

All of this is exposed in Stockett’s The Help in three-dimensional glory.

What leaves you as you finish The Help is a sense of happiness. It is a book about tormented lives seeking emancipation from the bonds of society. It is a book that gets you to laugh at points and sit in reflection at your own life at other points, especially as we, the Lebanese, have many of the incidences taking place in this book happening in own households with our “help”.

The Help, at the end of the day, is a book about empowerment. Be it the white woman empowering the black women to rise beyond their predicaments or Aibileen empowering Mae Mobley to be more than what her mother tells her: “Mae Mobley is kind. Mae Mobley is smart. Mae Mobley is important.”

The Help is kind. The Help is smart. The Help is important.