Oof. Just when you think this story has gotten as fucked up as it can possibly get… it gets worse. Over and over. And I do mean that in the best possible way: The Hunger Games is one of the most intense, intelligent books I’ve read in a long time, and I liked Catching Fire even more. Absolutely read them — just don’t expect the feel-good novels of the year.
In a post-apocalyptic U.S., now called Panem, the merciless Capitol rules the twelve Districts. The Capitol gets all the good food, all the advanced technology, all the comforts; all most District people get is work and hunger. To remind the Districts who’s in charge, every year the Capitol forces each District to choose at random a boy and a girl as tributes. The twenty-four lucky kids are contestants in the Hunger Games: a fight to the death, broadcast throughout Panem as the ultimate reality show entertainment.
Catching Fire – SPOILERS for Hunger Games, of course (and you don’t want to be spoiled)
Why do they go back to the Games? At first I thought it was a lame choice — this is what the readers want, so back we go. The same reason you can’t have Harry without Hogwarts.
But I think it sets up a necessary parallel. In the 74th Games, each contestant is out for him or herself, and just trying to get home — until Katniss and Peeta subvert that by becoming the first pair of victors. In the 75th Games, the contestants from a number of Districts work together, and people from the Capitol are helping as part of the underground resistance. The Games are a microcosm of what’s going on in Panem at large. The Games are what the book is about, so that’s how we have to see the change in the world, and the beginning of the rebellion that presumably we’ll follow in book 3.
I love, by the way, seeing a rebellion built over such a period of time in YA SF. Usually these rebellions feel wrapped up too quickly — ta da, the world is changed, thanks to some scrappy kids with good luck! Now I want to re-read the Uglies series, which I remember as having a similar slow progress of the rebellion, with a similar broad-scale feel implying heroes we don’t know in cities we never see.