Book 2 of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins picks up a few months after the conclusion of book 1 (Hunger Games). For anyone who hasn't read the first book, a future dystopic nation has 12 impoverished districts that are under the thumb of the wealthy and corrupt Capitol. To remind the districts of their dependence on the Capitol, they hold annual Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl ages 12-18 are chosen from each district to compete in a death match where there can only be one victor. The Games are required viewing for citizens and are televised to every home. What makes it an even sicker practice is the facade of honor the Capitol puts on the Games, creating instant celebrities out of these teenagers who will struggle to survive in the harsh climate of the Games. Our protagonist is the scrappy 16-year-old Katniss from the coal mining district 12. She's a skilled hunter with a vast knowledge of fauna, but has severe deficits in her ability to work the media in her favor. In other words, she's an interesting character to follow.
The rest of this review is spoilery if you haven't read Hunger Games. Just go read it. You won't regret that decision, I promise. It's young adult literature at its best.
Anyway, book 2 picks up a few months after Katniss and Peeta's shared victory of the annual Hunger Games. They're keeping up their fake romance for the media to keep the government from thinking their move to pull a double suicide at the end of Games was a ploy to defy the government. However, it's too late, as Katniss and Peeta's act has sparked rumblings of rebellion from all the districts.
So we end up following Katniss as she comes to accept her role as a symbol for revolution. I like that we only know as much as she knows about the state of the districts and the government's power, although most readers will probably catch onto what all the clues mean before she does. We also follow her journey in finding out where she stands with her old hunting buddy Gale and the spurned Peeta. Both of them love her, but how does she feel about them? Fortunately, this last issue was dealt with, I felt, realistically and organically. Part of that has to do with the fact that romance isn't the only focus of the book, although it's a delightful thread that gives more weight to the choices Katniss has to make.
And while Catching Fire book might not be as perfectly plotted or surprising as Hunger Games, it's just as engaging. It was exciting to see the characters grow and connect with one another within this very dangerous context. I can't stress enough how much it heartens me to read literature about a teenage girl that's actually good. Katniss seems like a real person and has real (and scary) choices to make, and I can't wait for the next book to see where she ends up.