Catching Fire

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2) by Suzanne Collins

Hunger Games review available here.
Mockingjay review available here.

When the first in a series is as tense and captivating as The Hunger Games, it is almost inevitable that readers will want to continue the series.    The question for the reader is often “How soon can I get it?” (Answer, much faster from Amazon than from your public library).  The question for parents and educators is “Is the content in this book about the same as the previous one, if my child read The Hunger Games and seemed fine with it, can they read Catching Fire?”

I would say that they are similar in content, but Catching Fire does have some more purely horrifying moments of violence (see the content section below and especially notice the whole bit where a woman kills someone by ripping that person’s throat out with her teeth.)  I wasn’t as tense at many places because I’d developed a sort of trust for Collins, that she would kill off in an incredibly gory fashion anyone she felt like, as long as that character wasn’t someone I was too attached to.  That slight predictability made it so I never truly worried for those that I liked the best.  There is slightly more reflection on the violent nature of the games and the negative effect it has on people’s lives.  I’ll give her particular credit for a character that basically went insane after participating in the games.  But still, when push came to shove and lives were on the line, I didn’t see quite the amount of contrition from the killers that I would like to see.

The other major content difference in Catching Fire is that the romantic plot is increased somewhat.  Interestingly, this doesn’t really mean (much) more physical contact between the main characters.  There are a few references to people having lovers and sleeping with prostitutes.  Those are minor enough that most adults reading the book wouldn’t really register them, but a teens certainly will, and if younger children are reading you may not want to have to answer clarifying questions about those parts.  The thing that struck me about the romance(s) in Catching Fire were how much they relied on the reader having some understanding how relationships and physicality and emotion are all interconnected in a very tangled way.  Elementary school students (you know, the ones who I think are generally too young for this series) will not really understand how manipulation and using someone and proximity all play a part in romances.  The message that you can be physical with someone you’re not sure you care about is not one I’m particularly sure younger readers are ready for.  But you be the judge, the content reviews are below.

Tell me what you think in the comments.  Was Catching Fire about the same as Hunger Games?  What age group would you suggest this series for?

I would recommend this ideally for high school students, but possibly as low as Grade 8 with parent discussion.

I ‘m not sure if the vocabulary in this was actually harder than Hunger Games or I just thought it was, but here’s a list of some challenging words: sadistic, audacity, despises, inferno, prophetic, incomprehensibly, voluminous, etiquette, inconsequential, precariously, indistinguishable, flamboyantly, regimen, abhorrent, emaciated, mutilation, gallows, din,

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There’s a reference to a woman having a baby due any day.  A character mentions that it was assumed that she would always marry another character.  A character discusses how a romance saved her life.  Characters will need to present themselves “as lovers.”  The love triangle continues from the prior book.  People lie about characters being cousins because a possible romance between them wouldn’t look right and they need a way to explain a close relationship.  A man strips to his undershirt.  There is kissing.  There is a description of the lips pressing and fingers curling on chests and making some noise in the back of the throat.  There is also a comparison between kissers.  Katniss is seen naked by her team of dressers which includes two women and one man.  Two characters fall on top of each other in the snow and kiss.  The fact of a marriage being inevitable is raised within the first 50 pages of the book.  Katniss thinks about whether or not she’ll be required to have children and how they might be more vulnerable for the reaping.  Again Katniss has all of her body hair removed by her team and wonders why boys are allowed to keep theirs.  Then she reminisces about Peeta’s body hair and how she bathed him in the stream.  There’s hand holding. Katniss wonders if in the future they’ll tattoo her breasts. A male character and a female character sleep entwined in each other’s arms each night.  There is a public proposal.  Katniss must dance with a Gamemaker and doesn’t like the feel of his hands on her body.  There is a plan for two members of the love-triangle to run away together.  One confesses love but the other replies “I know.”  A Peacemaker is known for luring starving women to his bed in exchange for money (perhaps this reference to prostitution will go unnoticed by some?)  Katniss reflects that she might have become a woman who sold her body for money.  A girl caresses a boy’s face, stroking his lips.  In the love-triangle, one member speculates what it would be like to see one of the others become someone else’s “lover” and promise to marry someone else and is enraged.  More kissing.  There’s talk about getting a goat pregnant, “knocked up”.  Katniss must be shaved.  A very handsome man has women throwing themselves at him and he goes through four or five each year during a visit.  It’s sort of implied that he sleeps around a lot.  He is clothed in something that covers his groin and nothing else.  An older man kisses Katniss on the mouth.  A girl strips naked in front of Peeta, the light from his costume reflecting on her naked breasts.  The same girl later strips naked and oils herself for a wrestling match.  There’s a supposed secret marriage.  Katniss is supposedly pregnant.  Katniss must strip a man naked but says now that there have been so many patients of her mothers, she’s used to naked men.  There’s more kissing with bodies entwined, and a warm sensation going throughout someone’s body, kisses making the need greater.  Much of the book takes place in a warm climate and it seems as though everyone stripped to their underwear, which means the above kissing scene would have taken place with people wearing nothing but underwear.
Profanity – Haymitch spews profanity although the words aren’t reported. Katniss shouts obscenities (again they are not reported).  “hell,”
Death, Violence and Gore – Katniss mentions she will have to face the families of children she has killed.  Katniss mentions that her father was killed in a mine explosion. Animals are shot or snared for food.  A woman has one arm as the result of a mine explosion. A man has been executed. A man’s breath smells of blood and a character wonders if he drinks it or dips cookie’s into it.  The death of characters in the previous Hunger Games is remembered, including a girl with a spear wedged in her stomach.  Peeta has painted a picture of Katniss lying unconscious in a pool of blood. Katniss remembers a girls bloated body disintegrating in her hands, a boy bleeding to death.  An old man who whistled a song is pulled through a crowd and a bullet is put in his head.  Two others are shot and there is speculation as to whom.  Children die of starvation.  There are uprisings. One includes bricks being thrown and people in the crowd being shot at random.  There are concerns that some people will be tortured to death to find out information about others.  A girl is pushed by someone she trusts.  A character that we know well is whipped until that character’s back resembles a “raw, bloody slab of meat.”  Another receives a whiplash across the face.  A man wipes the blood off his whip with his hands splattering it on people nearby.  A man has a purplish bump on his head rising through his hair.  The mutilated flesh of the whipping victim is treated, assembling what shards of skin can be saved.  In the summer, they would have tried to keep flies away from the open wound.  In a nightmare, Katniss imagines someone cutting her face, then changing to an animal and lapping the blood from the wound.  Rebellion means possible torture, mutilation, execution by a bullet through the skull.   Nests of machine guns line the square, gallows are erected at the center.  People are hung publicly.  Areas are bombed.  Katniss finds herself both sad and relieved that new opponents will include the elderly.  In one district an eighty-year old woman volunteers herself to save a hysterical young girl. Katniss dreams a rodent is eating her face.  Butterfly stings kill.  A blowdart dipped in poison kills.  Some are killed in the lava from a volcano.  A girl is skewered through the neck by a bird and screams her dying scream.  There are more deaths “in combat”.  Some people are killed by squirrels.  There is a bloody fight, in which a male has to hold in his intestines while trying to escape and a girl chases him with an ax.  The girl has blood flowing from her empty eye socket.  An ax buries itself in someone’s head.  Rebels tongues are cut so they can’t speak.  Katniss dreams of bloody dissections of mouths. One woman killed by ripping a man’s throat out with her teeth.  A man is beaten with metal studded gloves and dragged out leaving a bloody smear.  A tribute is impaled on a trident.  A character requires resuscitation after electrocution.  There’s a type of acid rain/nerve gas used on the tributes, one walks into it intentionally, a suicide. There are killer attack monkeys, which also must be killed.  One kills a human by sinking its fangs into the person’s chest. Blood slowly trickles from the puncture wounds.  The character’s wasted body is described.  Blood rains from the sky.  One tribute slits another’s throat in a “bright red smile.”  Another is shot in the head.  An ax buries itself in someone’s chest.  A character must be in the water with a dead body and ends up tasting that person’s blood mixed with seawater.  Someone was beheaded. A hovercraft must pick up one body in pieces.  A cylinder is smashed into someone’s face causing vision problems.  Some digs a knife into another person’s arm.  Fingernails are raked across someone’s face causing blood to flow and damaging an eye. A character hopes to spare another character pain and torture by murdering that character first using a syringe.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Katniss buys three bottles of liquor for Haymitch her nearly always drunk coach.  When Haymitch has to go without alcohol he suffers from withdrawal symptoms which are described.  Haymitch is almost never mentioned without a mention of a type of alcohol and his state of drunkenness, and he is mentioned reasonably often.  Katniss’s prep team drinks coffee and takes brightly colored pills.  Katniss is given pills to make her sleep.  Katniss’s prep team is nearly incoherent from drinking.  A medicine called “morphling” is used to relieve pain.  Katniss drinks alcohol and is drunk.  Two tributes are known morphling addicts.  Various others drink wine.
Frightening or Intense Things – Katniss’s mother fell into a deep depression after the death of her father.

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