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The Honourable Schoolboy
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Catching Fire - Suzanne  Collins There’s an odd dichotomy in my thinking about Collins’s The Hunger Games series. On the one hand, I do like the books, although the writing certainly isn’t spectacular; on the other hand, they have nearly fatal flaws that irritate me to no end. If I talk about what I like, I’ll probably be preaching to the choir if the author’s popularity is anything to judge by, so instead I’m going to discuss what annoys me.

First, Katniss remains obnoxiously self-centered. She finally admits that she’s a selfish coward, and that’s when I thought there might be some hope for really liking her because I expected the author to develop that theme and raise her from the level of predictable, virtually cardboard character. Regrettably, I was mistaken. Even though Katniss does eventually realize that she’s probably self-absorbed and despicable, that’s as far as the author goes with it. It’s difficult to see such a character as a heroine, which she is manifestly supposed to be and which I suspect readers want her to be. But the story doesn’t allow it.

Second, the narrative explaining Katniss’s actions made less sense in this book. Although her threatening to kill herself with berries in book 1 didn’t seem like enough to set off a firestorm of defiance across the sheeplike population of Panem, even on top of a couple of other mildly insubordinate acts frowned on by the Capitol, I was able to accept it. But she waffles in book 2, her earlier rebelliousness no longer in evidence. What happened? She ends up being flat and static like the other characters, with no development to speak of, although for the most part the story line is enough to keep the reader engaged.

Third, as in the first book, there are the unfathomable (non)actions of people who know they are in great danger, have a chance to do something about it, and don’t. Katniss’s life is threatened by the president, and she could escape what is essentially an open, free, unguarded city but doesn’t. Her family is in danger because of her, yet she does nothing. Why on earth not?

The books suffer from a lack of foreshadowing, which makes the plot abrupt and contrived at times. I found it hard to believe that Peeta and Katniss are suddenly bent on defying the Capitol and saving the world when, up to that point and with few exceptions, they’ve never seemed to care a whit about anyone but themselves. I would have liked to see Collins lay a foundation in the first book for the uprising that takes place in this one, but there’s really nothing. Then, as if some groundwork actually had been laid and it should come as no surprise, Gale remarks that the uprising is “finally” happening.

The same dearth of foreshadowing made the ending of the book unsatisfying. It didn’t seem like a natural extension of the story. I like the direction it’s going, but the explanation for the characters’ actions in the Quarter Quell was a non sequitur.

I’m happy to say that Catching Fire underwent far better editing than The Hunger Games. The editors still don’t seem to know what a subjunctive is and had problems with who/whom, as before, but other errors weren’t nearly as numerous. Examples include “It would be [have been] nice if he’d come to me with this earlier”; “trying to staunch [stanch] the flow of blood”; “you…hung [hanged]…Seneca Crane”; the frequent punctuation error of a missing comma after an em dash when dialogue is cut off but the sentence continues, as in this: “It’s not—” I get out, but I’m cut off by…; and “Which begs the question, What is?” Someday, I’ll run across a book whose author or editor knows the definition of beg the question and doesn’t use it as an intro to one.

Would young fans of dystopia like this book? Yes; by all accounts they’re wild about it. I liked it too. But I didn’t love it.