Catching Fire

Well, UPS promptly delivered, and I excitedly dove in to the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. I definitely loved the first book, and I can say the same about this one. However, I do believe that I enjoyed The Hunger Games a bit more.

Katniss and Peeta are back home in District 12, but the game is not yet over. Because they both emerged as victors in the arena, they forced the Capitol to change the rules and essentially made the government look stupid. For this, they have not been forgiven. Six months after the Hunger Games conclude, the victor must make a victory tour covering the 12 districts. Shortly before Katniss and Peeta are scheduled to leave on the tour, President Snow pays Katniss a visit.

Because of Katniss’ defiance of the Capitol, the government considers her, (and Peeta, too), an enemy. Because of what she did, some districts have had the courage to openly rebel and riot. During his visit, President Snow makes his expectations clear. Katniss and Peeta must convince Panem that they are deeply in love, making the public believe that what Katniss did in the arena was out of her desperate love for Peeta and not a defiance. If they fail, everyone they love will die.

During the victory tour and shortly after, Katniss learns a bit more about the state of Panem and the degree of rebellion that has erupted. She also learns because of the mockingjay pin she wore in the games as a symbol of her district, the mockingjay has now become a symbol for the rebellion.

After returning home from the victory tour, preparations are being made for the next Hunger Games. Because it is the 75th anniversary of the games, there is a twist. It is announced that the two tributes from each district will be drawn from the pool of victors. In District 12, there are only three victors, Katniss being the only female. So, once again, Katniss and Peeta are forced back into the arena. Nearly all the victors of the different districts have learned to hate the Capitol, and they do not hesitate to make biting remarks to demonstrate this. Nevertheless, the games continue.

At the end of the book, Katniss discovers that people have been keeping secrets from Peeta and herself. And there is a huge cliffhanger at the end. I’ll just say that the love triangle has re-emerged and the stakes are higher than ever.

I can’t wait to read the conclusion of this amazing series. Appropriately, it is entitled Mockingjay. It will be released at the end of August. Until then, I guess I’ll have to find some other books to keep me entertained.

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The Hunger Games

I recently read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Wow. I absolutely loved this book. I’ve already ordered the second book in the series and am eagerly awaiting its delivery by UPS.

The book is set in a future North America, now called Panem. There are 12 districts under the dictatorship of a city called the Capitol. There were formerly 13 districts, but District 13 revolted against the Capitol and as a result, no longer exists. As a yearly reminder to the 12 remaining districts of what happened to District 13, the Capitol holds the Hunger Games, a reality TV show. A teenager (12 through 18 years old) male and female “tribute” are chosen from each district to participate in the “arena.” To win, a tribute must only remain alive. The losers are rewarded with death and the winner gets a life of ease. The only unspoken rule is that contestants may not eat the bodies of their dead peers.

In the beginning of the book we are introduced to the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a section of District 12 called “the Seam.” This is a very poor coal mining community. Since her father died in a mine explosion, Katniss has been the primary bread winner in her family, gathering and hunting in order to feed her mother and her little sister Prim. Katniss and her friend and hunting parter Gale, go “under the fence” in order to feed their families. Going outside the boundaries is forbidden, but they are willing to risk punishment.

The day of the reaping, Katniss, Prim and their mother dress in their best clothes and appear with the rest of District 12 for the drawing of names of who will participate in the Hunger Games this year. Prim’s name is drawn, but Katniss quickly comes to her rescue and volunteers to go in her place. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son who had once given Katniss two loaves of bread to keep her family from starving. The two contestants immediately whisked away to the Capitol, where they are groomed to perfection and trained a bit before they enter the arena.

Peeta puts on a performance that convinces the television viewers that he is in love with Katniss, pulling on their heartstrings because it is common knowledge that only one tribute can win, which means that at least one of the star-crossed lovers will be killed. In the arena, Peeta and Katniss go their own way. Soon, it is announced that there may be two winners this year, but only if both winners are from the same district.

Suddenly, Katniss and Peeta are forced to work together to survive. Katniss finds Peeta hiding, recovering from a severe injury. She nurses him back to health, with the help of a few gifts from sponsors, essentially babysitting him for the last part of the Games. (Sponsors are people who aid a contestant by buying them gifts, such as food, supplies, or anything else they might need along the way. However, the contender’s mentor ultimately gets to decide what gifts they get and when they get them.) When they are together, Katniss catches on that they are rewarded (by gifts) when they do or say something that especially entertains the viewers or pleases their mentor, such as kissing or discussing their budding romance.

Katniss and Peeta finally triumph, being the last two living tributes. Then, once again, an announcement is made that changes the rules. There can only be one winner. Katniss and Peeta refuse to murder each other, and as a result of Katniss’ quick thinking, both make it out alive. However, the Capitol is not happy with Katniss.

Now, Katniss and Peeta must continue to act out the love affair that they started on screen. At least, Katniss believes it is an act. It might be their only chance of survival.

At the end of the book, Katniss and Peeta return home to District 12. They must get ready to tour the rest of the districts, as is required of the winners of the Hunger Games. Of course, returning home, Katniss wonders what Gale will think about her new “relationship” with Peeta. There is definite foreshadowing of a love triangle.

I absolutely loved this book. It is considered to be for young adults, but again, I believe readers of all ages will enjoy Katniss’ story and the heartache of the desolate world created by the author.

Wench

My sister-in-law recently gave me a book to read entitled Wench, the debut novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I thought the book was well written for the most part, and it told a story that pulled at the heartstrings of the reader.

The story is primarily about a slave, Lizzie, who is her master’s mistress. Every summer, her master Drayle, takes her to a resort in Ohio, which is in free territory. Tawawa House is popular amoung slave holders because they can bring their black mistresses and live openly with them during the time they are in residence at the resort. Lizzie looks forward to coming each year because she gets to see her close friends, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu. Because these women are the masters’ women, they do not share close bonds with anyone at their home plantations.

Lizzie sincerely believes that she and Drayle are in love. They have two children together, the youngest of which has blonde hair and, as Lizzie believes, could pass for a white girl. She repeatedly asks Drayle to consider freeing their children, but it is apparent that he currently has no intention of doing so. Reenie is misused and abused, and seems resigned to her enslaved life. Sweet embodies the definition of her name and is fragile. Mawu, chosen by her master in spite of her hatred of him, is full of spunk, a bit wild, and definitely rebellious. It is her words and thoughts that inspire the other women to actually consider freedom as reality.

There is another resort just through the forest that is for free blacks. The nearness of this other place gives the women courage and makes them consider actions they would not otherwise have dared. Mawu is planning to run, but due to a betrayal by Lizzie, who was only concerned about Mawu’s life, she experiences a public humiliation at the hands of her master, which all other slaves are forced to witness. At this point, Lizzie questions her actions and decides against ever repeating her mistake.

The next summer, the women return, but this time, Drayle brings his wife, Fran, and Lizzie must live with the other slaves. While there, Sweet learns of an epidemic back at her home. Soon, she learns of the death of all four of her children, one by one. Her own death follows shortly. Later in the summer, Mawu and Reenie get brave and run for it, but do not include Lizzie in their plans. Lizzie feels somewhat hurt, but understands that this was due to her betrayal the previous year. Meanwhile, Phillip, another slave who is like a brother to Lizzie, has fallen in love with the barber’s daughter, a free black woman. Lizzie uses what little sway she has with Drayle to convince him to sell Phillip to the barber, knowing that he will consider this a favor to her which all but destoys the possibility he might someday free their children.

Lizzie has also made friends with Glory, a white Quaker and abolitionist. After Mawu and Reenie escape, Lizzie visits Glory, who leads her to Mawu. She is hiding out in a small cabin not far from Tawawa House. When Lizzie questions why Mawu is so close, she understands that Mawu has been waiting for her. Meanwhile, Lizzie has received a letter from Reenie, who is safe and free in New York. Lizzie considers running, but Drayle chains her to the porch of the cabin and decides to leave the resort soon. Mawu is found by slave hunters and returned to her master.

At the end of the book, Lizzie has discovered that she can count on no one but herself, and even thinks of the possibility of killing Drayle in order to escape his bonds with her children. As the reader, I was left wanting more information of what Lizzie would decide and how her future would play out. However, as she is in the wagon heading back to her plantation and her children, I was left with the certainty that she has gained new strength and determination, and she will be a fighter when the time comes for hard decisions.

While not a new concept for historical fiction, I still enjoyed the book. There were some parts that could have been a bit more clear, such as when the author was insinuating something, but didn’t give enough clues to figure out exactly what she meant. And although she did provide quite a bit of Lizzie’s background, it would have been nice if some of the other characters had been a bit more developed. Other than that, definitely a good read.