As much as I admire the author's ability at creating empathy, I must register a complaint with Katniss's tendency, a growing one it seems, to go catatonic when things fall apart. Within the confines of the story, I can live with it, even though I still find it frustrating. I can't honestly say I would react much better if forced to kill people I know. From a broader point of view, though, I am concerned that this is the beginning of a trend. I'm thinking here of New Moon, which features another young female narrator withdrawing from the world as a reaction to personal catastrophe. While Katniss doesn't take it quite to Bella's extreme, the pattern is too similar to ignore. As young adult literature continues to grow (or at least the proliferation of books marketed to teens), I think it's important for authors and readers alike to be conscious of the models the genre puts forth.
The tangles of emotion aside, the rest of the story is strong. As a second book, there is less need for back story, which allows the introduction of a wide variety of interesting characters. We meet President Snow, the Capitol leader who seems alarmingly hate-filled behind a jolly politician mask. As a reader, I was more than a little disturbed at Katniss's insistence that his breath smelled like blood. It's thoroughly haunting that this is never explained and is certainly a powerful tease for the third book all by itself. Haymitch also becomes more fully rounded, as the reader is given something of his history in winning the Hunger Games and the life he's lived since. Even at the end, there is more to be revealed about this drunkard of a mentor.
Collins's decision to send Peeta and Katniss back into the arena came as a shock on the one hand, but also seemed somewhat forced on the other. This new round of games features the inclusion of past winners, despite their age or physical condition. While this introduced an interesting element and expanded the emotional breadth of the created world, it also felt underdeveloped. Prior to the start of the games, much was made of the connection the Capitol felt with the victors, as well as ties between many of the individual winners. Once the killing started, though, that largely disappeared. Also noticeably absent was an awareness of the games as a televised event. In The Hunger Games, Katniss was constantly considering the effect her actions would have on various viewers. In this case, the games are populated by characters who are experienced participants and audience members, and yet there is little to no discussion of the fact that they're all on T.V. As a reader, I found this a glaring omission amongst an otherwise tightly written novel. Indeed, the absence of this element which had been so prominent in the first book made me wonder if Catching Fire had been a much longer story before it met with an editor's eye.