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A Catch-Up Guide to Catching Fire

by Jennifer Stubben Hatch

*This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Kids & Books.*

Catching Fire is coming soon to a movie theater near you -- which means there will be a lot of buzz at your library about this 2nd book in the wildly popular Hunger Games series. Whether it’s been a while since you read the novel (or if you never have), this catch-up guide will point you to the most important details and offer ideas for lively discussions with your library patrons.

Inform Yourself

The trilogy, in a nutshell:

  • The Hunger Games  --  Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, where children from the districts of Panem are forced by the tyrannical Capitol to fight one another to the death.
  • Catching Fire  --  Katniss must compete in the Hunger Games again, but this time she’s determined to keep not herself, but her friend (and possible romantic interest) Peeta alive.
  • Mockingjay  --  Deeply traumatized by her experiences in the Hunger Games, Katniss must decide how she will participate in the districts’ full-scale rebellion against the Capitol.

Want to know what happens in Catching Fire? The following summary covers all the key events. (Caution: Spoilers Ahead!)

As the story begins, Katniss remains traumatized by her experiences in the Hunger Games. Living uncomfortably in the Victor’s Village, she maintains uneasy relationships with both Peeta (who was upset to learn her love for him was a pretense) and Gale (who unexpectedly kisses her after she returns home). After her family and friends are personally threatened by Panem’s President Snow, Katniss tries to convince the country of her love for Peeta during their Victory Tour. Unfortunately, President Snow communicates that her efforts were not enough -- and Katniss wonders if she was destined to fail.

Back in District 12, Katniss inadvertently sees reports of uprisings in a number of districts on the mayor’s television. She plans to flee Panem with her loved ones, but Gale refuses to go once he learns of the uprisings and Peeta agrees to go, but tells her she’ll never leave, anyway. Katniss abandons her plan when Gale is badly whipped by District 12’s new Head Peacekeeper for illegally hunting. Later, while hiking in the woods, Katniss meets two women who have fled from an uprising in District 8. They tell Katniss they are headed to District 13, which Katniss thought was destroyed many years ago.

Plans for the Quarter Quell, the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, are announced, and Panem learns that this special Hunger Games will feature previous tributes. Katniss is devastated to learn that she and either Peeta or Haymitch will return to the arena. At the Reaping, Peeta volunteers to take Haymitch’s place, and Katniss knows he will sacrifice himself to keep her alive in the arena -- just as she will do anything to keep him alive. Before long, the unlucky pair is swept back to the Capitol for preparation and training.

Once the Hunger Games begin, Katniss and Peeta form an alliance with some other tributes who seem strangely determined to keep them alive. The group endures a variety of dangers (from poisonous fog to killer monkeys) as various tributes die. When the group’s plan to knock out the arena’s force fields goes awry, Katniss shoots an arrow into the force field and destroys it herself. Amid the ensuing chaos, a hovercraft appears and removes her from the Games. She soon passes out.

When she wakes, Katniss discovers there was a plan to overthrow the Hunger Games, which Haymitch and many of the tributes (including her allies) knew about but Katniss and Peeta did not. Katniss learns that Peeta was captured by the Capitol and that she is being sent to District 13 while most of Panem’s districts are in full-scale rebellion. She falls into deep despair when she hears about Peeta’s dire fate. As the book ends, Gale appears and tells Katniss that, though he rescued her mother and sister, District 12 has been destroyed.

Key words and people to know

  • Avox: a rebel who has his or her tongue removed and is forced to work in the Capitol
  • Cinna: Katniss’ stylist and friend from The Hunger Games; in Catching Fire, she watches him get beaten by Peacekeepers just before the Hunger Games begin
  • Darius: a friendly former Peacekeeper of District 12 who has been turned into an Avox
  • The Hob: District 12’s black market, first introduced in The Hunger Games
  • Finnick Odair: an exceptionally good-looking tribute who quickly allies with Katniss
  • Johanna Mason: an aggressive and often shocking tribute who grudgingly allies with Katniss
  • Plutarch Heavensbee: the Head Gamemaker and a secret member of the resistance
  • Wiress and Beetee: two quirky tributes who also ally with Katniss; Beetee has extraordinary tech abilities

Engage Your Readers: Book Discussion Questions

  • Why did President Snow personally visit Katniss to threaten her when he knew all along she would fail to meet his expectations? Why do you think his breath smells of blood?
  • Why won’t Gale leave with Katniss once he hears about the rebellion? Do you agree with his decision?
  • Do you think Katniss would have fled Panem like she planned?
  • How did learning about Haymitch’s experiences in his own Hunger Games change your understanding of him?
  • Which tributes in the 75th Hunger Games were your favorites?
  • What did you think of Finnick and Johanna? How are both not like they seemed in training? Did they surprise you?
  • Should Haymitch have told Katniss and Peeta about the rebellion?
  • Katniss says, “No wonder I won the Hunger Games. No decent person does.” Do you agree with her? Is Katniss a “decent” person or not?
  • Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale? Why? Do you think Katniss feels the same way?
  • Why is the mockingjay so important to the rebellion? How is Katniss like the mockingjay?
  • Why do you think this book was called Catching Fire?
  • If you were chosen to fight in the Hunger Games, what would your strategy for survival be?

Impress Your Readers: Hunger Games Trivia

  • Panem’s Hunger Games were inspired by the ancient Greek story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Katniss is modeled on the historic Roman figure of Spartacus, a slave-turned-gladiator who eventually led a rebellion against an oppressive government.
  • The Hunger Games shares some striking similarities with a Japanese novel-turned-movie, Battle Royale. In both stories, teens are forced by an authoritarian government to participate in a program where they fight each other to the death.
  • Author Suzanne Collins began her career by writing for children’s television. She worked on several Nickelodeon shows, including Little Bear and Clarissa Explains It All, and was the head writer for Clifford’s Puppy Days.
  • Collins is no stranger to the effects of war. Her grandfather was gassed in World War I, her uncle received shrapnel wounds in World War II, and her own father fought in the Vietnam War.
  • Collins published an autobiographical picture book about the year her father served in Vietnam, called Year of the Jungle. She is currently writing another young adult series.
  • In the movie Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) played another girl who hunted wild animals in order to feed her poverty-stricken family.
  • While horsing around on the set for The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence accidentally kicked Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) in the head, which knocked him to the ground and gave him a concussion.
  • A number of famous actors have joined the cast of Catching Fire, including former child star Jena Malone as Johanna, up-and-coming heartthrob Sam Claflin as Finnick, and Academy Award–winning Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee.

Advise Your Readers: Book Recommendations

Are your patrons looking for more can’t-put-me-down books like Catching Fire? You can find recommendations for both Catching Fire and the entire Hunger Games series in the NoveList database. Download this free PDF of Hunger Games Read-alikes from NoveList now. 

Jennifer Stubben Hatch is a librarian and former staff member at NoveList. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.