Shift by Hugh Howey

Shift was an alright prequel for Hugh Howey’s first book in the Wool series, but was possibly a bit too muddled to be a genuinely good book. I found myself spending more time being confused about the overly complicated storyline or being anxious on behalf of the somewhat bland characters Howey developed instead of actually enjoying the book. While I was hoping that the series would improve from the first book to the second, it may have actually gotten worse.

And part of that is due to an unwelcome surprise at the beginning of the book. A large part of the blame for the end of the world was placed on the shoulders of Muslims. Scary Muslim terrorists in the Middle East were busy developing weapons of war that would go on to threaten humanity. They used our amazing life-saving medical advances against us. How evil! The irony that white American senators were the ones to actually push the button was somewhat lost in the process. 

To be honest, it just felt unnecessary to me. A few of the science fiction books I’ve read the last few years include too many references to Muslims being the bad guys. The assumption that Islamic terrorists will end the world feels overdone and racist. I’d like a little bit better than that. I would have enjoyed an unnamed threat more and this left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the series.

A question I also found myself asking a lot was how they maintained the silos in general, particularly maintaining communications between silos. How would they upkeep communication satellites when they can’t leave their underground bunkers? Were there physical lines between each silo and, if so, how would those be maintained? I feel like Howey missed a lot of chances to discuss the logistics of the silos. Focusing too much on plot and not enough on logistics was to the detriment of the overall story. I wanted to feel as if these massive underground bunkers were real instead of implausible. Donald’s involvement in their overall build was a great chance to go into detail about how the silos worked and Howey completely missed the chance. 

More than that, I also didn’t understand how Silo 1 specifically operated. In other silos, people are sent out yearly to perform cleanings. It’s a punishment for rebellious ideas, but it cleans the very important sensors outside of the silo. But Silo 1 doesn’t seem to have the same type of breeding program (“lottery system”) as other silos do. Each death has significance. People can’t easily be replaced by new life. How do they send someone out to clean the sensors?

Part of me feels like cleaning the sensors must be an illusion. It must not be necessary. Cleaning them might just be a way for the mayors of other silos to get rid of unwanted ideas. It’s a punishment and an exercise in power all at once. However, another part of me just thinks that Silo 1 has suits that actually work and people whose actual job is to go out and clean the sensors. Who knows? 

It’s hard to be sure about anything during this series especially when the things we do learn are somewhat confusing. The juxtaposition between the various storylines was particularly confusing for me. Normally I like books that switch back and forth from different perspectives, and even different timelines, but it was a bit confusing during Shift. The transitions weren’t as clean as I would like them to be. The storylines seemed to blend together too much and the characters weren’t as different as I’d like them to be.

Not to say they were completely the same. Perhaps it was the overly anxious and claustrophobic tones of Shift that caused each character to blend together too much. I found myself feeling depressed for Donald, Tony, and Jimmy even as I grew to care less and less about them individually. Learning about Jimmy’s endless loneliness was particularly painful. I can’t imagine a year alone. Can you imagine decades?

Other important philosophical questions were also lost in the overly complicated storyline. While usually I love asking myself big questions, all of the questions Shift made me ask started to feel redundant. For example, the book beats into the ground this whole concept of what is worth giving up in order to save humanity. Is it worth losing onto our morals to keep humanity alive? Is it worth killing off half of the world? Is it worth having to survive on a molotov cocktail of pills? Is it worth spending decades in a bunker? Is it worth losing our collective memory? Is it worth faking our entire history? Normally, I’d be all about questions like these, but after reading this book I just want to yawn. How often can we beat a dead horse? As often as we’d like, but it doesn’t sound great. 

I almost think that the series would be improved if everything had been faked. The world had never ended. The only toxic thing that kept everyone locked inside was the nuclear waste that had been poured overtop of the silos. Countries outside of the silos still existed and operated. They left the silos alone – a safeguard for if the world were ever in danger again. The silos would be something similar to a seed vault, a place to store seeds for the end of the world, except for the fact that they’re storing human lives just in case. 

The biggest plot twist could be that all these other plot twists were utterly unnecessary. I’d like that. Shift has too much going on for me to grasp. It’s the type of book that I think you have to read multiple times in order to truly understand. Maybe at the end of the series, I’ll take a break for a while and then go back and read it all again. I don’t know if it would be worth it, but I do feel like I’m missing something important. I will read the third book, Dust, because why not, but I don’t know if I’m optimistic enough to hope for better. I didn’t enjoy Shift as much as I would like to and this is really disappointing to me. It had good bones, but, once again, I need more flesh. 

Back of the Book Description (Amazon.com)

In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened. This is the second volume in the New York Times best-selling Wool series.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 12 – 14)

Honestly, I don’t have a ton to say during this intro. I’ve covered a lot of my broad topics and I’m having a major brain fart about what to bring up. I guess the main thing I found myself thinking about during these chapters is our own future. What does the future have in store for us? What will the world look like in a hundred years? I hope it will be much, much different from the world in The Hunger Games series.

But will it?

I think a lot of that depends on us. The world could look like Panem if we let some of our worst characteristics take over. If we fail to acknowledge real modern-day problems as problems, we might be more like them than we know. I’ll cover that thought more though, particularly during my thoughts about chapter twelve.

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.
Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, in the chapter that they are covering.

Chapter Twelve Thoughts

As always, when Katniss is describing people dying of starvation in District 12, I always find it shocking. It’s hard to imagine a future where people still don’t have enough food to eat. Right now, we produce more than enough food to feed the world. More people die from eating too much than eating too little. I usually only picture a world where everyone has full bellies. The Hunger Games series reflects a very, very, very different future for the world. The majority of the population lives on the edge of starvation. 

But that isn’t necessarily unbelievable either. In fact, it might be more realistic than my picturesque imaginings of a better world. Thinking about the consequences of global warming by itself, starvation may be closer than anyone wants to admit. My illusion that we are on the edge of solving world hunger might be just that – an illusion. We could all starve if we don’t solve real problems that could harm our ability to produce food. 

And perhaps that’s why Panem exists in general. I don’t really know the background story for Panem. What happened to cause its creation? Why did the United States of America fall? Who hurt Canada? Does Collins ever mention it during the series? Why did Panem form to begin with? Was it famine? Or war? Or just time? 

When I Google it (thanks Google, the bare bones explanation suggests that it was a mix of ecological disasters and global conflicts. Out of the ashes of fallen nations arose a new nation, a different nation. Panem. A complete totalitarian wreck of a nation if you ask me. 

In a manner of speaking, I did enjoy this super basic explanation about how the United States of America and Canada fell. It felt like almost anything could happen. The problems we ignore today could be the reason our country falls tomorrow. The lack of details made the fall of these two nations come across as more believable. 

However, that being said, I really wouldn’t mind a future series from the perspective of someone who lived through the fall of the US and Canada. What was it like to be alive while the world changed? What happened to other countries? Is Panem the last man standing?

Although I’ve got to say I’m way more excited to read A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes than I would be a book before the time of Panem. Learning about President Snow from his perspective sounds thrilling. I’m so excited to read it! I’ve just barely been able to stop myself from taking sneak peaks at it. Does he know he’s the evil villain? Or does he think he’s the good guy? How can I resist diving straight in and finding out?

Rereading this series beforehand is awesome, but still painful when I want to read Collin’s new book so badly. Katniss’s story is nothing to shake your finger at, but I’ve read it a dozen times. Of course, her theatrical marriage to Peeta always interested me. Reading about her prepping for it during this chapter always entertain. It’s almost a shame we don’t get to see it happen. Even just hearing about her beautiful dresses was awesome. 

And yet, I still find new things to be surprised about during each reread of this series. The fact that President Snow continues the facade of Katniss’s marriage right up until the last minute always shocks me. Even as district after district rises up in rebellion, he insists on continuing the show. It seems like a drain on already limited resources and a poorly done one at that. While people like Flavius, Octavia, and Venia might be convinced by it, anyone with brain cells won’t. The growing discontent in the districts was obvious throughout Katniss and Peeta’s Victory Tour. 

That is perhaps my only source of discontent with this series, however. I just don’t find President Snow’s handling of the uprising situation to be believable. He is too smart to be so completely overwhelmed by rebellion. I don’t think he would be stupid enough to underestimate his entire country. I understand him underestimating Katniss, a teenage girl, but the entire country? No. A couple of correct steps could have prevented this all from happening. 

It is also insane to imagine he allowed such a weak system to continue unaltered throughout his reign as President. President Snow knew the entire time he was in office that the country existed as a fine tuned balancing act. The success of the nation depended entirely on keeping everyone in line. And he knew that. He knew that if the districts rebelled, all at once, he would have little power to stop them. 

And yet he did nothing to prevent it. Instead, President Snow made conditions worse and gave people more of a reason to rebel. It’s stupid.

It’s a small thing to find annoying if you consider the larger series though. Plus, it couldn’t easily be remedied without changing the entire series. You can’t have a rebellion without a broken system. Where is The Hunger Games without rebellion? Probably on the book shelf, ignored.

Hearing about the rebellion in other districts on behalf of a citizen of the smallest, arguably weakest district also adds to the atmosphere. Katniss really has such little power to fight for or against the rebellion. Everyone in District 12 would need to rise up against the Capitol or it would mean nothing. Her influence in Panem is limited by the size of her very small district. She can’t really influence the rebellions in any way. 

In part, maybe the shots of Katniss’s wedding gowns were supposed to help discourage rebellion. Maybe President Snow thought if he showed the world a tamed Mockingjay, they’d stop rebelling against him. I think for the most part her dresses were for the sake of the Capitol though. He wanted to distract them from the decreasing availability of luxury products. We don’t want a rebellion in the Capitol, after all. 

But when you consider that in conjunction with President Snow’s next announcement, the entire idea seems ludicrous. Why would you promise the Capitol a beautiful wedding just to immediately take it away? You’d think that that would create some type of resentment for President Snow. People would want to see Katniss and Peeta get married. His announcement that he would be sending previous victors of the Hunger Games into the arena for the Quarter Quell is just idiotic, especially considering it happened moments after showing the whole nation Katniss’s wedding dress. It’s not like the announcement was a surprise for Snow. It was probably his idea. 

It just seems so pointless to me. 

Why send Katniss back into the arena? How is that supposed to discourage rebellion? By making things worse for the people at home? Pfft. It’s a stupid idea, President Snow.

Chapter Thirteen

Katniss’s shock at the idea of being sent back into the arena is a very real, tangible thing. The description of how shefeles really resonates with me. The horror, the fear, the shock… It’s all very well described to us. And it make me outraged on her behalf. 

How could President Snow do this to her? Because she managed to survive his brutal games? Because the country is rising up against him? How can you treat the lives of your people as completely worthless? Katniss’s life is a bargaining chip, a tool to use against the districts to try to stop the rebellions. It is meaningless to him. How can a person be so evil?

And how can the Capitol just allow this to happen? The tributes may be children, but they’re not real to the people of Panem. They’re just tributes, not people. The victors are. They’ve gotten to know and to love their victors. How can they allow them to be slaughtered? They aren’t just names to the people of Panem anymore. They have faces, stories, families. The Capitol has years to get to know them. 

Plus, like I’ve said many times, this move always come across as stupid to me. Punishing the districts for rebelling obviously wasn’t working. More were rising up. More people were getting angry. Why does Snow think that this final offense would be enough to make the districts stand down? It is so naive. I don’t think that kicking people while they’re downtrodden will make them more content with their lives. 

You have to give the people some amount of hope. They need a reason to stay alive. Even in the most classic dystopic novels, the horribly corrupt and overly controlling governments usually give the people something to live for. Panem isn’t offering much. They just make things worse.

From Katniss’s perspective, I can understand how this move would have looked effective though. As a teenager I thought her death would solve all of Snow’s problems. As an adult, I think it’s the only real flaw in an otherwise amazing series. It’s just too harsh in a universe that is already too harsh and too cruel towards its citizens. It doesn’t make sense through a logical, would-this-happen-in-real-life lense, or through the lense of what other dystopian universes do to prevent uprisings. Of course, any other dystopian world would have some widespread form of mind control already implemented. 

All jokes aside, this one section of the book just doesn’t sit right with me anymore.

It’s completely made up for by the next section though. When Katniss realizes that it’s not only her entering the arena, but also Haymitch or Peeta, my sense of horror is renewed. How can the President expect her to kill one of them? How can she decide who would be better to enter the arena with? Who can she live without? I’m not surprised when the answer is Haymitch. Peeta is a part of Katniss. She loves him, even when she won’t admit it. Losing Haymitch would be dreadful, but it would never compare to the pain of losing Peeta.

Her deal with Haymitch to keep Peeta alive if they both enter the games does always surprise me a little bit. One of Katniss’s defining traits is her own sense of self preservation. She wants to live. Of course, her selflessness and bravery does tend to get in the way of that. Volunteering for the games to begin with was a direct violation of her own desire to survive. But it’s still crazy to think that she would die for Peeta and yet still doesn’t fully realize that she loves him.

It would be worse to be Haymitch right now though. Katniss might lose Peeta, but Haymitch might lose twenty three of his friends. He has had years to get to know the other victors. Katniss and Peeta only know each other. Can you imagine so many of your friends being killed all at once? 

However, I do think it’s naive of Katniss to think that saving Peeta’s life in the arena is the only real spark for the subsequent rebellion against the Capitol. I think that animosity had been brewing in the districts for decades. If she hadn’t been the spark for it all to happen, something else would have been. The Capitol wasn’t giving the districts enough reason not to rebel. In some districts, things couldn’t have possibly gotten worse.

Chapter Fourteen

Sometimes I wonder why Prim and Katniss’s mother never asked her to try to survive the Quarter Quell. Did they know that she planned to die in exchange for Peeta’s life? They had to have. Prim asked her to try to win during the first games. Neither of them asked during this one.

In a way, I feel like that’s an oversight on Collins’ behalf. I think someone should have asked Katniss to try to live. Peeta may be her great love, but he’s also her first love – publicly at least. Is it really worth dying on behalf of your first love? This isn’t Romeo and Juliet. Her mother should have begged her to try to live. She wouldn’t have viewed Peeta as worth losing her daughter.

It is absolutely sickening that the Capitol finds good sport in all of this sadness. Even their sorrow at the fate of Katniss and Peeta, the “star-crossed lovers,” is misplaced by their excitement over the games. One broadcaster even says that they will be the best ever. These are people that they have gotten to know. How can they bear it? It would feel like losing a friend.

I bet that many can’t. I bet that many people, even people who live in the Capitol, are positively outraged. I still can’t believe that President Snow thought that this was the best move. I’ll try to stop repeating myself. 

When Katniss and Peeta begin to watch Haymitch’s game, I get a little shiver of excitement besides myself. Imagining how he won is brutal on the heart, but so interesting in the brain. How could Haymitch possibly win a game? He is so beaten down by life. 

Learning about his victory, though, always gives me a new sense of appreciation for Haymitch. He is so overwhelmingly clever. I’ve always wanted to know how he figured out that everything in his arena was poisonous. Did he refuse to trust the dreamlike surroundings of his game? What told him to be wary of it all? 

And his idea to use the edge of the arena against other contestants is pure genius. No wonder Gamemakers discourage tributes from getting too close to the edge of the arena now. Haymitch used their own design against them. He made them look stupid.

And then he made them look merciless, kind of similar to Katniss. His refusal to leave his ally alone to die is heartbreaking. Haymitch’s persona in the game was rough and arrogant and rude. But even he showed that other tributes are worth caring about. What makes the tributes of District 12 so different from the tributes of other districts?

Wool by Hugh Howey

The Daily Express described Wool as “one of dystopian fiction’s masterpieces alongside the likes of 1984 and Brave New World.” Personally, I wouldn’t go that far. 1984 and Brave New World both pushed the boundaries of dystopic fiction. They expressed new ideas, had amazing writing, and felt believable. I was completely immersed in their storylines from the very first page to the very last. Plus, their ideas were more concise. The authors knew exactly what they wanted to say and they said it with style, finesse. 

And, while I’m not saying Wool wasn’t a good book with some insanely thought provoking scenes and interesting background story… it just wasn’t enough to compare. Dystopic fictions are meant to push our boundaries. They’re meant to make us question our society and even ourselves. How bad will the world get if we let it? The world of Wool just wasn’t bad enough for me. The limits the characters pushed didn’t come across as shocking or awful. Comparing Wool to the classics just doesn’t work for me. 

It especially doesn’t work because Wool is just too upbeat to be one of the classics. Classic dystopic literature doesn’t come across as overwhelmingly positive. There aren’t happy endings. There aren’t even endings that are remotely close to happy. More often than not, whoever the corrupt villain is in the story wins. And I love that. I would classify anything outside of that as too disjointed and different to be classic dystopia. At most, I would say it’s modern dystopic fiction. 

Beyond that, Wool wasn’t as believable as other fics. It required a strong dispension of belief in order for you to really enjoy it. For example, I couldn’t believe that the long-lived mayor of the silo knew so little about how the actual silo ran. There are 144 floors and they really only knew the bare basics about most of them. How could they run a society that they know nothing about? It didn’t feel well thought out. 

It also felt like it was missing an element of mind control or propaganda. I understood a lot of the system on how the silo worked and ran was based on keeping people separated, but that, again, wasn’t enough for me. Most dystopic fiction requires some way to manage citizens. How do you keep them under your control? Keeping them separated will never have the same effect as forcing endless propaganda down their throat or establishing some style of firm control over them. Considering the resources IT was given, I was surprised that they hadn’t established a way to listen in to all of their citizens. Monitoring their emails and private communications obviously wasn’t enough. 

Not to say, again, that I didn’t enjoy the book. I enjoyed the characters and the storyline, again, was interesting enough. I just couldn’t believe the story. I wanted more from it than what I got. There are thankfully other books in the series. I started the second book today and I am sincerely hoping for more development. The bones of this book are good. I need more flesh. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

The first book in the acclaimed, New York Times best-selling trilogy, Wool is the story of mankind clawing for survival. The world outside has grown toxic, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. The remnants of humanity live underground in a single silo. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they want: They are allowed to go outside. 

After the previous sheriff leaves the silo in a terrifying ritual, Juliette, a mechanic from the down deep, is suddenly and inexplicably promoted to the head of law enforcement. With newfound power and with little regard for the customs she is supposed to abide, Juliette uncovers hints of a sinister conspiracy. Tugging this thread may uncover the truth … or it could kill every last human alive.

Find Layla by Meg Elison

Let me tell you: it’s been one of those days. Every time I’ve sat down to write this review, the phone has rang. I didn’t think I could get so many calls in one day! My throat is actually sore from how much talking I’ve done. And to be honest… the entire time I was talking I was thinking about this book. Find Layla really packed a punch. I read it Friday night and I’m still thinking about it today. 

It was just a really good book.

And that surprised me. Most kindle unlimited books aren’t bad per say. They’re just not usually anything to write home about. Or, vice verse, they’re a popular book that everyone has already read. Find Layla didn’t fit into either of these categories. It was a genuinely moving story about a teenage girl facing real problems about abuse, abandonment, and love. 

Personally, this story felt almost too real for me. As someone who also had a mother who struggled with mental health issues, I really related to Layla. Even her experiences with CPS resonated with me. While I had never been actually absorbed into the system, I understand being scared of being a part of it. What will people I don’t know do with me when the people who were supposed to love me don’t? It’s a hard question, especially for a teenager. 

Disclaimer: Find Layla doesn’t promise the reader an easy answer to that question. It doesn’t promise you something you’ll like. But it is a good book and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It gives you insight into a system and a lifestyle a lot of people never have to live. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

A neglected girl’s chaotic coming-of-age becomes a trending new hashtag in a novel about growing up and getting away by an award-winning author.

Underprivileged and keenly self-aware, SoCal fourteen-year-old Layla Bailey isn’t used to being noticed. Except by mean girls who tweet about her ragged appearance. All she wants to do is indulge in her love of science, protect her vulnerable younger brother, and steer clear of her unstable mother.

Then a school competition calls for a biome. Layla chooses her own home, a hostile ecosystem of indoor fungi and secret shame. With a borrowed video camera, she captures it all. The mushrooms growing in her brother’s dresser. The black mold blooming up the apartment walls. The unmentionable things living in the dead fridge. All the inevitable exotic toxins that are Layla’s life. Then the video goes viral.

When Child Protective Services comes to call, Layla loses her family and her home. Defiant, she must face her bullies and friends alike, on her own. Unafraid at last of being seen, Layla accepts the mortifying reality of visibility. Now she has to figure out how to stay whole and stand behind the truth she has shown the world.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 10 – 11)

It’s hard to choose what to focus on while reading Catching Fire. So much is happening in such few pages. Should you focus on the budding rebellion? The complicated love story? The details of day-to-day survival? It’s hard to decide. 

In a way, that makes this book that much better to reread. Each time you read it, you find yourself catching new details and analyzing new things. During these chapters, I was newly surprised by something as simple as what plays on tv. Do they really have so few options?

That really makes me wonder what people in the Capitol do to pass their time. I always thought of them as an entertainment district so to speak. They make clothes and hairstyles. They throw parties. I kind of thought they made television shows as well. Apparently not though. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, in the chapter that they are covering. 

Chapter Ten Thoughts

When Katniss enters the forest at the end of the previous chapter, she encounters a woman dressed in a white Peacekeeper uniform. The woman is out of place. She stands out against the backdrop of forest ground. When Katniss aims her bow at the woman, the woman shows her a cracker with Katniss’s mockingjay stamped inside the center of it. At the beginning of chapter ten, the unknown woman explains that the stamp means she is on Katniss’s side. 

She, and a young girl who emerges from a cabin in the forest, explains that they’re on their way to District 13, the district that was supposedly destroyed in the rebellion that caused the Hunger Games to be created in punishment. They tell Katniss that they believe District 13 still exists because the Capitol replays the same footage every year about it being destroyed. Ironically, a mockingjay in the right corner is what clued them in. It’s always there. 

They also explain the details behind the uprisings in District 8. Katniss had only heard vague stories about them prior. They tell Katniss that discontent in the district had been growing since the previous Hunger Games and that her actions during the games inspired people to take action against the Capitol, instead of just talking about how much they hate their lives. The people of District 8 rehearsed their rebellion while Katniss visited District 8 during the Victor’s Tour. They began rebelling the day Katniss announced her engagement to Peeta, using the live broadcast as an excuse to be in public spaces. 

Can you imagine hearing that your actions have caused a full-out rebellion against the government? One small choice, thousands dead. It sounds especially stressful if you consider the fact that the forest is supposed to be Katniss’s safe place. It is her escape from the stress of Panem and the games. Personally, I would be utterly overwhelmed. Putting myself in Katniss’s shoes always sounds like too much to me. 

And it gets worse from there.

The women explain how the rebellion in District 8 ends. A flood of Peacekeepers enter District 8. The Capitol even bombs rebellion strongholds. People barely survived and, instead of this being a victory against the Capitol, it turned into a fight to stay alive at all. Instead of winning their freedom, most of District 8 is on lock down for two weeks. Even after the lockdown, the Capitol bombs their own factories where they believe the ideas of dissent emerged. 

It’s hard to imagine a country that is completely willing to bomb its own people. Towards the beginning of this year, I watched a Netflix series about Waco. During the Waco siege, a government agency shot at and killed members of a cult. It is unsure who started firing first, the government or the people inside. Even that turned my stomach completely.

Panem takes that to a new extreme. They kill unarmed, innocent people just to discourage the idea of dissent. They bomb their own cities. They kill thousands. A government that doesn’t know the worth of human life isn’t a government worth having. 

The fact that, in the case of the Capitol, they prioritize luxury goods and high standards of living over the lives of their citizens is especially disgusting. They would rather make sure a certain percentage of the population lives in luxury than make sure everyone is well-fed. No one is equal. 

I completely agree with Katniss when she begins to muse about President Snow treating her like a fool. There is no way that a love story could actually solve the problem of uprising in the districts. Like I’ve said before, people aren’t upset that her and Peeta survived. Resentment had been building up for a long, long time. 

However, I don’t think she fully understands the point of the wedding. While it will definitely help distract people in the Capitol, I don’t think that is it’s only purpose. It will also create a divide between her and the people in the districts. President Snow’s hope is that if he shows the nation how well she’s living in comparison to them, they’ll resent her too and maybe step away from the idea of rebelling. 

Chapter Eleven Thoughts

When Katniss goes to leave the woods and return home, she finds that the fence has been electrified. She wonders if it was intentional. Did Thread, the new Head Peacekeeper of District 12, want an excuse to arrest her? Or is it just to make his rule of the district more strict? How will she get back inside? And how did they know she had left for the woods to begin with? The timing of when electricity was restored to the fence couldn’t be a complete coincidence. 

I don’t know if I agree with her idea that there are cameras built into the districts, though. If there were, the Capitol would have found out about the possibility of an uprising in 8 long before they did. I also don’t think it would be worth the investment to stock a poor, underdeveloped district with a ton of cameras. 

I do, however, think that there might be cameras locked onto Katniss at all times. Considering Panem’s technological feats, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were constantly tracked by hard to detect cameras. They could be as small as a speck of dust in the air. How else would President Snow have learned about Gale and her kissing, deep in the forest? Is anyone brave enough, or sneaky enough, to follow two well-trained hunters, completely undetected?

When Katniss arrives home, our suspicions are confirmed. Peacekeepers are waiting for her to arrive. They knew she had entered the woods. Someone must have been watching her. However, it’s not confirmed how. I still doubt the fact that a spy could be following Katniss 24/7 undetected. Cameras feel more likely.

Which makes me wonder about what would have happened had Katniss really tried to leave District 12. Would they have been detected instantly? Perhaps it’s a good thing Gale wasn’t into the idea of leaving. They all would have been punished as traitors to the nation, assuredly in some type of sadistic and cruel way.

Can you imagine how stressful it would be, though, waiting for Katniss to return? Peeta and Haymitch were also in the home when Katniss arrived. No one had any real idea of where Katniss went. She didn’t tell her mother. The dread of having to sit there and wait for hours must have been absolutely dreadful. 

What’s also dreadful is what the Capitol considers appropriate television. It seems like their only forms of entertainment are propaganda clips for the Capitol and clips from previous Hunger Games. Any other type of television show seems nonexistent. Perhaps they want to avoid the creation of celebrities. If they share power with famous people, they’ll have less of a monopoly on power. 

However, that may be stupid on their behalf. They make tributes the only type of celebrity there is, giving people who suffer in the districts and under the abuse of the Capitol the only other type of power people of Panem have: fame. Everyone knows and loves their victors. Is it a mistake to give power to people you’ve hurt? Obviously so. If they didn’t give victors so much power, they may have avoided the rebellion.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 7 – 9)

Sometimes I find myself wondering what characters from books would be like if you met them in our world. Would they be the same people in their hearts if they didn’t have to go through whatever they go through that’s interesting enough to write a book about? Who are they if they don’t have to live their lives?

I ask myself that question a lot during Catching Fire. Who would Katniss be if she wasn’t raised in Panem? What would her character traits be? Would she still be as strong and as passionate as she is during The Hunger Games series? How much does the world around her shape her personality?

That exact line of questions is probably the reason why fan-fics are so popular amongst readers. They want to know what their favorite characters would look like if they lived lives more similar to their own. I’ve never really been able to get into fan fiction though. The characters I love so much seem unrecognizable when I read about them in different storylines. Their story is an integral part of who they are. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, in the chapter that they are covering. 

Chapter Seven Thoughts

To be honest, I wish we learned more about Madge sometime during this series. The information we get about her just isn’t enough. Her relationship with Katniss allows the reader to take a tiny glance at how the other part (the more well off part) of District 12 lives. Compared to the starvation and constant neglect most citizens of District 12 experience, Madge’s life almost seems like a life of luxury and glam. She has enough food to eat and that’s huge.

Of course, compared to the lives of people who live in the Capitol, Madge’s life isn’t glamorous at all. Madge could even still be entered into the game. Her father being mayor doesn’t exempt her from the possibility of having to fight for her life. The divide between the people who are starving in District 12 and those who have food may seem gigantic, but it’s more of an illusion than anything else. They’re all the same in the eyes of the Capitol. Madge is still a citizen of District 12. 

I do wonder, however, if Madge has ever visited the Capitol herself. Do mayors and leaders in the districts sometimes get to take part in the nonstop festivities in the Capitol? Do they get to experience some of the plentiful luxuries available to citizens of the Capitol? Somehow I doubt it. While Madge does seem better educated about the Capitol than others, I think that’s just because her father has access to more information than the average citizen. I don’t foresee anyone in the Capitol wanting the mayor of District 12 at their parties. They consider the people of District 12 to be barbaric and uneducated compared to themselves. I can’t envision Madge or her family in the Capitol itself.

I also wish I knew more about Madge because, in a way, she was the spark behind the entire rebellion. Her gift of the mockingjay pin to Katniss is what inspired Rue to trust Katniss and form an alliance with her. Because of this alliance, and Rue’s close resemblance to Prim, Katniss grew to love Rue. She saw her as a real person, a child, not a threat or just another tribute. She cared about her. Katniss’s treatment of Rue was one of the largest driving factors in starting widespread uprisings against the capital. 

The gift of the mockingjay pin has one of the largest butterfly effects in the series. Every choice we make impacts the world around us. Even small decisions can have huge impacts. Would a rebellion have even started if Madge hadn’t given Katniss her mockingjay pin? I don’t know. For such a small character, and such a small moment, it has huge consequences for the entire series.

And to be even more honest I’d rather focus on Madge than the rest of the chapter. I don’t know why, but I always want to skip over scenes with Gale. His emotions are too intense and feel almost forced to me. It’s almost like he feels like he has to love Katniss. Even now, trying to analyze each chapter, I had to stop myself from skipping over his confession of love. Once I got past a few pages of barely skimming the material, I realized what I was doing and stopped and went back and read. 

But I just don’t even know what to say about it. I’ve never really enjoyed their triangle. It feels too complicated and difficult when Katniss has so many other things to worry about. She’s focused on the uprising of a society; Peeta and Gale are just too much right now. They’re too much for me and I’m just a reader! The poor girl has no time to worry about love when her entire world is on the edge of falling apart.

I don’t really blame Gale and Peeta for that though. It’s easy to forget that they’re all still teenagers. It’s easy to lose track of what’s really important when you’re young. Keeping focus on uprisings and rebellions and nonstop threats sounds impossible. Plus, they’re just not as educated as Katniss is about how dire things are in Panem. She always finds out new information far before anyone else. 

Personally, I can’t imagine being her. She has a lot on her plate. And she doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about this. Her interactions with even Gale and Peeta are so consumed by other concerns, like ill-timed romantic confessions.

And I know a lot of people really enjoy the break from all of the stress Katniss undergoes. The romance is a nice break from all of that. I know a lot of readers really enjoyed the romance part of The Hunger Games and focused more on that than the actual storyline. To me, that felt like a disservice to the book. How can you get distracted by romance when children are getting murdered and citizens are being starved? You’re doing exactly what President Snow wants the people of Panem to do! But I get it. It’s a crazy love story. And I’m Team Peeta… obviously.

I’m also not really a revolutionary. The idea of dying scares me too much. I used to spend hours every night thinking about the fact that we all eventually die and feeling scared about it. That makes it hard for me to relate to Gale. Like Katniss, I’d probably want to vanish into the woods, never to be seen again. While I admire Gale for wanting to stay and fight against a corrupt Capitol, I’d just never want to do the same and I can’t relate to him. We’d all like to say we’re fighters, but I know I’m not. I can relate more to Peeta’s fierce love of people and desire for peace than I can Gale’s passionate pleadings for war.

Somewhat ironically Gale seems to suffer the consequence of his rebelliousness almost immediately. The public whipping in the yard is violent and disturbing, but definitely ironic. Will he still want to fight after being whipped? Without a doubt. They’re just going to make him mad (if he lives…)

Knowing what I do about the series, I know that Gale’s public lashing is a part of a plan on behalf of President Snow to squash the rebellions. He thinks that if he exercises more control over life in the twelve districts, he will prevent future uprisings. People will be too scared or too weak to fight. He thought if a love story couldn’t placate them, strict punishments would. 

Plus, if he carried out this plan while flaunting how happy Peeta and Katniss are, maybe the districts would turn against them. They might not be convinced that they truly love each other, but they could be convinced that they’re living happy lives while everyone else in the twelve districts are suffering. I know he wants to reduce their loyalty to Katniss.

However, I’ve never thought this plan was the smartest way to crush the rebellion. People throughout the twelve districts have never had happy lives. They work hard and have very little food. Their lives are difficult. If you take away what little they had left to them, they’ll just have nothing to lose if they rebel. How much worse can their lives get?

While we don’t get to see the inner workings of this decision during the book as much as we do during the movie version of it, I think the movie had it right. I don’t think this decision was made without outside influence, possibly Plutarch. Whoever told President Snow that punishing the districts was the right way to proceed knew that this would help drive people to rebel. I think it was Plutarch because Plutarch is very, very smart and knows how to work horrible situations to his own benefit. I think he encouraged President Snow to punish the nation so that the nation would rise up against President Snow in rebellion, leaving the seat of leader for himself. He wants power at any cost. Even at the cost of the thousands upon thousands of lives that would be lost during a real rebellion against the leaders of Panem. 

Chapter Eight Thoughts

When Katniss jumps in front of the new Head Peacekeeper during the very beginning of this chapter, she receives a lashing directly to her face. The pain at the strike is unimaginable. It burns. I’ve always wondered if the Peacekeepers laced their whips with something to cause the victim additional pain. It seems unimaginably cruel so I don’t think it’s entirely likely. It could have just hurt Katniss so much because the strike across her face was a head injury.

But what if it was laced with something? I wouldn’t really be surprised by that either. Panem is unimaginably cruel.  Peacekeepers and the Capitol in general have little to no regard for the sanctity of human life. They don’t respect people in the districts as fellow human beings. They don’t care if they die, especially if it serves a purpose. The death of Gale in particular would serve multiple. It would, one, be a reminder not to rebel against the Capitol’s power. Two, it would dishearten and possibly break Katniss.

And yet, it’s all still horrible. Can you imagine whipping someone to death over poaching in a forest that is never used? The Capitol doesn’t care about wild game. They just want to keep the people of Panem starved and weak. Hungry people are easier to control than people with full bellies.

It’s also strange to think that Peacekeepers come from the districts, not from the Capitol. We find this out later in the series, but it’s especially pertinent to this scene. While the new Head Peacekeeper of District 12 may never have experienced the same degree of hunger and need as the people of District 12 have, he should still be capable of feeling sympathy for them. The Capitol still looks down on him. He still isn’t a first class citizen in Panem. He’s a slave. Why does he glorify in hurting people that are just like himself?

From my perspective, he does it so he can feel some level of power. The actions of the Peacekeepers remind me of the Stanford Prison Experiment. People in positions of power will use their power against others just because they can. They will get satisfaction from it. They also look down on people less powerful than themselves, developing an “us versus them” mentality.

 Of course, the police force of Panem does this to an extreme. Even old Cray, the previous Head Peacekeeper, liked to use his power for his own gain. He lured young women into his bed with money, promising them a way to feed their families. I’m sure he then looked down on the women for having to accept his offer. He was a lecherous, disgusting old man. But was he better than the new one who prefers sick and twisted punishments to sexual manipulation? It’s hard to say what’s worse: torture or coercion.

And once again, this series makes me wonder what these Peacekeepers are like outside of their horrible, disgusting storylines. Even the worst character has a background story. Are they always terrible? What would they be like if Panem didn’t give them the power to hurt people?

Chapter Nine Thoughts

Thankfully, the beginning of this chapter takes a departure from me being constantly horrified by Panem. Even when everything is terrible, I absolutely love getting to see Peeta. He is so wholesome.  He is so completely devoted to Katniss and his quiet loyalty really makes this series so much better. He will even protect Gale for her, knowing their confused emotions for each other. I love him. I just love him.

And I want a better world for him. I don’t know what would have happened for him had he developed feelings for Katniss is a normal world, though. Would she ever have had the opportunity to view him in the same way? Or, without the existence of the games, would she never have fully noticed him? Or, worse, thought of him as weak and sheltered?

It’s strange to think that love is partially based on the world around us. Who we choose as partners depends on more than who they are and somewhat relies on when we meet them and what happens while we get to know them. You could love or hate the same person. It all depends on when and how you meet them, what you experience together, and what you yourself are feeling and experiencing as you get to know them.

Another strange thought, I’ve never thought it was inspirational that Katniss was spurred to action by Gale’s whipping. During this entire series, I never really got the urge for her to join the rebellion. I wanted her to be tucked away somewhere safe with her family. I didn’t want her to have to suffer anymore than she already has. I was worried for her, not excited that she wanted to fight against the overwhelming power of the Capitol. 

Does anyone else feel like that sometimes? Like you’d rather your favorite characters be safe than have exciting, dangerous storylines? I get so attached to some characters that I don’t want them to risk getting hurt. I’d rather the storyline and plot be hurt than them.

Towards the end of this chapter, I’ve always been surprised by how willing the Capitol is to treat the people in the districts poorly. They are willing to cause thousands upon thousands of people endless suffering as long as it means they can continue to live in luxury. It’s disgusting. I almost feel like they should have to apprentice in the districts in order to be allowed to continue to live their lives as normal. They obviously have no understanding of real suffering or pain. It should be mandatory for them to learn what they subject other people to. How do they justify starving out entire communities as punishment? 

Of course, I know that part of the reason why District 12 is allowed to starve week after week is because of uprisings in other districts. People are refusing to work. If people don’t work, there won’t be food. But even in that case it feels like the people should have been given something more than rotten leftovers. Did Panem never come up with a back-up plan for food? Plagues and pests can kill crops just as easily as rebellion. I’m surprised that they didn’t have a good amount of food stores.

But that kind of reminds me of the beginning of the coronavirus situation in America. Grocery stores ran out of seemingly everything. I couldn’t find bread or flour, most canned goods, bottled water, toilet paper, or laundry supplies for weeks. I was surprised then that we didn’t have a real emergency plan regarding household supplies and food in the case of catastrophes. Maybe we aren’t so different from Panem as we think. 

Come Closer by Sara Gran

I’m a little late to this party, but that’s not outside the norm for me. Come Closer was written in 2006 by Sara Gran… But I was eight then and not exactly up for reading this crazy intense horror story. Thankfully, I’m a little older and have now corrected the fact that I hadn’t this book.

Because WOW. I devoured it. Come Closer is outstanding. 

The slow descent of Amanda’s mind really got to me. It was scary in the most perfect way – the way that makes you imagine everything that’s happening to her is happening to yourself. Could you be in the same shoes as Amanda? Could you do the horrible things she does? And is it really a demon behind it all? Or is Amanda’s own dark desires? Sara Gran is masterful in the way that she makes even the slowest, most tedious scenes ominous. I personally was completely hooked from the very first page to the very last. 

Plus, something about her writing style just really appealed to me. It was slowly paced and even a bit bare bones. Everything was stated simply as it was. But it helped the book instead of hurting it – a rare thing for this style of writing. I loved the subtlety to drama that occurred throughout each scene. I was always wondering what parts of Amanda were really her and what parts were being influenced by Namaah. Eventually, would the two bleed together into one? Could they ever coexist peacefully or would they always have a tug-and-pull relationship?

Beyond just wondering about the future for Amanda’s story, Come Closer also made me wonder about how much of it is real. Is this really a story of demonic possession or is it just a psychological thriller about a woman’s descent into insanity? Could it be focusing more on the human psyche than on the mythical? I’m dying to know how much was real and how much was fake. A lot of Amanda’s impulses seemed to have come from deep within herself. What if Namaah wasn’t even real? 

Looking at it from either perspective, Come Closer is an amazing book. It may have been an incredibly short novel, but each page held such incredible value. I definitely recommend reading it if you haven’t already. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

“What begins as a sly fable about frustrated desire evolves into a genuinely scary novel about possession and insanity. Hypnotic” (Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho).

A recurrent, unidentifiable noise in her apartment. A memo to her boss that’s replaced by obscene insults. Amanda—a successful architect in a happy marriage—finds her life going off kilter by degrees. She starts smoking again, and one night for no reason, without even the knowledge that she’s doing it, she burns her husband with a cigarette. At night she dreams of a beautiful woman with pointed teeth on the shore of a blood-red sea.

The new voice in Amanda’s head, the one that tells her to steal things and talk to strange men in bars, is strange and frightening, and Amanda struggles to wrest back control of her life. Is she possessed by a demon, or is she simply insane? Described as “a new kind of psychological thriller” by George Pelecanos and “this year’s scariest novel” by Time Out New York, Come Closer has become a modern classic “with a kick that will stay with the reader for days afterward” (The Dallas Morning News).

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 5 – 6)

I’m going to be perfectly honest: I did not feel like reading today. I’ve been feeling super groggy and bloated lately. I think it’s my allergies acting up, but allergy pills make me sleepy so that’s a no go from me. 

Thankfully, though, I was super content once I started reading again. I absolutely love the universe of The Hunger Games. It’s just so well thought out. Plus, I’ve been reading a lot of psychological thrillers and horror stories lately and, while the content of Catching Fire isn’t necessarily light reading material, it’s definitely a nice break from all of that. I spend less time looking for hints and clues at what this book is trying to say and more time appreciating it for what it is. It’s a different writing style and a different reading style.

Similarly, after watching that fiasco of a debate (Biden v. Trump), it’s been interesting to think about The Hunger Games versus real life. The debate felt more like an argument from a reality television show than a debate between two well educated world leaders. In fact, it didn’t really feel like two politicians talking to each other at all. There was no sense of decorum or mutual respect. They didn’t even answer half of the questions. 

It also makes me kind of feel like we’re headed more toward Panem-style policies where governments release more distractions from the real problems than actual information about the real problems. They’d rather make us all hate each other than have us turn our attention on them. They don’t want the people to be educated about what’s really happening in our world. Feeding us misinformation (or lies) is easier. That’s scary. 

Of course, I don’t think we’re exactly going to be feeding children to the frenzy like they do in The Hunger Games. That’s a whole new level of sick and twisted. But it sure doesn’t feel like our world leaders, even our president and ex vice president, really care about anyone. Even kids. They only care about themselves and their own interests. They only care about making the other person look bad.

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, in the chapter that they are covering. 

Chapter Five Thoughts

How does President Snow explain away what just happened in District 11? The recently crowned victors of the Hunger Games, giving speeches and giving away parts of their prize money, saluted by a crowd of rebellious citizens who are then shot and killed… At least the first sections were caught on camera. The whole country saw it happen. How did President Snow spin that to his advantage? Is it possible? 

Personally, I don’t believe that it is. How could the President of Panem use rebellions against Panem to his advantage? Maybe I’m not politically savvy enough to consider all of the various options, though. Of course, I do think he made a mistake right from the beginning. His anger at Katniss and Peeta both surviving the games blinded him from the opportunities they presented to him. He could’ve made himself out as a merciful, kind president. He could have been universally loved instead of despised. 

At the very least, President Snow could have quelled the rebellions in a way that didn’t rely on the performance of a teenage girl in order to succeed. Expecting a grand display of love to placate very real frustrations was just him being willfully blind. How can telling people that Katniss wasn’t acting out of rebelliousness solve their actual problems? They’re not rebelling because Katniss and Peeta survived. They’re rebelling because their people are being maimed and killed, controlled, and starved. President Snow should have shown the people of Panem that he was willing to help them – even to a small degree. Punishing them obviously wasn’t working. 

And it isn’t working for him now either. More than ever I’m noticing how things are spiralling out of control for the leaders of Panem during the beginning of Catching Fire. Katniss is humiliating them without even trying. She is inspiring loyalty from the loyalless, and bravery from the formerly fearful. 

Again, if president Snow was smart, he would have capitalized on this degree of devotion. He would have tried to extend the same sentiments towards himself. Instead, he just treats it like a slight and punishes the entire nation for it. From a marketing standpoint, his treatment of Katniss and the other victors in future chapters is just plain old stupid. He should have bought into a growing trend instead of trying to crush it. 

It’s especially odd considering the fact that President Snow is probably well-read and educated. He likely knows the history of Panem as well as the history of the countries that came before it. Quelling rebellions has never completely worked. Even if they are temporarily delayed, change will eventually happen. Fire is catching.

Of course, I am worried, in real life, that the nature of rebellions and their degree of success may be changing. Like I’ve said in previous posts about this series, advancements in military technology make me worried about how the average citizen can protect their rights. How can we protect our rights if we can’t even protect ourselves? You can’t fight fire with nothing. 

There are real world implications for the offset in power between the people of Panem and the government. Compared to our own society, we have very little we can defend ourselves with. The comparison is not flattering for us. Considering that I tend to read dystopic fiction more than any other genre, that makes me a little bit anxious for how our government treats us and how they will treat us in the future. 

But that’s besides the point. Kind of.

Back to the book! I also find it strange, during this chapter of Catching Fire, how blind Effie is to everything. She is absolutely shocked at the sound of gunfire. She assumed that the guns being fired outside belonged to lunatics, not Peacekeepers. It made me wonder if they allowed citizens of the Capitol to buy guns or if she was just being silly. 

Of course, even if the people of the Capitol could buy guns, what would make her think that someone from the districts could? The people of District 11 can’t even feed themselves. Obviously they don’t have guns. Her thought process is absolutely ridiculous almost to the degree of being offensive. 

However, Effie was also surprised by the level of involvement the Peacekeepers had in daily life. Any interactions between her and them were met with offense and shock. Katniss and Peeta weren’t surprised because Peacekeepers were a normal part of their life. At first, I thought her surprise was due to the fact that there aren’t Peacekeepers in the Capitol, but that didn’t seem right. I remember Peacekeepers being in the Capitol during the first book. 

After thinking about it for a while, I think that this difference in understanding is more due to the fact that interactions between Peacekeepers and citizens of the Capitol have a different vibe than their interactions with people in the districts. There’s a different power exchange. People in the Capitol have rights; people in the districts don’t. 

Even then, it seemed outrageous that Effie was so shocked. She was a trainer for the Hunger Games. This isn’t a peaceful, loving event that rewards compliance. It’s a punishment that kills children to reinforce the power of the Capitol. Did she really think that the people of the twelve districts willingly sent their children to be publicly killed off? There has to be some level of a police force and violence in order to get the general public to comply with such a horrible mandate.

It’s crazy how naive the people of the Capitol are encouraged to be. They don’t understand anything about how hard life is in the districts. Effie’s reactions to these things are almost shameful if you compare her to Katniss. Effie is supposed to be the adult out of the two of them. Katniss is a child. And, yet, Katniss better understands the world around her and how it treats people.

Katniss also better understands the actual people themselves. That could be part of the reason why Panem loves her. She understands their struggles. I’ve never completely forgiven Effie for how she reacted to Katniss and Peeta’s table manners in the first book. She was extremely impressed that they knew how to eat without their hands. She described her previous tributes as savages and looked down on them, even after their brutal deaths. Katniss knew that both of the previous tributes hadn’t had enough food a day in their life. Can you imagine judging a starving child for how they eat?

Honestly, Effie’s behavior really disgusts me. I know she doesn’t get it because she never lived it, but you have to give other people some degree of respect. The fact that she can look on an obviously starved child and pass negative judgements on them is disgusting.

But it isn’t without its realism. The same thing happens all the time in the real world. I was watching a Tik Tok video the other day about a challenge rich kids do. In these videos, they have ten fingers up and they put them down every time they have a privilege someone else does. It’s almost like “never have I ever,” but with things like “put a finger down if you vacation in Aspen every wing” or “put a finger down if your dad bought you a million dollar car at sixteen.” 

For someone who grew up struggling, trends like this really bother me. How can you brag about how much better you have it than everyone else? Do you know that other people, people your age, are really struggling right now? Do you know that millions of people don’t go to bed with enough food in their stomach while you brag about having an expensive car and a paid for life? It’s insane. It’s disrespectful. It’s out of touch. 

Plus, it’s particularly annoying that these same kids probably read The Hunger Games and agreed that Effie was annoying. How can she judge a starving child? But then they turn around and brag about their possessions. How hypocritical can you get?

Anyways, a couple of pages into this chapter, Katniss starts to explain to Peeta the severity of their problems. He had no idea that President Snow had met with her. She explains that the President had threatened her and her family if she didn’t make the entire country, including himself, believe that she loves Peeta. Him giving the tributes of District 11’s families money was a mistake. They need to be trying to quell rebellions, not hand them a torch. 

Her explanation to him and his reaction always, always, always makes me cringe. Can you imagine having to spell it out for someone, word for word, that your affection for them is an act? Or, worse, that you’re being forced into it? Yikes. Considering that Peeta’s feelings for Katniss are real, it must hurt him a lot to hear that. 

Emotional pain, in my opinion, is a very physical thing. It burns straight up the center of my chest. I get dizzy. My wrists and ankles get very, very sore. It’s really weird and really painful. I feel so bad for Peeta that he has to feel that type of pain. I can’t really imagine being in his mind. 

Speaking of, does anyone else wish that Suzanne Collins would rewrite The Hunger Games from Peeta’s perspective? That book would be amazing! Why did we get Midnight Sun from Stephanie Meyer and not a remake of The Hunger Games

I would love it. 

I would also love to hear more about Haymitch’s perspective on things. I adore Haymitch. But everything in his life is always kind of bad. He had to compete in the games during a year where double the normal amount of tributes were involved. He had to spend years training tributes just for them all to die. He had his entire family killed off. Can you imagine being so alone for so long? Haymitch has no one.

No wonder he’s an alcoholic. We’re lucky he’s survived this long.

Chapter Six Thoughts

After Peeta proposes to Katniss during one of their many attempts to convince the nation that they’re genuinely in love, President Snow pays them a visit to congratulate them. During this visit, he communicates to Katniss that she didn’t do enough. The nation isn’t convinced. He isn’t convinced.

But to be honest that’s such BS. What did he expect them to do? The idea of placating an entire nation with a love story is lunacy. The districts are rebelling because of what Panem is doing to them. Katniss may have helped inspire them to rebel, but how did President Snow expect a story to calm them down? They’re angry because they have real problems that haven’t been addressed. Love just isn’t enough. The entire idea was ridiculous. 

I also kind of think that the idea of Katniss and Peeta getting married is ridiculous too. Aren’t they a little bit young to get married? Or do people in the districts really get married at sixteen/seventeen? I thought most citizens were in school until eighteen and then joined the workforce, or sometimes went to school while working until they turned eighteen. I didn’t notice any mentions of young marriages so far. 

It could be normal, though. From what I can tell, the life expectancy in the districts is short. People live in dangerous, horrible conditions and don’t get enough food. I’m sure many people die young. They’d have to marry young as a result.

It’s hard to figure out for sure though.

And this chapter didn’t help me figure it out. A lot of it went into detail about the crazy party President Snow threw in honor of Katniss and Peeta. While he may be a sadistic freak, his parties sound like a great time. I want to try all of the different foods they have. They sound delicious.

However, how the Capitol acts during these parties do really turn me off to them. I don’t think I could handle the idea of throwing up just to keep eating. It is partying to excess and kind of reminds me of the crazy parties from True Blood when the Maenad was around. Children in District 12 starve to death while the people of the Capitol eat too much food and vomit it back up. They force themselves to throw up just so they can eat more.

And if that isn’t a commentary on the excesses of our own society… I don’t know what is. Our own excesses really disgust me at times too. I won’t go into that too much right now though. 

Learning about Katniss’s friendship with Madge always helps to distract me from being fully disgusted with Panem in general. It always made me sad earlier in the series that her only friendship was with Gale. Everyone needs friends. Only having one must be lonely. 

That distraction does get pushed aside by the end of the chapter, however. Katniss hearing about the ongoing uprising always makes my stomach turn. What will President Snow do to her for failing? 

Under the Skin by Michael Faber

Under the Skin started off as extremely ominious. You could tell right from the beginning that something was wrong. Why was Isserley spending hours a day tracking down fit hitchhikers to take home? What did she want from them?

At first I assumed that she was just your run-of-the-mill serial killer. She brought fit hitchhikers home to kill them. She wanted them to be strong and fit so it would really test her skills. Things like her gigantic glasses and breasts were meant to throw them off from the fact that she’s a threat to their life. 

I didn’t predict that she was an alien life form. Obviously, I didn’t read any reviews prior to this or look into the 2013 film based on Under the Skin. While it came out rather quickly that she was, I was still confused by her human form. Why did she look so familiar to all of us? Would an alien really have human-like breasts?

For the most part, I was really enjoying this book. Under the Skin was deeply disturbing, but not for the reasons you’d think. Kidnapping hitchhikers for some nefarious purpose didn’t bother me quite as much as the treatment of Isserley did. I assumed that the hitchhikers died after a few weeks of harsh treatment. Isserley had to live every day with what had been done to her – a complete maiming and transformation of her body. 

Of course, that sentiment only occurred until I was a little over halfway done with the book. The conditions they kept humans in are terrible. The gelding, the mutilation of their tongues, the sheer torture of their existence… no wonder they begged for mercy. 

As the conditions got worse so did the book overall. My former enjoyment of the book quickly degraded into a moderate, and sometimes intense, dislike. Things like Isserley’s rape on behalf of mankind came across as crude and unnecessary. We all know the dangers of hitchhiking, but I didn’t feel like the rape was necessary for the overall story. Her mental state could have simply degraded as she realized that she was signing mankind up for a slow death and consumption. 

I also felt like parts of this book were utterly ridiculous. While I respected the fact that Amliss was shocked at the way “vodsels” were treated and kept before being killed, a lot of his prior assumptions about us felt silly. He was absolutely surprised that mankind was smart enough to communicate with one another. But, if we can’t communicate, how do we explain the existence of cars and planes… or even the clothes that we wear? Obviously there has to be some semblance of intelligence. It just didn’t make a lot of sense.

It also didn’t make a lot of sense that they would just use mankind and Earth as a food source. They live in a world absolutely plagued by the consequences of pollution. The rich and famous spend their lives trapped in luxurious indoor prisons; the poor spend their lives toiling away and dying due to the effects of pollution. Why wouldn’t they want to move to Earth? Or, considering the fact that someone has to know that mankind is intelligent, why wouldn’t they want to set up trade relations? Just eating us doesn’t seem like the right move. We must taste pretty damn good if that’s all they want out of the entire planet. 

All in all, do I recommend it? While I’d love to say yes simply because I enjoyed reading it… I’m not going to. I don’t think it’s really worth the amount of time it took. I’m left with too many plot holes and too many questions. It’s one thing to make me question society; it’s another to make me question the book I’m reading. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

In this haunting, entrancing novel, Michel Faber introduces us to Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. Under the Skin takes us on a heart-thumping ride through dangerous territory—our own moral instincts and the boundaries of compassion.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 3 – 4)

Going back and forth between Iain Reid’s deeply philosophical novels (Foe and I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Catching Fire sounds more difficult than it probably is. These books seem so completely different. But I’m starting to notice a trend in the books I enjoy the most. They all make me question things about my society and myself.

Having just read Foe (twice!) it’s more fresh in my mind during this section of reading Catching Fire. It’s hard to imagine that such distinctly different dystopic worlds both exist in the minds of authors. The things they come up with can be unbelievable! I know they’re written by different authors (duh), but Iain Reid’s got me caught up in pondering the human mind and honestly… the things we can think up are out of this world.

To be honest, I’m constantly blown away by Suzanne Collin’s world. The universe of The Hunger Games series is just so well thought out. Every small detail feels important and realistic. No wonder it’s such a bestseller!

But, of course, I’ve talked about that before. Why don’t we talk about something new?

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, in the chapter that they are covering. 

Chapter Three Thoughts

It’s hard to believe that Katniss thinks it’s going to be difficult to convince people she’s in love with Peeta. Peeta is a very lovable guy. If anything, she should be more worried about not actually falling in love with him. (Ha ha.)

But of course Katniss is more private with her emotions than President Snow would like her to be. Even if she were completely in love with Peeta, it could be hard for her to publicly express that emotion. Katniss is more worried about survival than her feelings. She can come across as combative.

And it must be extra hard to know how to present yourself as in love when no one in your universe focuses on love. It’s not like there’s any stories of great romance in Panem. Katniss and Peeta are utterly unique. All of their popular media focuses more on violence than love. Even familial love or love of your country is deprioritized in comparison to fear, blood, and death. 

I wonder if Katniss has even read about a great romance. Do children in Panem schools learn about love? Do they read Shakespeare? Or do they just learn what they need to know to perform their district’s work? It’s hard to say it’d be worthwhile to teach a miner about classic literature, not if you don’t prioritize them as people and only see them as production quotas.

I find it somewhat strange that President Snow doesn’t see that he could’ve used Katniss and Peeta to his benefit, however. Panem constantly wants to boast the strengths of the Capitol in comparison to the districts. Why do they never boast the mercy of the Capitol? Or the generosity? Fear is a great tool to unite a country. Love is far better. Love prevents rebellions. If he had used this moment properly, the moment where Katniss and Peeta were spared a horrible death, he could have been the most beloved president in Panem history. Instead, he’s the one who ruled during the beginning of the uprisings. A huge mistake on his behalf. 

The timing of the Quarter Quell is perhaps unfortunate for his political career as well. Following Katniss and Peeta’s games, there must be a lot of pressure to make the Quarter Quell exciting. You would almost wish that their games had occurred during a Quarter Quell originally. He could have made the survival of dual victors into something that sounded intentional, not accidental. 

Of course, the way he handles the Quarter Quells is also a mistake. But we’ll get into that later.

When Katniss is getting made over by her stylist team this chapter, I’ve always admired the fact that she understood she may have been more like them had she been raised in the Capitol as well. Compared to people in the districts, people in the Capitol live a life of ease and constant luxury. They’re spoiled. They act in a shallow manner and enjoy the deaths they see take place during the annual Hunger Games. They delight in them, actually. But it’s hard to say you wouldn’t be just like them if you were raised to be exactly like them. 

Thankfully, all these dark thoughts are interrupted by a good amount of comedic relief: Katniss’s talent. The idea of her designing clothes is laughable. Can you imagine her even trying to do so? I think it’d make her downright furious to spend her time doing so.

However, her anger at designing clothes would never compare to how she must have felt being told that she would love Peeta for the rest of her life. She would always be watched. Forever. Can you imagine being forced to love someone? I can’t. I know it happens in the real world, but it sounds next to impossible. Love just can’t be forced. It has to come naturally. Perhaps it can emerge in an arranged relationship, but it doesn’t sound easy.

Chapter Four Thoughts

The idea of Katniss being forced to marry Peeta is one thing. It’s horrible, but not completely awful. Peeta is a super nice genuine person. He loves her. She could do worse.

But the idea that Panem could force her to have children is disgusting to me. Her body should belong to herself. The government shouldn’t be able to take that right from her. It’s disgusting to think about, particularly because women have been reduced to bearing children they don’t want for centuries. Having it happen to Katniss would be dreadful. 

And it would be particularly bad because the Capitol rigs the drawings for the annual Hunger Games so that the children of victors compete more often than not. Katniss and Peeta’s children would be practically guaranteed to have to compete. The child of two victors? Imagine the drama. 

It’s horrible.

Everything about The Hunger Games universe though is awful. I have a particular distaste for the Victory Tour. The idea of flaunting the victor in front of the families of the dead children is so horrible. It must be absolutely traumatizing. It’s even worse that the Capitol forces the family to celebrate the victor’s win. 

Arriving at District 11 is daunting for Katniss and for the reader. Rue was from District 11. How will they react to seeing Katniss, her biggest ally in the games? Will anyone comment on the fact that Thresh spared Katniss’s life? Do they love her? Or do they hate her? The first time I read Catching Fire I was more caught up in being nervous over this event than spending my time looking at any of the small details. 

But now that I’ve read this book so many times it’s the small details that blow me away. District 11 is HUGE compared to District 12. There are thousands of people. Katniss and Peeta had no idea the sheer size of the district. In part, this feels unfair. How can a small district, like 12, be expected to provide the same number of tributes (1) as such a large district? Their children have a far higher chance of being forced into the Hunger Games than a child from another district. But it is also unfair that a larger district requires more direct control from Peacekeepers. They have fewer freedoms than people in a smaller district. Is it worth dying to live with some level of freedom?

Viewing Rue’s family makes me feel like it is. If anything, these are people who deserved to fly free. They don’t deserve to spend their lives in tightly controlled cages, subject to the whims of selfish and cruel people, used as a plot device to control a nation. They are humans. They are a family. They deserve so much better. How can anyone in the Capitol look at them and not think of the injustices they have done?

At least Peeta can. His gift to the families of Rue and Thresh has never been done before. No previous victor has given away part of their earnings. The fact that he wants to give away prize money to anyone, especially anyone outside of his district, is utterly remarkable. 

It’s also exactly what the Capitol discourages. They do not want any signs of unity between the districts. In my opinion, this lack of nationalism is partially to their detriment, but I understand it is meant to dissuade the districts from seeing each other as allies. If everyone is the enemy of everyone else, no one can stand up to the power of Panem. 

Similarly enough, I don’t believe any victor has ever addressed another district like how Katniss did. Has anyone ever shown that they are remorseful over the deaths of other tributes? Has anyone ever thanked another district for their own sacrifices? I don’t think so. The Capitol wants victors to be boastful. They want their victors to rub it in the faces of others that they have won. They don’t want them to show that they’re sad that these deaths occured. 

Probably because it makes them look bad. Definitely because it makes them look bad. Who am I kidding? The Capitol wants to look powerful and strong, not like a bunch of power-crazy jerks who kill kids for the heck of it. 

District 11 giving Katniss the three finger salute gives me chills every single time I read this book. It’s a powerful moment. The idea of giving a victor a very public salute is treasonous, but they all do it anyways. They show her a huge sign of respect and love without fear for the consequences. Considering how harsh their district is, they had to have known the risks. They had to have known what the Peacekeepers would do to them.