Having just finished the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, I think I can safely say that it exceeded my expectations.
Having been warned that the second and third books are not as good as the first, I can see the argument, but I disagree. Where the second book starts is around 6 months after the end of the first, when Katniss has had time to grow used to her life as a Victor and the luxury that entails. Part of that luxury includes the ability to have time to feel. Far from who she was in the first book, the second begins with a Katniss aware of, if not in control of, the most basic of her emotions. She tries to get along with her mother. She feels sorry for people, and tries to help them. She even empathises with her prep team. That's when things start to go sour.
Reading through Catching Fire, I can see why Katniss was who she was in the first book. It made sense, on a basic level, but Ms. Collins has a talent for two very memorable things : making you care about characters, and then hurting them. Unlike many books, movies or games, Katniss and her world constantly surprise me. I appreciate this since, in a story sense, it's usually quite difficult to accomplish. However, when a single-sentence description of the death of a minor character can move me to tears and force me to close the book, there's got to be something more powerful at play.
I hate the Capitol. I hate President Snow. Watching the numerous ways Katniss gets hurt, the cruelty of those events, and knowing the mind that must have spawned them, it's impossible to do anything else. In this, I am completely on Katniss' side, even if she herself doesn't know which side that is. I hope for her victory, even if I seem to have more faith in her abilities, and in the people around her, than she does.
She's distrustful, but having lived in a community where breaking the law is the only way to live, who wouldn't be? She's selfish, but she recognises as much. She's unfeeling, because she saves her energy to care about the people closest to her. She seems constantly surprised that people like her, or want to follow her, and to make all the wrong moves with the best of motives. And when I think about how old she is, all I can think is that she's just a kid. It's extraordinary that she's able to act at all, given the circumstances.
So Katniss has begun her transition into a human being. The power of it lies in the fact that, because she cares about these characters, when she cares about so little else, we do too. The whole situation is so unfair that her fatalism is understandable, even undeniable. But she has the rest of the characters to carry her forward, and Mockingjay is sitting on my bed, waiting. The third act will often make or break a story. I just hope it doesn't break Katniss first.