Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Dystopian, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publication Date: August 2010
Hardcover: 390 Pages
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Hunger Games series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: This final novel in the Hunger Games series is THE most buzzed about YA book of 2010 – of COURSE I was going to read it. I enjoyed The Hunger Games (though felt it was an American, toned-down version of Battle Royale) and was more impressed with the original direction of Catching Fire, so I was hoping for big things from Mockingjay…
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE HUNGER GAMES AND CATCHING FIRE. If you have not read the first two books in this trilogy and want to remain unspoiled, I highly suggest you look away. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.**
After the dramatic breakout from the Arena during the Quarter Quell, Katniss and a few other victor tributes were able to escape from the Capitol’s grasp, and have taken refuge in District 13. At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss, injured during the daring escape from the Arena, awakens to discover that District 12 is a smoldering ruin, that her friends, mentors and allies have been in on a larger rebellion scheme all along – and worst of all, she awakens to learn that Peeta has been captured by the Capitol, suffering a horrific fate Katniss cannot even begin to fathom. Taken to the subversive and very-much-alive District 13, Katniss gradually regains her strength and health and decides to make one of the most important decisions of her life. She agrees to become the Mockingjay; the face of the rebellion against the Capitol. But she soon discovers that being the Mockingjay is more treacherous than she could have imagined, as she’s used as a pawn in an incredibly dangerous, high-stakes power game between President Coin (of District 13) and President Snow. Though she believes in the rebellion and fighting back the capitol, Katniss begins to question Coin’s tactics – freedom, but at what cost?
Mockingjay is beyond doubt one of the most talked about, most highly anticipated YA releases of 2010 – and with that buzz comes incredibly high reader expectations. With high expectations comes, inevitably, some disappointment. For me, though? Mockingjay was everything I thought was missing from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. It wasn’t a perfect book (especially given its tendency towards heavy-handed message-hammering), however, it was a meaningful and resonant one. I don’t think the Hunger Games trilogy could have ended any other way, heartbreaking and cruel though this book may be. I loved it.
First, I do want to take an aside to address something I’ve been seeing in reviews across the blogosphere – that is, the issue of reader expectation versus reality. I cannot grade this book according to what I expected or wished it could have been; I can only analyze what actually has been written. And, as it stands Mockingjay IS a hugely different book than its two predecessors – it is a paradigm shift of the Hunger Games trilogy. For some readers, this shift will be disappointing, but for me, it answered my single biggest problem with the series to date: that is, how The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, while enthralling and action-packed, felt sanitized of true violence, terror or tough decisions. There is “danger” in the arena in these earlier books, but there’s never any question that Katniss or Peeta will make it out of the Arena. Similarly, there was no moral quandary, no meaty ethical questioning that takes place in these two prior books – Katniss and Peeta are time and time again bailed out of actually killing friends or anyone in cold blood (imagine, for example how The Hunger Games would have turned out had Katniss been forced to make a decision to kill Rue or Peeta?). In Mockingjay, Ms. Collins discards this simplistic, lite version of violent dystopian horror and inflicts the most dramatic, traumatizing, heartbreaking stuff she could have possibly done to her characters.
People die (I’m talking MAJOR characters).
People are forced to make hard decisions (A preemptive strike? Inhumane weapons? To punish the Capitol’s children just as those of the Districts have been punished for seventy-five years?).
And I personally have to give kudos to Ms. Collins for this shattering of the picture pretty dystopia-lite facade. In books 1 & 2, Katniss has time to worry about which boy she likes. In Mockingjay? All that has to be pushed aside in order to survive a war in which both sides are equally bloodthirsty and driven to insane, destructive lengths to win. If you were looking for drawn out romantic resolution, Mockingjay will certainly not live up to that expectation. I will say that while I loved this shock of ruthless, cold reality – in which main characters are not protected by some magical author bubble that promises that they will be safe, beautiful and sane forever – I do think that the book will undoubtedly lose some fans that have come to expect the lighter incarnations of THG series (again, this is where reader expectation kicks in).
As for the characters, they go through the grinder in Mockingjay, and understandably, not a one of them comes out unscathed. Katniss, our heroine, is injured so often both physically and emotionally tested, that it’s no surprise that she breaks down in this final book. That doesn’t mean Katniss is weak or a shell of her former self – she is defiant and calculating as ever, but she also is forced to grow into a different person in Mockingjay. Finally, she sees the whole picture and understands her role as a pawn in a larger game – Katniss is a tool, a figurehead to be brandished and thrown away when she gets too dangerous, just as Peeta has been. As this shroud of cluelessness falls from Katniss’s eyes, she finally is able to take control of her life and make her own decisions, right or wrong. This transformation in Mockingjay is a dramatic and painful thing, but one I think Ms. Collins handles perfectly, solidifying Katniss’s place as one of my favorite heroines of current YA. Gale, too, blossoms into a different person, hungry for payback and destruction. But, besides Katniss’s arc, it is Peeta’s that is the most shocking and poignant of the bunch (at least, it is in my opinion). I won’t spoil what exactly happens to these characters, except to say that Peeta finally sees Katniss in a different way, forever altering their relationship. It’s an enormous shift, and one that is unexpected but welcome.
While I did love the gloves coming off, so to speak, and the sharp characterizations, I do think that Mockingjay stumbles in the writing department. Mockingjay is undeniably heavy-handed with it’s very clear Messages – the political metaphor (it’s not even a metaphor; the heinous evilness of war is hammered home into readers’ heads with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer), the reality television critique, how absolute power corrupts absolutely, etc. The writing, too, felt repetitive and needlessly explicit. For example, I loved Katniss’s haunting “Hanging Tree” song, but I hated that Ms. Collins felt the need to explain the song – in Katniss’s voice of course – stanza by stanza. Subtlety. Mockingjay could have used some.
That criticism aside, I think Mockingjay was a fitting, beautifully tragic end to a poignant series. Mockingjay isn’t a book about some girl prancing about amidst a thin veneer of danger – this is a book about brutal, murderous war, and how a girl tries to survive, living with the decisions she has made and the blood on her hands. It is powerful, dark, soul-searching stuff, that though incongruous with the first two books, ultimately is all the more admirable because of its grit and pain. I absolutely recommend Mockingjay – but be aware that this is not a book for the weak of heart. Mockingjay is resonant, powerful, and emotionally exhausting – and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:
I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood. Over there was the kitchen table. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house. How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray?
Almost nothing remains of District 12. A month ago, the Capitol’s firebombs obliterated the poor coal miners’ houses in the Seam, the shops in the town, even the Justice Building. The only area that escaped incineration was the Victor’s Village. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps so anyone forced to come here on Capitol business would have somewhere decent to stay. The odd reporter. A committee assessing the condition of the coal mines. A squad of Peacekeepers checking for returning refugees.
But no one is returning except me. And that’s only for a brief visit. The authorities in District 13 were against my coming back. They viewed it as a costly and pointless venture, given that at least a dozen invisible hovercraft are circling overhead for my protection and there’s no intelligence to be gained. I had to see it, though. So much so that I made it a condition of my cooperating with any of their plans.
Finally, Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker who had organized the rebels in the Capitol, threw up his hands. “Let her go. Better to waste a day than another month. Maybe a little tour of Twelve is just what she needs to convince her we’re on the same side.”
The same side. A pain stabs my left temple and I press my hand against it. Right on the spot where Johanna Mason hit me with the coil of wire. The memories swirl as I try to sort out what is true and what is false. What series of events led me to be standing in the ruins of my city? This is hard because the effects of the concussion she gave me haven’t completely subsided and my thoughts still have a tendency to jumble together. Also, the drugs they use to control my pain and mood sometimes make me see things. I guess. I’m still not entirely convinced that I was hallucinating the night the floor of my hospital room transformed into a carpet of writhing snakes.
I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated. The list begins to roll in my head. . . .
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead. . . .
You can read the full chapter online HERE. Also, you can check out author Suzanne Collins reading chapter one aloud below:
(Is anyone a little weirded out that Katniss has a southern accent in Ms. Collins’ reading? Just me? Nevermind.)
Additional Thoughts: Our current Mockingjay 13 District Blog Tour and Giveaway is still up and running – and is ending tonight at 11:59pm (PST).
If you haven’t yet entered for your chance to win a sweet Mockingjay-embossed iSkin, hurry up before it’s too late!
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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