If you haven’t read any of The Hunger Games trilogy… stop reading now. This review assumes you have read the first two books. This is the type of trilogy where one story (how one person can change the world and the toll that takes) is told out over three books. And yes…. there will be spoilers.
The Plot: In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen survived the brutal Arena and won the hearts of a nation. In Catching Fire, Katniss was thrown back into the Arena. In Mockingjay, Katniss wonders if she can ever truly be free of the Arena and the Games.
The Good: Mockingjay starts in District 13. Katniss is recovering physically from her battle scars and emotionally from the new-found knowledge that an active rebellion, working with District 13, manipulated her in Catching Fire. Katniss then has to figure out what her role is in the rebellion; yes, the Capitol is corrupt and power hungry and evil in the lengths it will go to maintain its power, but are the rebels and District 13 any better?
When it comes to violence and murder, whether it’s in the Arena or in a rebellion or in a government, is causing injury and death ever acceptable? This, ultimately, is the question Katniss struggles with, over and over, as well as dealing with the consequences of her actions (and inactions). She has caused the deaths of others. What does that make her? Does motivation change what you do? Does it matter if it’s self-defense, survival, war, revenge, or preventing something worse?
At the start of the trilogy, Katniss is a nobody. A poor, powerless teenager from the poorest, least important District, with no powerful connections or family ties. What she has going for her is a strong sense of survival, good instincts, and hunting skills. Because she is so marginalized, it makes sense that she doesn’t have knowledge of national politics. As Katniss learns more of Panem and the Districts, so, too, does the reader. It’s an excellent framing device, and is one used often by authors to give readers backstory and world building without dumping information. It also allows Collins to not address those issues that are beyond Katniss’s knowledge or interest. Yes, politics play a role, as does war strategy, but both are only lightly touched on. This is a good thing, because, frankly, I don’t want to read hundreds of pages on the political parties of Panem or the war rooms of District 13.* I’m content with viewing her world as Katniss does. Gradually, Katniss gains knowledge and works her way into the inner circles of the rebellion. All she learns during her journey, as well as all she was before, combine to create the most important scene in the book: Katniss, a bow and arrow, a choice.
The Hunger Games trilogy is also about media, reality television, and how 24/7 reporting impacts what is being reported. Basically, there is Real Katniss and the Public Katniss, with the later being who the public thinks she is. Public Katniss is a created creature, one dressed up for the spotlight (whether it’s by her prep team for the Arena or for war) but who has a foundation in the real Katniss. Katniss doesn’t act so the public version of her is still her, but it’s the her that is aware of the cameras and public, it’s a her that may be costumed and made up, it’s a partial her that the audience thinks is the complete her. While this is a stunning examination of reality TV (and anyone who thinks they “know” Bethenny or The Situation or Lauren Conrad would be best to think twice about that), the reader shouldn’t simply dismiss it with a “but I don’t watch reality shows” attitude.
In Mockingjay, Collins shows that it’s not just reality shows that manipulate the truth they show, it’s also other shows including news shows and documentaries. Take it a step further and it’s not just what the camera shows, it’s what the viewer wants. Public Katniss is equally a creation of the citizens of Panem and what they want and need: a hero. As I read reviews of Mockingjay that were disappointed in Katniss and the resolution to her story, I wondered which Katniss the reader had in mind, Real Katniss or Public Katniss? For me, the resolution fit perfect with Real Katniss. But Public Katniss, or, rather, the hero the public wanted? The resolution disappoints.
Team Peeta, Team Gale. The Hunger Games is so much more than the two men in Katniss’s life. For the first two books I preferred Peeta, mainly because Peeta was the smartest of the bunch, including Katniss. In Mockingjay, I grow to like and respect Gale more. He becomes a more nuanced person. If before he was Katniss’s best friend, in Mockingjay he becomes the person whose views of war strategy differ from Katniss because Katniss survived the Arena and he didn’t. It’s not that Gale is removed from the horror of death and violence; it’s that he has a much different relationship with it than a victor like Katniss. Peeta not being around for many of the Gale scenes allows for a balance in this perspective. It also allows for someone other than Peeta to be the smart one. Truthfully, at times in the first two books it was a bit annoying how Peeta was not only two steps ahead, but Katniss was two steps behind in terms of what was going on. Without Peeta around, Katniss is forced to grow and become more aware of politics; to become more of a strategist.
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were about survival – ultimately, Mockingjay is also about survival. Surviving not just an event (the Arena, a war) but living with choices made, actions, consequences. This is not some happy go lucky war or caper movie, where the enemy is faceless and the dead bodies that pile up are meaningless. Living with oneself “after” is not something simple, and neither is Katniss’s recovery. I imagine the epilogue will be as controversial as the final chapter of Harry Potter. Like Rowling, Collins uses it to shut down any hope for a sequel for these particular characters. Is it necessary? I think, too often, in books like The Hunger Games, the long term affects of violence and terror aren’t portrayed. Short time frames are used, the books end with characters still teens, and, frankly, it’s not enough time to say, for sure, whether someone is broken or not from their experiences. So, yes, an epilogue is necessary, not to show a “happy ever after” but to show whether or not the main characters truly survive.
Because Mockingjay delivers by completing Katniss’s story, because it takes seriously the impact of violence, and because Peeta may be one of my all time favorite characters, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2010.