“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

26 Aug


Suzanne Collins wrapped up her "Hunger Games" trilogy when "Mockingjay" was finally released this past Tuesday. This event ended a VERY long wait for lucky folks like me who scored an advanced copy of "Catching Fire" all the way back at Book Expo in June of 2009. I'm stoked to review the book here, but, really, there is simply no way to provide any comments without revealing key details. In other words, you've been warned.


Ok, that should do it. "Mockingjay" is a fantastic depiction of the unending cruelty of war, graphically showing how violence — even for a "good" cause — not only kills bodies but crushes spirits, breaks hope, and destroys minds, over and over again. If that sounds gloomy, it is. While "Mockingjay" bounds along at the same breakneck pace as the previous books, making one frantically race to the next chapter to discover what happens, it's completely draining on an emotional level. I felt exhausted after nearly 400 pages filled with vivid images of death, violence, cruelty, gore, insanity, and pain. I know, fun, right!

Still, despite that statement, I'd recommend "Mockingjay" in a heartbeat. To understand why, let me dive into some plot description. We open shortly after the stunning end of the Quarter Quell, which closed "Catching Fire." Katniss, alive but gravely injured in mind and body, is being cared for in District 13, the home of the rebel forces. Her beloved District 12 was destroyed by the Capitol, although her mom, little sister Prim, and best friend / hunting partner / potential love interest Gale were all spared. The survivors from the various districts now reside deep in the underground fortress world of 13. We even get to see former victor Finnick, the dashing Neptune-like character from "Catching Fire," who is shattered even worse than Katniss. Heh, this is saying something, since Katniss must periodically remind herself of a few basic facts ("My name is Katniss Everdeen …") lest she become overwhelmed by panic and disorientation.

The rebel army is led by the calculating Coin, with former chief Games Maker Plutarch directing the propaganda campaign. The eccentric victor Beetee and Gale are working in a secret cavern developing technical gadgets and war plans. When Katniss becomes functional, she and Finnick are used by the rebels in a series of promotional spots designed to convey to the districts how strong the Mockingjay — and thus the rebellion itself — is. Much like the arena battles in the first two books, these scenes perfectly show how the public embraces easily digestible packaged messages over real facts and analysis. Brilliant.

As the war wages on, we discover what happened to Peeta, Katniss' fellow District 12 victor, who was taken by the Capitol after the Quarter Quell debacle. President Snow — he of the creepy rose petal breath — and his minions have "hijacked" Peeta, using trackerjacker venom to replace Peeta's memories of Katniss with grotesque, evil distortions. In other words, Peeta's a violent basket case, a mere shell of the gentle boy with the bread, and he wants to kill Katniss. This makes it hard for us readers to relate well to Peeta, since the character we see here is so foreign to us, so distant.

Eventually, a marginally saner Peeta (he has to be handcuffed for everyone's safety!) joins Katniss, Gale, and a few chosen rebels on what's supposed to be nothing more than a promotional appearance in the Capitol. It instead turns into a chaotic chase scene through a Hunger Games-like series of pods leading to gruesome foes, sacrifice, and the deaths of main characters, rebels, Capitol forces, innocent children, and muttations. It's brutal stuff. Unfortunately, much of the action in this book — the fall of districts and the Capitol, the capture of President Snow, etc. — takes place "off camera," so, much like Peeta, these events feel distant and unreal. There is literally no point to Katniss' mad dash through the Capitol, no reason for so much death and horror. Unless that's precisely Collins' point here?

The ending felt quite rushed — we're only told about Katniss' treason trial after the rebels assume control — and Katniss' relationship with Gale, a friendship that spanned years, is reduced to ruins in mere paragraphs. Talk about an anti-climax.

But, honestly, so what? Even fractured, Katniss' voice is as stirring as ever, and Collins creates scores of rich, dynamic worlds here (you can positively FEEL the oppressiveness of District 13's subterranean existence). Yes, it can be unyielding in the brutality of its depictions, but, again, maybe that is the point. This book brought to mind the dystopian, war-savaged England of Meg Rosoff's "How I Live Now," although "Mockingjay" goes even further. It shows us how cycles of war, power, and oppression are constantly revisited upon children, that no one ever seems to learn from the past. In this truth, the book is especially devastating and, for me, like no YA book I've read before. Yet, in its final, emotion-packed pages, it provides the briefest glimmer of hope — maybe for all of us? — in Katniss and Peeta's relationship, in how they rebuild their lives and move forward, broken but alive.

"You love me. Real or not?" I think most readers will read "Mockingjay" and answer, "Real."

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Posted by on August 26, 2010 in Uncategorized


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