Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
It was worth the wait: Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay is the best of the series, and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also one of the most harrowing, gut-wrenching, emotionally devastating books I’ve read–ever.
In my review of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I said that the first book was about survival and the second book was about ideals. This, the final book in the trilogy, is about war. It’s brutal and messy and tragic. Both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire could be quite violent and horrifying at times; Mockingjay makes them look like a Disney movie. (Between that and the emotional whammy the book slammed me with, I found myself having to stop reading frequently to collect myself.) Quite frankly, I was surprised–although pleasantly so–that Scholastic would market such a difficult book to teenagers; honestly, I suspect that if the series wasn’t already a proven commodity, it wouldn’t have been. Katniss survives two Hunger Games–arenas where children fight to the death on national television–with her spirit and sanity intact; in Mockingjay, she is broken over and over again. I think that pretty much sums it up.
In the wake of Katniss’s rebellion in Catching Fire, District 12–her home–is bombed by the Capitol, with 90% of its residents killed. Peeta, Katniss’s partner in the games and potential romantic interest, has been kidnapped by the Capitol, his fate unknown. The uncertainty is killing Katniss, who has been taken to District 13 with the rebels. The rebellion that she triggered in The Hunger Games has now become a full-scale war–something that Collins wisely does not soften for younger readers. There is violence and blood and pain. Beloved characters die. Yes, the Capitol is evil and terrible, but the cost of war, we slowly realize, may be too high.
Katniss, once a pawn for the Capitol’s media engine, finds herself being used yet again–this time, as propaganda for the rebellion. Because of her act of defiance in her first Hunger Games–threatening suicide with Peeta rather than kill him–she has become an important symbol of the rebellion. But it’s a rebellion she never volunteered to be a part of, one she didn’t even realize the full extent of until Catching Fire. But in spite of that, she agrees to become the Mockingjay–so named for a bird the Capitol never intended to exist–and she fights, pushing through enormous grief and pain to avenge those she’s lost.
Her friend–and other potential romantic interest–Gale, is a voluntary–and vital–participant in the rebellion, his first act evacuating people from District 12 before the bombings. He has become angrier, more hardened, by the things he has seen and done. But it is Peeta who undergoes the most dramatic–and devastating–changes. What he goes through in the hands of the Capitol make him almost unrecognizable as the devoted, optimistic boy from the first two books. But that is war. Katniss, Gale, Peeta–none of them can ever be children again after what they go through in Mockingjay–what they had been going through since The Hunger Games, really.
This is a harrowing and tragic book. If you are emotionally invested in the series, as I was, you will probably cry, a lot. Even the kernel of hope provided at the end seems tenuous at best, laced with darkness and the knowledge that the human race always manages to find ways to screw things up. But for Katniss, at least, the journey is over. And after everything she’s been through, she deserves even a thread of optimism.