Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Mockingjay

Suzanne Collins

WARNING: While this summary is spoiler-free for Mockingjay, it is not spoiler-free about the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. So if you haven't gotten a chance to check out The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, you might not want to read ahead.  Also, you should go hunt them down at your local library or bookstore asap! When there are spoilery sections in the review I will warn you :)

SUMMARY: Katniss Everdeen, the now infamous 'girl on fire' and Hunger Games victor, has managed to survive yet another ordeal in the arena.  Rescued from the Quarter Quell by the rebel force, Katniss now finds herself playing a whole different kind of game.  Her home district has been destroyed--firebombed by the Capitol following Katniss' own explosive act of rebellion.  But under the leadership of Gale, her best friend and hunting partner, many residents, including Katniss's mother and beloved sister Prim, have escaped to the rebel stronghold, the mysterious District 13.  So not only do both District 13 and a full-fledged rebel movement exist--the revolution against the Capitol has been underway for a while and it's gaining momentum by the minute.  And this revolution's leadership have rescued Katniss and brought her to District 13 with express purpose of using her popularity and symbolic status to advance their cause.  Of course, no one has consulted Katniss about these careful plans.  Meanwhile, Peeta has been taken by Capitol forces and placed in the hands of cruel President Snow.  The rebels claim that Katniss' participation is crucial to their success.  But is Katniss willing to become a pawn in someone else's game again and take responsibility for the millions of people at risk in the campaign?  Can she become the Mockingjay and withstand the great personal damage and expense that goes with it? 

ONESMARTCUPCAKE SAYS:  I initially read the first and second books in Suzanne Collins' awesome trilogy last spring.  I was a bit belated, I know, but I'll use being out of the country as an excuse.  Anyway, from the first pages of Hunger Games I was totally addicted to these brilliant books.  I have always enjoyed dystopian narratives, from The Giver to Fahrenheit 451 and my interest was immediately peaked by Collins' premise of a future in which the socio-economic gaps have expanded to extremes and the obsession with the media, especially reality television, has become lethal.  The compelling action-packed prose kept me turning the pages and the characters, especially the awesome Katniss Everdeen, had my heart hooked as much as my brain.   But I love the Hunger Games trilogy because it is much more than a good dystopian thriller with a cool heroine; these books attempt to grapple with the very current realities of violence, socio-economic inequality, and war.  Collins' novels explore the ways in which such realities are interconnected and how children and teenagers react to and interact with them.  Now,taking into account all those qualities, it is my opinion that Mockingjay was a superb and fitting conclusion to this excellent series.  

WARNING: It will likely get a little spoilery from here on out. Just so you know. 

Mockingjay continued to do all the wonderful things that the first two books did: it kept a good, quick pace and it delved into Katniss' head with honesty while also managing to provoke ethical and moral questions. But this novel is unique from the others in a variety of awesome ways.  Unlike the first two books, we are no longer in the Hunger Games arena.  Instead, the reader is plunged into the experience of being part of a war effort that is equally saturated in blood and televised propaganda.  But, as Katniss observes several times throughout the narrative, it remains a bizarre game with rules of unclear morality in which many players are merely pawns.  And this concept leads me to one area that I think was handled especially beautifully in the narrative: the lines between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' remain unclear and this ambiguity seems directly connected to both sides willingness to use violence and manipulation to achieve their ends.  In Mockingjay, Collins explores the role media plays in this process in new ways.  The rebels choose to use Katniss in televised propaganda in order to advance their cause and maintain support among the districts. Katniss soon realizes that she has been transformed from a person into a symbol, and it is the double-edged sword of this process and its effects on the individual involved that Collins details in this latest novel.  

Mockingjay also shows us an even darker and more broken Katniss than previous novels.  Our heroine remains angry, distrusting, and strong but simultaneously she is conflicted, depressed, and damaged. When the novel opens, Katniss is still recovering from the physical and emotional trauma of her last moments in the arena.  She has acquired a tendency to hide in small places and repeats a mantra of facts to herself when confusion threatens to overtake her.  As the narrative progresses, we also see Katniss's internal struggle with continuing depression and the conflict between her rage at the Capitol and her growing disgust with violence as a tool.  Later in the novel, the readers will also encounter a very damaged Peeta whose torture in the Capitol may have altered him irrevocably in painful and negative ways.  Along with these intensified portrayals of trauma and its effects, the novel has more graphic violence and even more tragic and seemingly pointless deaths.  And, in my opinion, all these factors are what make Mockingjay utterly brilliant.  

From my minimal browsing on the web so far, the reactions to Mockingjay have been mixed.  Some readers seem to have been disappointed in the conclusion to the now infamous love triangle of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta for a variety of reasons.  Either the end wasn't dramatic enough or the choice was unsatisfactory.  Now, I will admit that if pressed (lightly), I would have come down on the side of Team Peeta.  But frankly, I think that the conclusion to that portion of the story is merely a part of the larger conclusion just as the romance has always been part of the much larger and more complex narrative. I felt very satisfied by Collins' story, which tied Katniss's choice into her larger need to heal and recover.  She also developed the relationships between Katniss and Peeta and Katniss and Gale organically and within the context of wartime maturation.  Some other readers seem to have found the book to be too depressing or sad.  Is Katniss less outwardly spunky than usual perhaps? Well, she is dealing with the after effects of serious emotional and physical trauma while struggling with the ethics of participating in a war--even an apparently justified one.  So I think her occasional weakness and confusion is not only merited but necessary in the kind of story Collins is telling.  I also appreciated what other readers' seem to find disappointing: the seemingly pointless deaths of well-liked characters.  But, again, if Mockingjay aims to tell an honest story about war then death cannot always be obviously heroic and meaningful. Finally, I found the gentle, sad conclusion to the novel fitting; we leave Katniss somewhat bitter and still damaged but ultimately hopeful that the future might be brighter despite its bloody foundations.

Collins has written a masterful conclusion to a series that will take its place on the shelf of significant contributions to young adult fiction.  She has dealt with war, death, torture, social inequality, and refugee life with brutal honesty.  This book in particular pulls few to no punches in terms of displaying the violence, pain, and horrors of war.  But she does all this while maintaining a compelling narrative filled with characters readers will find themselves caring about deeply.  I have yelled, cried, and shivered my way through reading this trilogy and Mockingjay was no exception.  This novel is an intense, heart-pounding, and fist-clenching experience that also manages to provoke thought and inspire great emotion. And I loved every minute of it so much that I went back and reread it in combination with the first two books almost immediately after finishing it.

So, in other words, I really, really liked Mockingjay. I feel as though my thoughts are still being processed but I tried my best to get the bulk of them out here-hope I did okay! What are your thoughts on Mockingjay

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