Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Review of Book 3 in The Hunger Games Trilogy

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Book Cover
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, Book 3 in The Hunger Games Trilogy. Scholastic

Summary of Mockingjay

Mockingjay, book 3 in the incredibly popular Hunger Games trilogy of dystopian novels, is meant to be read after readers have read the first and second books in the series by Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. In Mockingjay, the ultimate battle between the Capitol and the districts occurs, culminating in epic warfare and destruction. Burdened with feelings of betrayal by rebel organizers, grief for the loss of her district, and worry for Peeta who’s been taken prisoner by the Capitol, Katniss is emotionally and physically worn out.

What price are the rebel districts willing to pay to win the war against the Capitol?  While younger kids have been drawn to The Hunger Games trilogy by the popularity of the books and the movies, the darkness of the books, including Mockingjay, definitely make them young adult books rather than middle grade fiction.

Storyline

As the story begins Katniss is walking through the ashes of what was once her home. In retaliation for her role as the girl on fire, the Capitol bombed District 12. Fortunately, her family and friends escaped in time, but Katniss blames herself for giving the Capitol a reason to destroy her home. Now she must try to rebuild her life and find a way to rescue Peeta who was taken prisoner at the end of the last Hunger Games.

With District 12 no longer in existence, District 13 becomes the rebellion headquarters and former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee is producing a series of commercials centered on Katniss as the Mockingjay.

The purpose of the commercials is to rally the districts and keep them focused on the cause. Katniss, feeling unsure about her role in the propaganda films, reluctantly allows herself to be used as a symbol to unite the district.

As Katniss works through her questions about the districts war tactics, plans are being made for a rebel team to infiltrate the Capitol and rescue Peeta.

To everyone’s horror, the charming baker boy has been tortured and brainwashed by the Capitol. Angry, distrusting, and full of hatred towards Katniss, Peeta becomes a dangerous threat and must be watched at all times.

Meanwhile, specialized rebel groups are forming strategies and discussing means of attack. Gale, the skilled hunter in the group, reveals less than humane ideas for weapon design. As he immerses himself in planning the war, his need for vengeance disturbs Katniss who begins to wonder if she really knew her best friend. Any question of a love triangle dissolves when Katniss believes that one of Gale’s bombs is responsible for Prim’s death. Referring to their relationship, Katniss explains that what exists between her and Gale is “a dark, twisted sadness.”

Putting all three main characters together sets off a litany of strange conversations and behaviors as all have been affected by the uprising. There is little time for serious therapy discussion as a war is raging and the Capitol is waging a series of attacks on the districts throughout Panem. The culminating moment arrives when Katniss finally comes face to face with President Snow in a mixed setting of former Capitol leaders and district rebels to let loose her final arrow.

Author Suzanne Collins

Despite world-wide fame and a prolific writing career, Suzanne Collins is modest about her success.  Collins helped write the screenplay for the movie adaption of her book The Hunger Games. Collins is also the author of the fantasy series The Underland Chronicles and the autobiographical picture book Year of the Jungle.

The Book’s Impact and My Recommendation

Mockingjay opens to a scene of loss, grief, and despair, which puts into place the overriding tone of the book and sends a powerful message about war. While I waited with anticipation for this novel to reveal the fates of these beloved characters, I found myself detached from the Katniss I knew from the first two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. While she still has spark and moments where skill and intellect guide her choices, for most of the book she is mentally consumed with the inhumanity of war, the loss of her home, and the destruction she witnesses from the attacks.

Throughout a good portion of the book she is either recovering from wounds, sleeping off pain meds, or just curled up in bed contemplating the end of her life. Surviving two Hunger Games and carrying the burden of being the Mockingjay while dealing with personal threats from the Capitol can surely take its toll on a girl.

And then there’s Peeta. Poor Peeta has been tortured and brainwashed by the Capitol. His hatred for Katniss is surprising and changes the dynamic of their relationship. He’s been drilled to see Katniss as a dangerous enemy who should be killed. Any possibility of their continued friendship, let alone, romance will be a study in reader patience.

As a character Peeta is unstable and unreliable which parallels the character of Gale. The possibility of a romance between Gale and Katniss has been tossed back and forth between fans, but in Mockingjay he reveals disturbing aspects of his character which include an anger and vengeance so profound he’s willing to create weapons that will lure people to their deaths. Ultimately, Katniss holds him responsible for Prim’s death.

In sum, these beloved characters come to us in the final battle with deep emotional baggage that affects their views on war and how they feel towards each other. While I enjoyed this book, Katniss’s depression, Peeta’s anger, and Gale’s obsession with war made this story more a social commentary on war rather than a typical dystopian story about teens who saved the world from destruction. However, I must give credit to Suzanne Collins for reminding all of us that “This is not a fairy tale; it’s a war, and in war, there are tragic losses that must be mourned.” (Source: New York Times)

Collins’ pacing of the story is steady, her war scenes true to Hunger Games form, and her description of the Capitol and its denizens memorably colorful. While not my favorite book in the trilogy, it’s still a worthy read because of Collins commitment to write a story that holds nothing back about the brutal consequences of war.

Due to the mature content of war and violence, I recommend this young adult book for ages 12 and up. For information about the movie released in November 2014, read the movie review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. (Scholastic, 2010. ISBN: 9780439023511)

Recommended Reading for Fans of The Hunger Games

If you are looking for more teen novels with intense action and great characters, try some of these books:

Edited 3/6/2016 by Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books Expert