Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I took a few days off, but that was all I could stand before returning to book 3 of this compelling series. As I wrote the other day, this review will contain spoilers for the first two books but not for this one.

Following the events of Catching Fire, Katniss learns that District 12 was burned by the Capitol, and the surviving residents – including Katniss’s mother and sister, Gale and his family – were taken in by 13. We thought 13 no longer existed, after the way-back-then uprising, but it was all a hoax; in fact, 13 moved (literally) underground, where Katniss and her family now dwell as well, following her airlift rescue from the most recent Games. She’s having trouble adjusting to the highly regimented, militarized society and the claustrophobic setting. She’s been reunited with Gale, but separated from Peeta – he was captured by the Capitol, and we can just imagine the terrible torture he’s undergoing. As the book opens, Katniss is still trying to recover from a concussion and also to decide whether she will agree to serve as Mockingjay, sort of a figurehead symbol of rebellion, in propaganda videos. Thirteen’s social order is ill suited to this surly teenager’s disposition, and being a figurehead does not necessarily come naturally, but she gives it a try.

Of course, it does not suit the series for Katniss to serve as mere symbol, and she’ll end up back in some real action soon enough. The love triangle continues with a fascinating new twist.

This book included some satisfying combat sequences, and some engaging new characters, as well as the development of (for instance) Finnick Odair. I am intrigued by the questions about what the next version of this world could look like: if the uprising is successful in tearing down the social structures we know, what will we put in their place? It’s much easier to criticize existing worlds than to build decent new ones from scratch. When I encounter dystopian stories, this is always the part that fascinates me the most, I think. So in this way, I appreciated that the series continues with the zoomed-out perspective I mentioned when reviewing Catching Fire.

But on the other hand, I yearned for a little more of Katniss’s love triangle – feelings, discussions of feelings, and, well, action… I guess a young adult novel can only take romance so far! I’m pretty satisfied with how things turned out, but I think I could have used more of Katniss’s internal workings throughout this story. She’s pretty bound up inside, and it’s probably realistic that she’d have been so unclear on her own feelings, but I wish we could have felt a little more of her emotional life.

The theme throughout the series of the blurred line between reality and reality television is brought forward a touch in this story, where a central character gets extra-confused and must ask repeatedly, “Real or not real?” This feels like the literalization of larger concerns throughout, and while it could have been heavy-handed, it’s not. It’s poignant, and serves as reminder that this is the real problem with so much of this world (and of our own).

My opinion of Collins’s prose remains: mostly it’s serviceable and effective enough, but there are just occasional hilarious flubs. I chuckled at “Boggs does emergency first aid on people to hold them until we get back.” He “does first aid”? What does that look like? On “people”? That’s some lazy writing, y’all. But of course this line is just a placeholder meant to move us on to what we care about, which is what Katniss does next. I picture the author sort of waving her hand – “people do things, and then Katniss…” But these moments do crack me up.

Looking back on the series, I don’t think there’s much question that book one, The Hunger Games, is the best one, where we meet and learn to care about the key characters, and are introduced to the enthralling world of the Games. You need all three to see the story through, though. And my mild criticisms aside, the series is a feat. I rarely feel compelled to read all day and into the night without looking up, and Collins had me riveted, so hat’s off. This is a hell of an imaginative, gripping story, whose details will I think continue to haunt me. I believe I’ll try and see the movies. Worth every minute spent, and highly recommended – especially for younger readers.

Rating: 7 bowls of mushy beets.

As I write this review, a prequel by Suzanne Collins titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is forthcoming; it will be available when this post goes live. Head’s up, Hunger Games fans!

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