After being rescued from the arena during the Hunger Games Quarter Quell, Katniss Everdeen is taken to the formerly undisclosed District 13. After recovering from her ordeal, the rebel powers-that-be begin grooming her into the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope and freedom they think will unite the armies of all the districts against the Capitol. As always, Katniss wants to help her people but feels used, because she has little say in how the rebel leaders present her. She exerts as much independence as she dares, while choosing her allies carefully. As she lends her voice to the rebellion, she is haunted by the knowledge that Peeta is still being held captive and tortured by the Capitol. She also struggles between her feelings for him and for her long-time friend, Gale, who has become a driving influence in her life again. Eventually, Katniss finds herself as a pawn in a dangerous political game that isn't unlike the Hunger Games themselves. Can she survive a deadly battle with the Capitol with only a few trusted friends by her side, and if so, will the price of victory be too steep to bear?
The Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole has been incredible, and Mockingjay was a very fitting end to the series. IMHO, it was every bit as good as the first two books, only now the fire of revolution has spread through Panem, making the entire country the 'arena' in a battle for freedom and equality. I've noticed that this final installment has slightly lower ratings than the first two, and although I haven't really read the reviews yet to find out why, I can speculate. My guess is that some found the ending too melancholy, and admittedly, it is bittersweet. Happiness and peace is finally achieved, but those who survive the war are forever changed in profound and irreversible ways. The losses are staggering, yet hope still blooms amidst the ashes of destruction, both of physical property, as well as hearts and minds. Mockingjay paints a pretty grim and realistic picture of the cost of warfare, especially the personal cost to those who fight the war, and why striving for peace is so very important. At the same time, it shows that sometimes peace can only be achieved through the confrontation and ultimate destruction of an evil and unjust regime. This entire series is incredibly powerful and emotionally moving, and this final book is a definite tear-jerker. Oddly enough though, I didn't cry while reading it. I think there just wasn't time to process what was happening with our heroine still in an intense battle for survival. However, the floodgates opened after I turned the final page, at which point I think I was grieving along with Katniss for the loss of characters I'd come to care about, as well as the loss of so many innocent lives on both sides of the war. It's very rare for any book to provoke this kind of response from me, but somehow Suzanne Collins managed it. For this reason, and many others I highly recommend this book and the entire series.
Katniss is no longer simply the girl on fire. She's become the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope and inspiration to the rebel armies of Panem. Unfortunately, in this role, she is still little more than a pawn in a political game. They use her to make propaganda videos for their cause and she is a unifying figure, but due to her unpredictability and penchant for getting into trouble, she's rarely allowed into the fight itself. Luckily, Katniss is a very independent and smart girl, who on some level has learned how to play their game and usually only allows them to do what she feels will be helpful in some way to the cause. As with the first two book though, she has a tendency to underestimate her value to everyone and the influence she wields over people who all tend to love and respect her. She only sees herself as an ordinary girl who's nothing special, and without Peeta's encouragement, this is where others like her sister, Prim, and her mentor, Haymitch, step in to be the voice of reason. Katniss is a tough girl who won't take crap from anyone and marches to the beat of her own drummer, but she can also have a compassionate side. She rarely kills unless forced to do so in self-defense or defense of others, and even then, she carries a heavy burden of responsibility on her shoulders for all the deaths that she believes she's caused whether by her own hand or involuntarily. Her first priority is always to keep those she loves safe, and every time she can't, it kills a little piece of her soul. Katniss is a wonderful person with many positive qualities, but as we see in the end, she's not Superwoman. Even she has limits on what she can take and still come out the other side as a functional member of society. However, at that point, we also see that she's no longer just the Mockingjay, but a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of a war-torn home and life, which adds yet another layer to her already complex character. She may never be quite the same again, but above all, she's a fighter who earned her peace and contentment with her own blood, sweat, and tears.
Another thing that some readers may not have cared for in this book is the lack of Peeta's calming influence and congenial personality that was such a big part of the first two books. At the end of Catching Fire, we discover that he was imprisoned by the Capitol, and he remains captive for the first half or so of this book. Despite the physical distance though, we can still see him trying to protect Katniss the best he knows how. Even after he's freed, he's no longer the same person because of the torture inflicted upon him by President Snow, which leaves a lot of emotional distance as well. Every once in a while we see glimmers of the old Peeta, but by and large, he's a very confused young man. While Peeta is physically and emotionally absent, Gale takes up some of the slack from a romantic perspective. He makes no secret that he's still in love with Katniss and views Peeta as a rival for her affections. Gale is certainly appealing in his own way, but I must admit, I've never been much of a fan of love triangles. Not to mention, Peeta has held my affections throughout this series and is still one of my all-time greatest literary crushes. It was difficult to have him so distant throughout, but I think in some ways, it was also imperative to Katniss finally confronting her feelings for both young men and figuring out what each of them means to her.
For the last several years, The Hunger Games Trilogy has made the ALA's list of most banned/challenged books, but as a parent of teenagers, I would have no problem with teens approximately 14-15 and up reading it, depending on their sensitivity level. The subject matter has become a bit more mature with each installment, but that's to be expected when following characters who are changing and growing with the story. IMHO, the thing that would be most troublesome is the violence. There is admittedly an increase in the violence level in this book as compared to the first two, because revolution has broken out and the country is at war. The reality though, is that war is hell, and that point is definitely hammered home here in the deaths of many innocent people, including some that readers will have grown to care about, as well as trained military fighters. The body count is admittedly very high. Some deaths are seen in real-time; others are just heard about through intelligence and the news. Regardless of how they occur, I never felt like it was gratuitous or inappropriate to the story being told. No matter how heartbreaking they are, each death has a purpose. Also in most cases, they're handled in a relatively matter-of-fact way, with the death occurring and then the other characters moving on fairly quickly. The author doesn't tend to linger in the moment or describe the scenes in gory, bloody details. She relies more on the psychological fall-out to get her point across. Another thing that might be concerning to parents is that several characters carry suicide pills to prevent themselves from being taken alive by Capitol forces and tortured for information. Some of them also have unspoken pacts to shoot each other for the same reason. At one point in the story, Katniss begins to have suicidal thoughts herself, but after all the horrors she's endured, it's pretty understandable. For obvious reasons, these parts of the story might not be appropriate for teens who have suffered from depression or suicidal tendencies, but this would really be my only concern. Haymitch still has a drinking problem, and Katniss describes the effects of being on morphling, but it's been prescribed for legitimate reasons. Otherwise, there is little objectionable content. There are no profanities, and the sexual content is extremely limited. A character mentions being sold for sex, but it's worded very delicately. Katniss shares a couple of tender kisses, one of which stirs some feelings in her body, and there is one brief, veiled reference to love-making (absolutely no details), which might even go over the heads of less sophisticated readers. Overall, I'd say that the positive messages outweigh any potentially controversial content. It's a story about standing up for what's right in the face of pure evil, and trying to create a better world for everyone, no matter the cost. It's about friendship, loyalty, courage, family, love, and compassion for others. Most of all, it's a story about finding hope in the most hopeless of circumstances, that even when it feels like you've lost everything, hope still springs anew and can blossom out of the rubble of destruction. With all this in mind, I personally think it would be a travesty to take these books out of the hands of young people.
I can't express just how much of a genius storyteller Suzanne Collins is. She seems to instinctively know how to write in such a way that keeps the reader turning the pages. Every chapter ends with a mini-cliffhanger to keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout. Mockingjay has the tension of any good psychological or political thriller. In fact, the political machinations in this one are far-reaching with lots of twists and turns, leaving Katniss, and the reader, never truly certain who can be trusted. Throughout every chapter, I felt like I was right there in the thick of the revolution with Katniss, experiencing all the terror, heartbreak, and confusion right along with her. She's one of the most dynamic first-person narrators I've ever read, and I never felt a moment of boredom while reading the entire Hunger Games Trilogy. I truly can't recommend this series highly enough to both mature teens and adults alike. It's an amazing story that's sure to stick with me for a very long time to come and be re-read many times over. Now, I can't wait to see the Mockingjay movies.
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