Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The long-awaited final book of the Hunger Games trilogy is out and being read by millions, I'm sure. I'm one of them. I read it a little over two weeks ago, and online discussions with facebook friends kept me thinking and mulling before posting. It is clearly a book that can be read several ways, depending on your feelings about the first two books.

So I'll briefly recap my take on the first two books in order to give context for my analysis of the third one. Hunger Games was brilliant, surprising, and in some ways now looks almost light compared to the books that followed. We see our heroine Katniss stand in for her sister Prim as their district's representative to the Hunger Games, a bloody spectacle in which young players are trapped in an arena until they kill each other off, all broadcast for the entertainment of the political leaders and populace of the all-controlling Capitol. Katniss emerges victorious and saves her friend Peeta too, and we get a very few pages of possible victory savoring in the second book, Catching Fire, until they announce a new game played among victors of the previous games. Though it was a little less engaging than the first book for me, it was nonetheless a riveting and page-turning read to see how Katniss once again saves herself and Peeta from almost certain death. The arena this time is itself a complex puzzle that the players have to understand to survive. At the same time, Katniss is pretending to be pregnant with Peeta's child, and they are pretending to be in love, except that Peeta made it clear long ago that he'd have her if she'd take him. Also occupying Katniss's torn heart is Gale, her childhood hunting friend whose strength she has relied on to keep her family alive while she was at the games. Of course, Gale wants her too.

Mockingjay is a breathtaking and well-written conclusion, in which these games and the protests over them (in part due to Katniss's unusual playing strategies, saving rather than killing a fellow player) fuel a civil war. We find Katniss and her entire home of District 12 either killed or displaced to the top secret District 13. And Peeta is a prisoner in the Capitol. And everyone she ever loved having been killed or displaced is basically the most optimistic part of this novel. Other reviews have noted the persistent obliteration of hope throughout this book. And what I'll say is that, while that is accurate to civil war and even to the larger political situation Collins has created, it doesn't follow the tone of the first two books. From a hopeful story of teen-girl-beats-machine, we're thrust into the dark world of political ambiguity and brutal violence on the streets. District 13 is bombed, the Capitol becomes a war zone, Katniss realizes that her allies in 13 are torturing her former makeup crew from the previous games... even Gale, stout-hearted to this point, is shown to be more violent than expected. And since Peeta has been tortured and has all but lost his mind, Katniss is very very alone. As one friend said, this really became a war story.

Rather than the amazing teen hero who is uncannily able to fight and survive hunger games, we see a girl broken, over and over, who nonetheless has to go on and make decisions as the symbolic leader of the revolution. This is the only logical reason I can offer for some of the more underdeveloped plot points at the hurricane-speed ending. The one that bugs me most is Katniss voting to continue the hunger games, the very institution she has been bent on destroying. In the end, she also choose to be with Peeta rather than Gale, a decision that would have been more satisfying if we had been given more substantive glimmers of her emotional or logical deliberations (or both).

So it's a successful conclusion that isn't entirely a success for this reader. But that's okay. I can admire Collins' brilliance at both character and plot while also being a bit dissatisfied with how she chose to develop those in her last book of this fine trilogy. I've been a fan since Gregor the Overlander, and I'll be eager to read whatever she writes next. Along with millions of others. :)