Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

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Publication date – August 24, 2010

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Katniss, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12. The thrill-packed final installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy will keep young hearts pounding.

Thoughts: I’ve now followed Katniss’s tale from beginning to end, and I can safely say that I understand what all the fuss has been about all this time.

Katniss returns to her role as the semi-willing catalyst for revolution, only this time it’s far more direct, having been rescued by those in the secret District 13. Katniss is turned into the face of rebellion, central to the propaganda used to incite others to join the fight against the Capitol, and unsurprisingly, feels like she’s being used for entertainment just as much as she ever was while participating in the Hunger Games to begin with. But she’s not the type to take things sitting down, and her refusal to stay away from the front lines of battle make her loved by those who can help her, and hated by those who are in power… on both sides of the line.

Katniss spends a good chunk of this book either suffering from PTSD or recovering from injury, and while that’s definitely high on the realism scale, it doesn’t always make for the most interesting read. I had started to play a little game with myself, predicting how certain situations would go. Katniss would demand to go help somebody, make a speech, get injured, spend time in the hospital, then go hide in a closet for a while. It’s clear that Collins did some heavy research into how untreated post-traumatic stress disorder can affect people, and I have to give her serious commendations for that, but when you can turn Katniss’s reactions into a slight running gag because the same routine plays out at least three times, maybe it’s time to cut back on those scenes a little.

Collins also managed to sum up the entirety of war within this book, quite skillfully. Lots of propaganda, and long periods of boredom followed by bursts of mind-numbing terror.

One very interesting point about this book is that it stays very true to the notion of casualties of war. In many stories, you know that the people surrounding the main character are all going to live, with the possible exception of one or two of them, who will die in such a way as to spur the main character on to more decisive action. Not so here. In addition to a very literal “rocks fall, everyone dies” situation, Collins makes it clear that no named character is really safe. Characters you’ve come to know and love end up dying, sometimes in a way that can spur Katniss on, but most of the time they die in the background, providing a distraction so that Katniss can get away. If there are any characters you really like, be prepared for the chance that they won’t make it to the end of the series.

Katniss also gets the chance to really evaluate whose side she’s on, and comes to the conclusion that she’s really only on her own side. Flanked by the Capitol, who wants her dead, and the leader of District 13, who wants to use her and then kill her when she’s outlived her usefulness, Katniss ends up using District 13 as much as they’re using her. They provide her with training and access to get her revenge on President Snow, but she makes no secret of her dislike for President Coin or her methods. It’s an interesting situation from the reader’s standpoint, and underscores the fact that in war, “good” is often subjective, and therein brings the debate of whether the end really does justify the means.

I know some people reading this are waiting for my take on Katniss’s romantic situation, and here it is: I want to smack Gale. Not because I think that Katniss should end up with Peeta, but because of his reaction to realizing that he wouldn’t be the one she chose. He basically takes the standpoint of, “There’s nothing here for me, so goodbye.” He tosses aside their years of friendship because he isn’t going to be the one Katniss falls in love with. Yes, he had a point when he said that Katniss may never be able to stop wondering whether it was his plan that killed a bunch of children, including Katniss’s sister, but the way he doesn’t associate with her again really puts forward the impression that his romantic feelings for Katniss were actually more important to him than her safety, happiness, or their history together. Peeta tried to kill Katniss with his bare hands. More than once. And she still forgave him and managed to live with him. Gale’s reaction seemed ultimately selfish and shallow, and given the character development he had over the course of the series, I really didn’t think he had that in him.

While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the rest of the series, it was still a fantastic novel, and a spectacular conclusion to the trilogy that ignited the fires of justice in many young hearts. If you haven’t read this series yet, I highly recommend that you do.

(Book borrowed from Lendle.)

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

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Publication date – September 1, 2009

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the annual competition described in Hunger Games, but the aftermath leaves these victors with no sense of triumph. Instead, they have become the poster boys for a rebellion that they never planned to lead. That new, unwanted status puts them in the bull’s-eye for merciless revenge by The Capitol.

Thoughts: This amazing follow-up to The Hunger Games did many things, but leaving me disappointed was certainly not one of them. Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss, winner of the last Hunger Games. But the ordeal she suffered in the arena is far from behind her. Even discounting the nightmares of killing and seeing others killed, a twist of fate that may not be so accidental lands her back in the Games for a second year running. And this time, it’s not only the people in the arena who might want her dead. President Snow is outraged that Katniss’s defiance of Game protocol has started to incite rebellion in the Districts, and he wants to see her dead as an example to others, that even the strongest can be defeated and that there is no hope of anything beyond Capitol opression.

The themes in this novel run strong and deep, and are in no way dumbed down for a young adult audience. Death, deceit, trust issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s all right here, along with a healthy dose of lying to those you love in order to try to save them, and not knowing who your allies really are. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through what Katniss does!

Katniss is an interesting sort of reluctant hero, in many ways being little more than a catalyst for larger things, a pawn in somebody else’s game. She’s manipulated in all sorts of ways while at the same time being a figurehead for resistance and independence. People are making her into what they want her to be, while she’s trying to do the exact opposite and go along with what they’re all doing.

This is also the point where I think most people split off into “teams” according to who they thing Katniss should hook up with. Peeta or Gale. Personally, I don’t have an opinion on that one, since I’d rather find out how it all turns out than spend time debating with others about how it “should” turn out. But Katniss’s interest in Gale often seems to overshadowed by Peeta’s interest in Katniss that it’s very easy to see how the pairing wars get started, or at least have major fuel added to each fire.

Katniss’s second trip into the arena ends up far more eventful than her first, in spite of spending much less time there. Where The Hunger Games was really mostly survivalist fiction, Catching Fire explores more of the political and personal elements of the situation, saving the Games for near the end of the book. A fascinating and disturbing look at a potential future, executed brilliantly by Suzanne Collins to leave both hope and a chill in your heart. Long live the Mockingjay!

(Book borrowed via Lendle.)

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

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Publication date – October 1, 2008

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Thoughts: As a fan of dystopias, I was sure I’d like this book, especially after hearing nonstop good reviews for it. I’m very happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed once while reading this one.

Well, that’s a lie. I was. Once. When I had to stop reading it because I had work to do. But that’s not the book’s fault, and I won’t hold that against it.

This is definitely a book you feel uncomfortale going into, because you know that if you root for anyone other than Katniss, you’re entirely likely to be disappointed. Bitterly. In a Battle Royale situation, where only one can win, pinning your hopes on anyone who isn’t the main character is just foolish.

Which is the book’s main flaw, really. The actions scenes were wonderfully tense, and Katniss didn’t escape without injury, but when you’re reading about a kill-or-be-killed situation from the first-person point of view, you know in advance how it’s going to end. You know that Katniss will live. It can take away from the tension at moments, because even though you can recognize the danger she’s in, you also know, in the back of your mind, that she’ll find a way to survive. It’s less about faith in a character and more about predestination.

That being said, I think this story would have suffered had it not been from Katniss’s point of view, so this is definitely a moment of “your mileage may vary.”

There were, happily, some twists and turns thrown in to keep the reader interested. The development of alliances, the rule changes, and the omnipresent disgust you have to feel at the people who are watching teenagers beat each others’ brains out on live TV. I felt a definitely sense of satisfaction at Katniss and Peeta’s final “screw you” to the Capitol, which wasn’t at all overshadowed by the fact that I knew they’d make it out alive.

I closed this book wanting to open the next one immediately. Sadly, I don’t have a copy yet, so I’m going to have to wait to continue these adventures. I’ve got to say though, that they’re definitely adventures well worth continuing. I can see clearly what all the hype has been about!