Monday, January 3, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

SPOILER ALERT (we like to give major plot points away when we review)

The final book in The Hunger Games Trilogy starts off with a major plot twist - the rebellion against the Capitol is real and a previously “extinct” district is leading the charge. All they need is a face to the uprising, someone to humanize the struggle, someone to inspire allegiance to the cause - enter Katniss Everdeen. Unintentionally, through her actions in the hunger games, Katniss has already become a symbol for rebellion. With one simple act of defiance (threatening to eat poisoned berries at the end of her first hunger games causing there to be no winner) she exposed a chink in the Capitol’s armor, setting off a chain of events leading to the freedom of all the districts in Panem.

So, here we are, having followed Katniss through two hunger games and countless extreme situations. We’ve come to know her as a determined and resourceful girl adept at self-preservation. However, this girl disappears for almost all of Mockingjay. What we get in lieu of the powerful ass-kicking tough-girl is a whining, guilt-ridden thing, too mopey to make up her mind about anything from which boy to love to whether to help the rebellion. She actually gets so annoying with her whimpering and indecision that I ended up wishing Collins would kill her off in true martyr fashion (no such luck.)
The plot line also starts feeling a bit repetitive when we’re brought into a third hunger games. Slightly different in that it’s not an official hunger games, but rather a military expedition through a booby-trapped area of the Capitol, the concept of survival while dodging extreme obstacles is the same. Even though this is war and it’s no longer every man for themselves, you still feel as if you’re in an arena following a small group of people as they try to survive for the last third of the book. The rest of the novel has minor bouts of action that feel more like the characters are at war (a makeshift hospital gets bombed, there’s a hostile takeover of a district, etc.) but most of the story actually takes place underground in the fabled District 13 with the characters doing little more than strategizing, talking, and spending time in the hospital for various mental and physical ailments.

I do have to give Collins credit for not sparing any characters just because they’ve been around for most of the trilogy. This is real war - important people die gruesome, unexpected deaths, get seriously injured, and suffer brutal torture. It’s difficult, at times, to tell who the good guys are. Absolute power definitely corrupts absolutely in Panem, and having fallible characters is one of the best aspects of this trilogy. Everyone feels real because of how they react to the situations they’re put into, the doubts they have, the wrong choices they make. You end up having your favorite characters, but everyone has the potential to let you down. For some reason this feature of the trilogy makes it all the more likeable.

In the end, Panem begins anew, rebuilding on top of the brutalities of the war - thriving without the hunger games to snatch away the lives of the country’s children. Katniss grows up, emotionally scarred but essentially like any other woman. She gets married, has kids, finds small things to be happy about even if the past continues to haunt her. It’s a realistic ending to a very exciting epic.