Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the third book in the young adult Hunger Games trilogy featuring Katniss Everdeen, Peeta, and Gale.  Readers have been raving about the series, and many are obsessed with the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle.  (You can read my reviews of the previous two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire — IF you have not read the previous two books, be warned that this review will be full of spoilers).

Katniss has been rescued by the rebel alliance of District 13 — thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol — but Peeta was left behind to be captured by President Snow’s forces.  Beyond deciding whether or not to become the symbol — the MOCKINGJAY — of the rebellion, Katniss must further realize that she needs to make adult decisions, decisions that could impact the fate not only of the rebels, but of the human race.  Along the way, she will reconnect with Gale, her family, Finnick, and others from the Games, but she also will be hit hard by the tragedy of loss, even those losses she was too numb or too blind to notice when they occurred.  As part of her evolution, Katniss must learn to discern for herself the best course of action and how her actions impact others, as well as how each side is manipulating every move she makes.

“After about twenty minutes, Johanna comes in and throws herself across the foot of my bed.  ‘You missed the best part.  Delly lost her temper with Peeta over how he treated you.  She got very squeaky.  It was like someone stabbing a mouse with a fork repeatedly.  The whole dining hall was riveted.'” (page 244)

Collins has a firm grasp of how a young teenage girl would react to high levels of danger, betrayal, and dystopian heartbreak.  Her no-nonsense prose keeps the plot moving quickly and easily paints a picture that young and adult readers become lost in.  Time flies quickly as readers get absorbed in the rebellion, cheering on Katniss and her struggle to find her rightful place.  However, there are moments when the reader will want the plot to move more quickly or will want more action or will wonder why Collins is beating them over the head with the references to the oppressive nature and rigidity found in District 13.  At one point, it seems that the narration takes on a preachy tone as the benefits of democracy are heralded above the current, rationing-and-sharing government of District 13 and the power wielded by the dictatorship of the Capitol.  However, readers will easily forgive this digression as the action picks up once again.

What’s ironic about this third book is that Prim, Katiniss’ younger sister, seems more mature, while Katniss is still childlike and impulsive.  Prim seems to have matured in a way that Katniss, who has seen more violence, could not — perhaps because Katniss’ childhood was a place she could retreat to and feel safe.  Prim’s character development is not spelled out, but readers are likely to enjoy the new dynamic between her and her sister.  A number of secrets about the Capitol and what happened in District 13 are revealed, rounding out the trilogy.  Compared to the other books in the series, Mockingjay does not have as much action, but overall, it is a satisfactory end to this dystopian trilogy.

This is my 9th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I pre-ordered the book from Amazon.  It’s about time I read this one.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins follows up where The Hunger Games (Click here for my review) left off.

In this novel, Katniss discovers that her final act in the arena had unintended consequences and she must now decide whether to run and hide with her loved ones or face a new reality–rebellion.  However, readers may find that the final act in the hunger games is not necessarily the catalyst for the rebellion so much as the Capitol’s unwitting acceptance of her defiance for the rules.

“The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us.  There’s a rose in President Snow’s lapel, which at least suggests a source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced, because no real rose reeks like that.”  (Page 20-1)

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games), like The Hunger Games, is an excellent book club selection for adults given the regime that makes up Panem and the inner workings of the Capitol itself.  From democracy run amok in the Capitol to a dictatorship or totalitarian regime in control of Panem and its districts.  While the totalitarian/dictatorship of the Capitol may not be precise in that President Snow’s manipulative actions run contrary to traditional totalitarian/dictatorship reactions of crushing the enemy and rebellion with an iron fist, readers will have a number of issues to discuss.  However, Collins may not be intentionally shedding light on these political structures, but simply writing dystopian fiction.

“Desperate, yet no longer alone after that day, because we’d found each other.  I think of a hundred moments in the woods, lazy afternoons fishing, the day I taught him to swim, that time I twisted my knee and he carried me home.  Mutually counting on each other, watching each other’s backs, forcing each other to be brave.”  (Page 117)

Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, and Gale find more action and intrigue in the sequel and must deftly navigate the twisted rules and procedures of their nation to find themselves and freedom.  Katniss, Peeta, and Gale are still in the midst of a young-love romantic triangle, but again the struggles they face against the government take precedence.  More is revealed about Haymitch in this book, which readers will find helpful given his past behavior, but still too little is known about the how the current government came to be and who President Snow really is and how he came to power.

If readers think the mockingjay on the cover is a nice touch, they may soon get sick of the symbol as Collins uses it repeatedly in her narration.  However, its use is not overly bothersome, just a bit overdone. 

Meanwhile, readers will be introduced to new characters, like suave Finnick, unintelligible Mags, and Nuts and Volts, rounding out the cast for some additional suspense, drama, and amusement.  The final scene in the book will leave many in shock, but anxious for the next installment.  Overall, Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) is a strong middle book to the trilogy.

***As an aside, there’s a quote from the book that should spark some recognition about current environmental concerns in readers, as we struggle to modify our behavior to preserve our resources***

“Where the sand ends, woods begin to rise sharply.  No, not really woods.  At least not the kind I know.  Jungle.  The foreign, almost obsolete word comes to mind.  Something I heard from another Hunger Games or learned from my father.”  (Page 274-5)

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is a young adult novel set in the future after the collapse of the world and its rebuilding by The Capitol. To maintain order, The Capitol hosts The Hunger Games each year in which 2 tributes–a boy and a girl–are chosen from each of the 12 districts to compete to the death. Once all other tributes have died in the arena, the winner is set for life in terms of food–in a world without much food–position, money, etc.

“My quarters are larger than our entire house back home. . . . When you step out on a mat, heaters come on that blow-dry your body. Instead of struggling with the knots in my wet hair, I merely place my hand on a box that sends a current through my scalp, untangling, parting, and dying my hair almost instantly. It floats down around my shoulders in a glossy curtain.” (Page 75)

The heroine of this novel, Katniss Everdeen steps up and takes the place of her sister. She and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, are sent to The Capitol with their mentor and the last member from District 12 to win The Hunger Games, Haymitch. Once in The Capitol, Katniss and Peeta are groomed, presented, prepped, and molded to meet the television standards for The Hunger Games. The dynamic between these two tributes shifts throughout the novel, and in some case, like an undercurrent, it tips the plot on its ear.

“And just as the knife cuts through, I shove the end of the branch as far away from me as I can. It crashes down through the lower branches, snagging temporarily on a few but then twisting free until it smashes with a thud on the ground. The nest bursts open like an egg, and a furious swarm of tracker jackers takes to the air.” (Page 190)

Collins does an excellent job developing these young teens and staying true to the normal responses teens could have in this surreal world she creates. Katniss is a brave, but lonely girl striving to be noble, while Peeta struggles to remain the sweet boy next door and stay alive amidst the brutality of The Hunger Games. Collins’ characters are well-developed, and readers will enjoy the outrageous antics of the drunken Haymitch, the superficial Effie Trinket, and others.

The Hunger Games is an amazing look at a post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of teenagers. Collins is a masterful young adult novelist, and readers will be quickly absorbed into the world she creates. Readers will grit their teeth, bite their nails, and shake their heads as Katniss and Peeta struggle to survive amidst determined, skilled tributes from the 11 other districts.

Collins goes beyond the entertainment factor of most young adult novels to depict real-life situations in which young love buds and confuses, alliances are made, lies are told, and truth surfaces when characters least expect it. The Hunger Games is not only for teens, but also adults, though parents should be warned there is violence and innuendo.

Thankfully, readers won’t have to wait too long for the sequel, Catching Fire, which comes out in September 2009.

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