Thursday, March 22, 2012


Steer clear if you don't want to know about major plot points in Mockingjay, the third and final book in the The Hunger Games series.

"War is Hell" may be a phrase heard so often to have become a cliche, but Suzanne Collins's final book in her Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, doesn't let its heroine or readers forget the reality or power of those three words for an instant. The action picks up right where Catching Fire left off. Katniss Everdeen has been scooped up out of the arena of the 75th Hunger Games and taken to District 13, which has not only survived its rumored destruction, but has rebuilt itself into a police state, run uber-efficiently by the forbidding President Coin.
"My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is alive. He is a traitor, but alive. I have to keep him alive…"
Katniss may have made it out of the arena, but her sometime fiance and friend, Peeta Mellark, was left behind and the evil President Snow has wasted no time in torturing and exploiting the boy, trying to quash Katniss's role as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol's tyranny. Katniss is so upset about her friend and so unsure about the way of life in District 13 that she is an unwilling rebel leader. President Coin, childhood friend Gale, mentor Haymitch, and others must persuade her to take on her role. But who can she trust?
"I’m sick of people lying to me for my own good. Because it’s really mostly for their own good."

Katniss is more at home in her beloved woods

Katniss is a free spirit. She thrives in the open air. But District 13 is the opposite of freedom. It is sterile, with every hour of the day of its residents accounted for; the food portioned out based on body weight. Coin and her team want Katniss to be the Mockingjay — on their terms. But she negotiates some terms of her own, including immunity for Peeta and the other Hunger Games champions who have been captured and possibly brainwashed, a la The Manchurian Candidate. As much as Katniss doesn't want to give up on Peeta, once he has been brought to District 13 she is so upset at his altered behavior that she avoids him. Katniss can't seem to function inside four walls. Outside in the arena, Katniss could be free and use her hunter's instincts to protect Peeta and others. Inside the cell-like atmosphere of 13 she shuts down.
"I sit back on my bed cross-legged and find myself rubbing the smooth iridescent surface of the pearl back and forth against my lips. For some reason, it’s soothing. A cool kiss from the giver himself."
Collins keeps hinting at where Katniss's heart really lies by having her cherish a pearl, a gift from Peeta. The pearl was such a nice symbol, it was a little strange that it didn't occur to the character (or author?) to have Katniss use it to help deprogram Peeta, or at least have her show it to him at some juncture. But it just disappeared after a point and was never referred to again.

Where Katniss finally does get an opportunity to feel more at home is on the field. Coin and Co. really just want to use the Mockingjay for pro-Rebel propaganda film clips, but Katniss manages to go on a few missions where she sees the horrors of war first-hand. Back at the weapons lab she is even more horrified when she sees her friends Gale and Beetee working on weapons that are meant to destroy the innocent. When will these games and toys that kill children ever end?

While she debates how deeply she wants to get involved in the rebellion, Katniss is also still bouncing back and forth a little between Peeta and her longtime friend Gale, but it should be clear to anyone who can read between the lines that Peeta is the one who truly holds her heart, even if Katniss can't quite see it until almost the last page. Sorry, Gale fans.

Katniss and Collins have much more on their minds than which cute guy she should choose. Katniss is in the middle of a horrible, bloody, civil war, and she is as much of a pawn as ever. She and her fellow arena survivors are all suffering from post-traumatic stress. Katniss has had to grow up fast and watch people she loves be tortured and even killed in front of her eyes. Mockingjay pulls no punches. It is violent and at times heartbreaking. There are no real winners in a civil war. Katniss learns that the Hunger Games never really end. One of the most harrowing passages happens right at the beginning of the novel, when Katniss tours the rubble that was once her home.
"I stared down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood."
As much as there are some shattering things that happen to our hero, Mockingjay is not ultimately a downer. Katniss grows up. She loses a lot, but she also learns what she needs. She will never really be free of the Games and the horrors that she lived through, but she can still sing and she can still get through each day and finally open her heart to love Peeta. She may worry about telling their children about their pasts — as her parents kept things from her, and many parents shield their children.

There were many scenes in the book that should seem familiar to anyone who has seen footage or interviews with people who lived through World War 2 or Vietnam or any other modern war. People will always seize at life and try to put starvation, concentration camps, and other horrors of war behind them, but they will never forget. There is a scene at the end of Mockingjay with Prim's cat Buttercup, that had me in tears, as it is often the little, human things, the day-to-day parts of life that we take for granted that are so often threatened or obliterated by war. Young people certainly need fun, adventure, and fantasy in their lives, and the Harry Potter series fills that bill, but The Hunger Games trilogy, as quick and addictive a read as they are, also has something to say. About life. About our past, our present, and hopefully, never about our future.
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