Mockingjay: Summary and Review

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Books for Teens)
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Today I finish my series on Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy with a summary and review of the much anticipated, and much hyped book for teens, Mockingjay.  In this Mockingjay summary and review I will discuss the ending of the book/series in the last section of this post (I can’t resist, given some of the controversy in the blogosphere), so if you don’t want to spoil it, skip that part.  I will not give away anything important in the “Summary” or plot synopsis, so those parts are safe.

Mockingjay: Summary of Review

Mockingjay is a stunning finish to an amazing trilogy.  I loved every minute of it, and so will most teens.  Collins masterfully brings resolution to the central tensions and conflicts of the story, including the struggle between the Districts and the Capitol, and the love triangle between Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne.  However, since the over-arching theme of the series is war, the close of the trilogy is appropriately untidy—indeed tragic—in certain ways.  Such untidiness helps to communicate what I take to be Collins’s central message: there can be hope and joy on the other side of war, but never a complete return to the way things were.  War changes things.  Permanently.

The subjective appeal of Mockingjay (as for the other books in the trilogy) remains in Collins’s gripping plot-line, her hard-hitting writing style, her masterful character development, and her creative vision of a futuristic North America.  Again, as for the other books in the trilogy, the developmental value of Mockingjay lies in the cultural reflection that the book precipitates, the interesting ethical issues it raises—particularly related to war—and the empowering female character it portrays. Sensitive readers should be warned that the book, like its predecessors, is quite violent (though I think appropriately so; see my review of The Hunger Games for the rationale behind this judgment).

Since I have touched on all these subjectively appealing and developmentally valuable characteristics in my review of Catching Fire and my review of The Hunger Games, I will not return to these again in any depth in this Mockingjay review.  Instead, I will focus on certain ways that Mockingjay clarifies the central theme of Collins’s trilogy—namely, war—and brings out the beauty and truth contained in her trilogy.  I will make these comments after a brief plot summary.

Mockingjay: Summary & Plot Synopsis

In this plot summary I will assume some familiarity with the series thus far, so if this is your first encounter with it, I recommend reading the plot summaries from my review of The Hunger Games, and my review of Catching Fire.

In the last section of Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta return to the arena for the 75th Hunger Games—the Quarter Quell—along with two victors from each of the other Districts.  In this special commemorative version of the Games, the Capitol (and President Snow in particular) seems bent on killing off Katniss, who has stirred up rebellion in the Districts, and has thereby become a threat to Snow’s oppressive dictatorship.

However, once again, all does not go according to the Capitol’s plan.  A significant number of the victors (including Katniss and Peeta) band together to form an alliance and again outsmart the Capitol at their own game.  Specifically, the allied group devises a way to destroy the force-field that encloses the Quarter Quell arena and make an escape, with assistance from sympathetic Capitol insiders (including the head gamemaker of the Hunger Games, Plutarch Heavensbee).  Although Katniss plays a role in the destruction of the force-field, she did not know about the escape plan, so her forced evacuation from the arena via hovercraft takes her by surprise.  Once on the hovercraft, Plutarch fills her in:

“We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss,” says Plutarch.  “While you live, the revolution lives.”  The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames.  I am the mockingjay.  The one that survived despite the Capitol’s plans.  The symbol of the rebellion.” (pp. 386-387)

This quotation sets up Katniss’s role as the “Mockingjay” in the last novel of the trilogy.  As we learned in the first book, mockingjay is a species of bird that resulted from the unanticipated breeding of ordinary mockingbirds with “jabberjays”—birds that the Capitol artificially created to repeat back rebel intelligence during the last insurgency in Panem over 75 years ago.  Given these origins, the mockingjay is a bird that can perfectly repeat back any song it hears.  In the first book, Katniss wore a mockingjay pin on her clothes, and progressively through the first book it came to symbolize her, and the hope of overthrowing the Capitol that she stirred up.

Mockingjay, then, features Katniss as the Mockingjay, the symbol and de facto leader of the rebellion, a creature that the Capitol has inadvertently produced through its cruel Hunger Games.  The book traces her role in the rebel army as it wages a now open war against the Capitol, and leads us through the realistically tortured psychology of a tough teenage girl who has been traumatized by war and loss.  In addition to drawing the rebel conflict with the Capitol to a close, the book resolves the love triangle between Peeta, Gale, and Katniss.  (Note: I will discuss just how it resolves in the next section of this review.  Stop reading now if you don’t want to spoil anything!)

War in The Hunger Games Trilogy

In my review of The Hunger Games, and my review of Catching Fire, I suggested that war was among the central themes tackled by the books.  However, now, looking back at these other books through the lens of Mockingjay, I see that war was not just one of the themes.  Rather, it was the theme.  Indeed, the end of Mockingjay finally made it clear to me that the central event of the series—the barbaric Hunger Games—just was a metaphor for outright war.

Think about it: different regions sending their children off to kill each other.  Some regions use conscription, others use volunteers (the “careers”).  Moreover, the games were fought in huge arenas of rugged terrain resembling the sort of areas in which real wars are fought.  And while the losers die, the winners take home the pyrrhic victory of traumatic stress and the requirement to mentor future Hunger Games tributes (which amounts to something like being promoted to officer).

In Mockingjay, this metaphor becomes particularly clear in the strong parallels between the Hunger Games and the war now being waged by the rebels on the Capitol, orchestrated by Alma Coin, president of the highly militarized District 13.  Indeed, the way Coin uses the media to manipulate public attitudes toward the war, and the way she and her team use Katniss (albeit, a now willing Katniss) suggest that the war against the Capitol is just one more Hunger Games, though perhaps one with a just cause.

Toward the end of Mockingjay, Collins brings into focus the perpetual human inclination toward war.  The central illustration of this theme comes when the rebels have won the war and Coin convenes the remaining Hunger Games victors to decide how to deal with the surviving families of former leaders in the Capitol: should they be shown mercy, or should a new round of the Hunger Games be initiated featuring them as tributes?  Although the vote is split, in the end the group votes to re-institute the Hunger Games.  The message: despite the rebel victory, the bloodthirsty human bent toward violence threatens to begin the whole cycle of oppression and rebellious war again.

Finally, Mockingjay communicates the deep wisdom that war, even in the best cases, permanently changes things.  While Collins holds out the possibility that there may be peace and healing on the other side of war, such peace and healing can never be a romantic return to “the way things were”.  Indeed, Mockingjay (and the whole Hunger Games trilogy really) explodes the myth that war can be tidy and surgical, that one group can cleanly accomplish their just goals through violence, without pervasive upheaval.

The clearest illustration of this point is the fact that Katniss ends up with Peeta and not Gale.  Among other things, Gale represents a tragically unrealized past, a past that is impossible to reclaim on the other side of war, regardless of how desperately one might long to return to it.  That Katniss ends up with Peeta underlines the fact that she is a different person.  War has tragically changed her, and has thrown her together with Peeta, who is also not who he was.  And the reality is, soldiers don’t come back the same.  Horrors change who you are.

Despite communicating the impossibility of going back, that it was Peeta also communicates hope for the future on the other side of war.  It would be hopeless if it were Gale, the hunter, the military man: with Gale the cycle of violence churns on.  It had to be Peeta—the artist, the warm bread in desperate times, the one who voted to abolish the Hunger Games, a “dandelion in the spring”—and not Gale’s “fire kindled with hatred and rage.”

In short, I highly recommend Mockingjay, and the entire Hunger Games Trilogy.  I encourage you to find the books in your local library, or to support my work by purchasing the books through the links in this post, or in the Children’s Books and Reviews online bookstore.

What did you think of Mockingjay? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you found this Mockingjay review interesting or helpful, why not “Like” it (button at the top), or post it on Facebook or Twitter? The “Share/Save” button below makes it easy. Thanks!

Categories: 13 to 19 years +Book Reviews
Tags: Catching FireMockingjayMockingjay ReviewSuzanne CollinsTeen FictionThe Hunger GamesTrilogyWarYA FictionYoung Adult Fiction
Aaron :

View Comments (54)

  • ya your wrong alaina katniss should marry peeta and gale can just be friends with katniss and prim well your right about that she should live and i bet that u didnt even read the book so happy hunger games

  • It's amazing to me how there is no consensus among reviewers regarding Mockingjay. When I finished it a couple of days ago, my reaction was: that was one messed up book. But as I think back, it is slowly making more sense. Katniss is never comfortable as the "Mockingjay". There's little difference between Snow and Coin, district 13 and pre-rebellion district 12. She realizes that she is being used by both Coin and Snow. I dont think she really wants a leadership role. I don't think you can take some of Katniss's actions literally. There's no way she would vote for another hunger games. But by that time she realizes Coin is just as evil as Snow. I do feel that the ending was rushed. Just when she gets close to Snow's mansion, boom, Prim is gone and she's waking up in District 13. And then a couple chapters later, it's all done. The book is very painful. I found myself genuinely depressed, pissed, confused after reading some parts of the book. One of the most painful is how Peeta is "damaged" by Snow. I was glad that she ends up with Peeta. I wanted that to happen at the end of book 1. But by then both she and Peeta are seriously damaged. I am going to re-read the book and see if it changes any of my opinions. I want to say the book stinks. But, I must say it is a great book.

  • I have just finished reading Mockingjay, and cannot at all describe the emotions that I am currently feeling. I was so confused about what happened with Gale and Peeta because it seemed like it all happened so quickly. Thankfully, your summary really helped me understand the main point that the author was trying to prove. Still, I am for some reason not satisfied with the ending. I thought that the epilogue of Katniss and Peeta getting married and having children would make me happy, which it did, but it also feels so empty, like something is missing. Maybe it's what you said in the summary, that her life is so different than from the first book. With Gale, Prim, her mother, Madge, and most of District 12 gone, everything just changed so quickly that it caught me off guard. But still, I feel like I am going through some sort of strange psychological meltdown for some strange reason that I will never know. Kind of like Katniss before she married Peeta :)

  • Just finished Mockingjay, I would have loved for one of the books to go deeper into Peeta's life. I love him. I think he is the only reason I stuck with the books. I wonder why the author never gave many details of his life before the Hunger Games.

  • I LOVED this series! Mockingjay however was not my favourite, I felt that somehow Katniss was 'out of her element' when not in the area, but I did love the ending. I always wanted Katniss to end up with Peeta, since the very first book, I adore the guy, and i am sorry to say that for me the most heart wrenching parts were not when Prim and Rue died but when he was in any danger, when he was hijacked or i thought Gale might win Katniss' affections. i think that the ending, with both Gale and Katniss' mother gone, reinforced the fact that when there was nothing else left for Katniss, there was Peeta, as there had been in the arenas. I never really liked Gale anyway, as he was Peeta's only rival. I was glued to the whole series, and liked both Katniss and Peeta, especially the latter. I am truly sorry it's over, though this is weakened by my satisfaction at the ending!

  • After my first read of Mockingjay, I was left feeling empty, unsatisfied. After a re-read, I feel much differently. I now can say, I love this book. Couldn't say that before.

    On my first read, the ending seemed abrupt, rushed. But on a re-read, I was better able to see how Collins builds up to the ending. And how she resolves the Gale-vs-Peeta.

    I still don't think that Katniss's vote for a final hunger games with the children of Capital officials was real. The mental illness verdict was interesting to me. Not what you would expect of a country that loved it's new president. Maybe the citizens of new Panem knew that Coin was just as evil as Snow and that Katniss did everyone a favor.

    Regarding Gale and Peeta. She'll pick the one she needs to survive. She says she doesn't need either of them. Classic Katniss. Collins really does wrap up the love triangle. Katniss asks Gale if it was his bomb that killed Prim. Gale can't answer and that's the beginning of the end for Gale. "That was the one thing I had going for me. Taking care of your family." See ya Gale. Like everyone, I loved the Peeta: "Do you love me, real or not real", Katniss: "real". And the "it would have happened anyway". That's as close as it will get to a "I love you Peeta" from Katniss. That just who Katniss is especially after all the damage she's endured in this last book.

    There are such a wide range of reviews of Mockingjay. Love or hate it. Not many in-between. This speaks to the genius of these books. Hats off to Collins.

  • Hi I wrote my own Summery. XD
    This is one book that made me feel what for a long time I had forgotten. It’s wonderful clash between the war and love truly gave it an amazingly realistic and relatable feature especially to someone of my age. It is truly a book to be read at a constant rate as to not ruin the story and in quick succession to caching fire as to hold the plot together. Over all I can honestly say that it was the best end to the best trilogy I have ever read. Its deeper meaning about war is rather inspiring and I think that this is a good read for almost any youth.
    To be realistic you must understand life. Life, I believe, is not usually very pretty. We are vial specie that is destroying our planet as well as ourselves. Suzann Collins understands that. This is the main reason I really related to this series in a deeper way than any other. Mockingjay is not a happy book and this is a good thing because happy books are unrealistic and we tend to give in to them and end up losing sight of the real world. Another reason I related to this book is because I have had death in my life. There is a lot of death and sadness in the series however Catness Everdeen keeps pushing even though she knows the facial nature of those who try to comfort her, and then, in the end, she prevails. I believe that this sends a message that telling yourself that everything will be ok just makes you a weaker person. Only when you finally confront the fact that everything has gone to shit but you must push on anyway. Then, only then, can you truly define yourself as the strong individual you set out to become, salvage a satisfying life, grow old, and die happy.
    I believe personally that the trilogy is more about humans being unjust and bloodthirsty specie. On the contrary the main plot could simply be that war changes things permanently. I lean more towards the hu8mans being a bad specie partially because it coincides with my personal views and the fact that I don’t like to over analyze things. The idea that the book is a huge metaphor for war being a horror of human nature dose actually coincide with the fist synopsis however I haven’t read any other of Suzann Collins work so I don’t know how elaborate her stories usually are. Either way Mockingjay is truly an elaborate work of art.
    Just about the only negative thing I can say about the book is that the resolution was a little drawn out and just a little predictable. Even though the ending could be considered happy it is presented in a really depressing way. I believe this is to enforce the main idea of the plot, even if it is a little anti-climactic. It is a book I will recommend to countless friends and was a great pace pick up after the slower moving “Catching Fire.” In a year or two when I have just about forgotten the plot I will remember to read it again or listen to it on audio tape. It was truly that moving.