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!