Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: Mockingjay

I've done book reviews of the first two books of the Hunger Games trilogy for the last few weeks, and it's time to wrap it up with Mockingjay, the final book in the bestselling series.  Click on the links to read the previous review of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  I will attempt to review the third book without giving any spoilers for that book, but I'll be referring to events of the previous two books in this review, so if you haven't read the books yet and hate spoilers, be forewarned.


Panem's teenage heroine Katniss Everdeen is back again, a damaged soul after not one but two forays into the deadly arena of the Hunger Games.  This time, her defiance of the unwritten rules by which the Capitol keeps its subjects in line has caused a terrible retribution to fall on the citizens of District Twelve, her former home.  President Snow shows a creepy and altogether too personal animosity toward her.  Worst of all, her fellow combatant Peeta, one of the few morally centered characters in the books, has been captured by the Capitol and is presumably being tortured and brainwashed in an attempt to manipulate her.  Because Katniss has come to be the Mockingjay, the symbol of resistance against tyranny that may be the only thing able to motivate and inspire the freedom fighters in this post-apocalyptic world to rise up and overthrow their oppressors.  And it is most definitely a case of either kill or be killed, but on a much larger scale than we've seen previously.

Action centers in District Thirteen, previously thought to be utterly destroyed.  But in reality, an insurgency has been building itself there for several years, and its leaders desperately want Katniss to work for them.  Katniss spends much time fighting the call to be the Mockingjay.  She is very obviously suffering from post-combat psychological disorders, and the forms warfare takes in this distant future setting are not pleasant.  Her new allies are sympathetic, but Katniss is a soldier now and is expected to act like one. There is also the love triangle; Katniss, whether she wants to admit it or not, is torn between Peeta, the boy with the bread who loves her and has shown himself willing to die for her on multiple occasions, and Gale, the spirited hunting partner of her younger years, with whom she unquestionably has more in common.  And the danger: the very real possibility that none of the principal characters might survive the book.  Katniss is, at points in the story, so haunted by grief that she becomes passive.  There are no moral authorities in this book; and there is more than a little of the postmodern idea that all forms of government are equally corrupt.

If you've read my previous two reviews, you know I have mixed feelings about this series.  The anti-war message is all very well, but the first-person, present tense narration tends to make the action feel too close, too immediate.  I think of it as the literary equivalent of a first-person shooter game.  By no means is the violence glorified, but I have to wonder if a better way to create social consciousness and anti-war sentiment in young people might not be to make a few documentaries about real-world senseless violence and play some old Peter, Paul, and Mary albums.  Still, it was the most believable for me of the three books, largely because it focused on the larger world outside the arena.  When I was reading the first book particularly, I was desperate to see the whole world in context; this is where we get that information, and it is satisfying.

The depraved violence makes it a disturbing read for adults and older teens; I personally can't recommend it for younger children.  But it is a haunting story that will stay with you, and the ending is not as utterly bleak as I was afraid of.  Okay, so that's not entirely high praise.  It's a postmodern book.  It will have to do.

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