Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Mockingjay

I read straight through the holiday weekend and finished Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins at 11 pm Sunday night.  No question that it was just as compelling – and disturbing – as the first two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  What I liked best about this book and this series, though, is how deftly Collins weaves thought-provoking questions about our own society into this frightening fictional world.  I could hardly get to sleep after finishing the book because my mind was spinning with these questions.  I was itching to discuss it with someone!

As in the first two books, Katniss Everdeen is the main character.  The Hunger Games are over – hopefully forever – and Panem is now at war.  The districts have finally begun to openly rebel against the Capitol, and Katniss finds herself at the center of the conflict.  Throughout the book, she is tortured by conflicting thoughts about her role.  Of course, she wants the Capitol to stop killing the children of the districts and abusing its citizens, but the horrors of actual war don’t seem like a better alternative.  Here, she wonders whether she should agree to be the rebels’ symbol, like they want her to be:

What am I going to do?

Is there any point in doing anything at all?  My mother, my sister, and Gale’s family are finally safe.  As for the rest of 12, people are either dead, which is irreversible, or protected in 13.  That leaves the rebels in the districts.  Of course, I hate the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it down.   How can I help the districts when every time I make a move, it results in suffering and loss of life?  The old man shot in District 11 for whistling.  The crackdown in 12 after I intervened in Gale’s whipping.  My stylist, Cinna, being dragged, bloody and unconscious, from the Launch Room before the Games.  Plutarch’s sources believe he was killed during interrogation.  Brilliant, enigmatic, lovely Cinna is dead because of me.  I push the thought away because it’s too impossibly painful to dwell on without losing my fragile hold on the situation entirely.

What am I going to do?

Katniss’ guilt and conflicting emotions are a big part of this novel, serving to alienate her from even the people closest to her.  I found this continuing struggle fascinating, in part because these are exactly the kinds of challenges we face in our own society and in our own wars.  Collins tackles significant questions here – of war and peace, power and impotence, wealth and poverty – that are mirrored in the real world.  When the goal of a war is a noble one, are any actions, no matter how destructive, worth the final result?  Do the ends always justify the means?  Where do we draw the line?

Like I said, I’m dying to sit down and discuss this book for hours!  The whole series would be great for book groups because there’s just so much to talk about in terms of moral and ethical challenges.  I think it would also be an excellent choice for older high school or college students to read and discuss in class.  I’ve heard some readers say that this book doesn’t seem appropriate for its intended teen or YA audience, but I think it’s not any more gruesome than the two previous books, where a government routinely sacrificed its children in a contest to the death for entertainment.  Perhaps the difference is that our society doesn’t actually have a parallel to the Hunger Games, but we do have our own wars where the questions brought up in this book are just as relevant.  I think that makes this third book even more relevant for young people, though certainly only for older teens and young adults.

Besides the issues that Mockingjay brings up, it is a supremely satisfying read.  If you've read the first two books, you know that Collins isn't one for neat, fairy tale endings, but this book brings closure to the series.  My husband and 16-year old son have been breathing down my neck, waiting for me to finish it so they can read it!

If, like me, you are busting at the seams to talk to other people who’ve read the book (I was careful not to include any spoilers in this review), Sheila at Book Journey has created a Mockingjay Spoiler area (scroll down and click on the Spoiler button) where you can discuss all elements of the book in detail – just what I needed!  And if you're hungry for more about this trilogy, check out The Hunger Games website.

And if The Hunger Games trilogy is too violent to share with your younger kids, you should definitely check out Collins’ earlier middle-grade series, The Underland Chronicles, that begins with Gregor the Overlander.  We read the entire series out loud with our boys when they were about 8 and 11, and all four of us loved it.  It features Collins’ wonderful writing and compelling, unique plots in a fantasy story for middle-grade readers (though there is still some war and violence toward the end of the series), with the added bonus of a great sense of humor.

390 pages, Scholastic



Jan von Harz said...

One of the best and most thoughtful review I have read of this book yet. You brought up some interesting points, ones I thought about but skirted too. Thanks for your insights.

Melissa said...

Great post! I loved the series also. The sense of humor in The Underland Chronicles is great. Every time I think of that series I think of Princess Boots and laugh. I listened to them on audiobook and if you get the chance you should give that a try. The narrator was great.