Friday, August 27, 2010
Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
In case you have been living under a rock when it comes to the latest in young adult literature, Mockingjay is the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I reviewed the first two books in the series, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire here. The trilogy tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old living in District 12 of Panem-what was once the United States. Her life, and the lives of everyone in the districts, is closely controlled by the Capitol. The populace is left half-starved and completely oppressed. Once a year, just to prove how powerful it is, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games, in which teen-age tributes fight to the death to earn their districts extra food for the year. The event is televised all through Panem, and is required watching. When Katniss, who volunteers to be a tribute to save her younger sister, finds a way to outsmart the system, she becomes a threat to the Capitol, and sets in motion a chain of events that leads to an uprising.
(If you have not yet read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and want to, I suggest you stop reading now, as I cannot guarantee there will be no spoilers in the following review. You have been warned!)
This is where Mockingjay picks up. While Katniss deals with the physical and emotional aftermath of her time in the games, the rebels try to groom her to be their symbol-the mockingjay, which has come to mean freedom to the people of Panem. Katniss is ambivalent about being used by the rebels, and is desperately worried about Peeta, the second tribute from District 12, who was captured at the end of the Hunger Game in Catching Fire. Finally, her desire for revenge against the cruel President Snow causes her to throw in the with rebels. With her best friend Gale by her side, she tries to outsmart the Capitol-and the rebels-in order to avenge the brutalities visited on her, her family and friends, and her district, and maybe just free Panem from tyranny while she's at it.
That summary feels pretty weak, but I am afraid that saying too much will ruin something for someone, so it'll have to do. Because the fact is, if you know too much about the events of the book prior to reading, there is no way that the story can pack the same emotional wallop that it does on a cold read. I was wrung out after finishing-in a good way, if there is such a thing. Granted, I pretty much read it all in one sitting, but I don't know how I could have put it down. And I am not really going to go into the state of the Peeta/Katniss/Gale triangle. That, too me, is the least that this series has to offer. Suffice it to say that regardless of what "team" you are one (and could we stop making everything about teams, like it's the Superbowl or something!), you will find very few happy endings in Mockingjay.
What made this book feel different for me than other books with similar topics is the way that the horrors of war are portrayed. There is no sentimentality here. All of the characters, but Katniss, Gale, and Peeta especially, are horribly damaged by the war-body, mind, and spirit. Collins does not try to sugarcoat the effects of war on human beings. People go crazy, people are wounded, people die. For periods of the book some of the characters are basically living on anti-depressants and other psychiatric drugs. I don't see how anyone reading this book could possibly believe that war is somehow glamorous, as some books/movies seem to imply. Despite the horror and pain, Katniss and the others somehow manage to keep going-a greater testament to the human spirit than the glorified warriors of other novels, I think.
I also liked the theme of media manipulation. Both the Capitol and the rebels use propaganda films to sway the populace. There is a certain amount of "wagging the dog", and ultimately the novel shows how almost anything can be spun to prove almost anything. I think that is not so different than what happens in today's media. Just think about a political campaign. There is so much conflicting information presented in campaign ads, it is impossible for both sides to be telling the truth. Or think about famous scandals. A well placed apology or public conversion can change a scoundrel into a repentant saint we are all too quick to forgive-especially if they shoot a basketball real well or starred in a movie we really liked. The fact was that no one who wasn't "in on it" had any idea what the true agendas of either the Capitol or the rebels were, including Katniss, who was once again manipulated for someone else's purposes.