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Posted by Vanessa On Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series has created a buzz in the Young Adult world. Her version of a future American dystopia is grim and disturbing. And compelling. The final novel, MOCKINGJAY, was released in August with great anticipation...but was it worth getting all worked up about?

The series begins with THE HUNGER GAMES, an exciting, brutal, and clever story. The setting is well done and artfully displays a society that's rotting from both ends. HUNGER GAMES explores the themes of an influential propaganda machine and an extravagant Capital at the expense of the people, then takes it the next frightening step.

The second novel, CATCHING FIRE, is the weakest in the series because not only is it a rehash of THE HUNGER GAMES, the entire first half is a distanced narrative that doesn't advance characterization and only minimally advances plot. It was as though Collins wanted to get the start out of the way so she could set up even more over-the-top Games for this round (which, I have to admit, were decidedly clever, the new characters interesting), and set up the events for the final novel.

In the third installment, MOCKINGJAY, the aftermath of the 75th games can now finally resolve book two's cliffhanger ending. District 13, the name the rebellion has given itself, has taken over the former District's underground bunker and created a new life for Panem's refugees--one that's startlingly similar to the Capital in it strictness and control. District 13's leader, President Coin, wants to use Katniss Everdeen as the face of the revolution, call her the Mockingjay (a reference to the Capital's past failed manipulations), and use the rebels' own propaganda to garner support from the other districts. If they succeed in taking the other Districts, then they plan to invade the Capital itself. But will Panem only be trading one tyranny for another?

MOCKINGJAY expands the themes from the first two novels: Is war the best way to resolve conflict? Is revenge justifiable? Is controlling people ever reasonable? Collins succeeds in building on the the setting as she explores District 13 and its own distinct culture, and creates a world we'd be afraid to live in--a world frighteningly similar to the Games itself. Katniss must deal with Peeta's imprisonment by the Capital, Gale's romantic frustrations, and decide whether being the Mockingjay is the right thing to do. She has a hard road ahead of her.

Collins is consistent with Katniss' character, her first-person present tense PoV clean, straightforward, and engaging. Katniss starts out the series strong and capable, if cynical; but when we reach MOCKINGJAY, instead of growing as a character, she stagnates. This is supposed to be a coming-of-age story and instead of growing into a woman she continues being a whiny and indecisive teenager who, despite a few bursts of independence, gives up. The only thing she's truly decisive about is her desire to kill President Snow, but at the same time is ambivalent about the war. It doesn't help, either, that she spends half the novel in the hospital or recuperating from injury, which was too much downtime. Katniss has spent her life taking care of her family in the absence of her father and has even survived the Hunger Games twice, so she's earned the right to claim her adulthood--but instead fails to take the next crucial step. This alone will disappoint readers. But wait, there's more.

The story starts out fine enough, but it progresses slowly with spurts of action. By the end the rebellion contradicts its goals, the battle's high body count has no clear purpose, the PoV character Katniss doesn't witness the climax, and then at the end there's ambiguity as to what life will be like for Panem after the war. "But," you say, "Collins is showing us how the powerful will control and hurt innocents to get what they want. And Katniss' ineffectiveness is simply a result of their control!" My reply: Collins' points could have come across just as well with a clearer resolution and more complete character arc. However, Collins is true to her story, and as a result the characters don't emerge unscathed--for a story like this it's difficult to have other than a bittersweet ending. This hard reality may leave readers ambivalent about how Collins chooses to end MOCKINGJAY.

If you haven't read the series, perhaps you're wondering if all three are worth reading. The up-side is that the novels are short so it's not a huge time commitment to read all three. If you have teenagers, they'll likely want to want to read the series, and you'll need to know how to discuss its disturbing themes with them. But beyond that, what do I really think? Only read THE HUNGER GAMES and call it good enough.

Recommended Age: 12 and up, or older depending on your kids, due to themes and violence.
Language: None.
Violence: Quite a bit, actually, for a YA novel. While most of it does happen off-screen, it's still disturbing and frequent for its target audience.
Sex: Katniss is frustratingly oblivious to romantic overtures. There's kissing, falsely implied intimacy, and references to sexual abuse.


  1. Nathan Major Said,

    Agree 100%. I actually wrote a review on my blog that was almost the same as this one. Lots of my friends were POed because I didn't like this book really is a step backwards instead of forward.
    Great review!

    Posted on September 22, 2010 at 9:38 AM

  2. Daniel B. Said,

    Phew! And I thought I was the only reader who found this book to be overrated by the known universe. Now I can forward this review to my wife...

    Posted on September 22, 2010 at 9:41 AM

  3. BBB Said,

    I am the 'wife' mentioned above. I liked the way the series ended. I liked that Katniss was a broken character at the end. I think it strengthed Collins intended message of how destructive war and power can be. I also thought it was more realistic a view than the hero overcoming all and emerging victorious.

    I don't know that the point of the story was even for it to be a coming of age book. And the reality is that in the end Katniss is NOT an adult. She's still a child of sorts who needs people to push her along and take care of her. And rightfully so, I think her experiences legitimize her lack of accepting responsibility and growing up.

    I thought it was fitting that Katniss was ambivalent about the war as well. I think she was confused and tired and unsure of who she should trust.

    The main thing I was disappointed with was Finnick's character. I feel that Collins didn't stay true to who he was at all. I don't think he ever would have gone back and fought in the Capitol city. He cared too much for Annie to take that kind of risk. His was a purposeless death.

    I also thought it was dumb when Katniss voted to have the games again. And if it was meant as some kind of test for Coin, I thin Collins did a poor job of wrapping that up.

    Finally though, as TEEN (you know, the intended audience) books go, I think this series is top notch.

    Posted on September 22, 2010 at 2:09 PM

  4. Vanessa Said,

    Yes, MOCKINGJAY is a coming of age story because it's a story with a adolescent main character who, by the end of the story, [should] have developed in some way, through the undertaking of responsibility, or by learning a lesson ( ; many newspapers and reviewers have labeled this a coming of age story, I'm not the only one). Did Katniss learn anything in this story? Yes, some very hard truths. Did she have responsibilities? Yes, her family and friends. Did she use what she learned, did she fulfill her responsibilities as she ought to have? Unfortunately, no.

    When I think of my daughter as reading this book (she'll be a teen in not too long), I wonder to myself: Should she look at Katniss as a role model? As my daughter grows into womanhood, should she whine and complain and stand aside while others are being mistreated and trampled? Should she advocate drug use, murder, and violence like the main characters do? Even if she's just a kid? If this is a paragon of books for the teen demographic, then I fear for the future of her generation.

    While Collins has something to say--something that's definitely important--she did it at the expense of good storytelling. Which was too bad because she could have served both purposes, but unfortunately didn't. The series started out strong, but was unable to deliver what was promised in the beginning: a resolution to the problem and Katniss fulfilling her role as the POV character.

    Posted on September 22, 2010 at 11:03 PM


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