Mockingjay, the third book in the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins was released this Tuesday (8/24). In case you’d forgotten, The Hunger Games was the 2008 young adult novel, about kids killing other kids on a live television program, that took the book community by storm. Then Collins managed to fight off the sophmore slump with the equally engrossing Catching Fire last year. Now Mockingjay is out, and while I wouldn’t say it took my breath away, like Catching Fire did, Collins certainly didn’t can’t be accused of taking the easy way out. Mockingjay is more like a knife in the gut.
It’s not a game anymore. I would say that’s the theme of the third book. Heroine Katniss Everdeen finds herself in the middle of a real life war. The book starts out bleak (Katniss tripping over skulls after the bombing of her her village) and gets bleaker and bleaker. Collins is almost “whedonesque” in the way she kills of characters without much ceremony. And certainly, the Katniss we know and loved from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire–the one willing to give her life for her family and friends–is tested here. She describes herself, towards the end, as being fueled by rage and without it, would be nothing. Throughout the book, she’s in danger of losing that spark of humanity that made a nation, not to mention readers, fall in love with her. Ironically, this is the time the Rebellion chooses to put her in front of the camera again as the face of their war effort. She becomes “the Mockingjay”–the spokeswoman who is supposed to inspire the rebels.
You might be wondering what kind of people would put a seventeen year old girl on the front lines of a war. Well, it turns out those people often aren’t much better than the people who would make her fight to the death for their amusement (in The Hunger Games). This is not a fight of good against evil; it’s a war between imperfect human beings at their best and their worst. By the end, I just wanted the carnage to stop. The deaths no longer made much sense. I thought I couldn’t cry anymore. Suzanne Collins has said that she was inspired to write the Hunger Games series after watching wars (Vietnam, Iraq and others) on television, like they were entertainment. So if my reaction is any indication, I think she nailed it.
However, if you bought into the propo (Panem speak for “propoganda”), that this was a book in which Katniss would choose between TEAM PEETA and TEAM GALE (ala Twilight‘s Team Edward and Team Jacob) and finally find romance, you’re going to be seriously disappointed. In a war zone, choices are often made for you, and as Gale himself points out late in the book, Katniss can only pick the one she needs to survive.