Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

So now I’ve caught up with the rest of the world by finishing Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, and my first thought after reading “Mockingjay” ($18.99, Scholastic) was that this is exactly what the final book of a trilogy should be.

I thought “The Hunger Games” was quite good and “Catching Fire” was OK, though it did echo the first book a bit. But even if the first two books had been lousy, “Mockingjay” would have made it worth the effort to read them.

Katniss finds herself in the heart of the rebellion in District 13, recovering after being rescued from the arena in Panem’s capitol. She soon discovers that some things never change, though. She finds living conditions are not a whole lot better and that she’s still being manipulated. President Coin of the rebellion has plans to use her as the face of the movement, something that neither of them are completely comfortable with. Once the Capitol begins attempting to use Peeta against her, though, she throws herself into the role, rushing into combat against orders and giving the rebellion everything it needs, but Coin more than she wants.

WARNING: There may be things beyond this point you don’t want to know if you haven’t read the book. I try to be as vague as possible, but I feel like I have to discuss some of them.

There are mixed opinions from fans on this book, and I fully understand why. There’s a sense of hopelessness and desperation that permeates “Mockingjay.” It’s by far the darkest of the three books, and if you’re looking for happily ever after, you might want to look elsewhere. But I have to ask, did anyone really expect a series that began with children fighting to the death in a politically-motivated and technologically-advanced version of the Roman Coliseum to end in happily ever after?

In my opinion, Collins took the final volume in the only logical direction that it could have gone. There’s violence and carnage almost from the first page. There’s pain, sadness, confusion, anger and desperation. Yet, I hung on nearly every word of the story and didn’t want to put it down. There’s no sugar-coated fairy tale here where everything turns out OK. People die, people are hurt, people are changed forever, and usually not in good ways. If Collins’ premise for the story were real, things would likely play out in a pretty similar fashion. Though readers can take some solace in the fact that it ends about as well as it ever had a chance to end.

Admittedly, some of the events late in the book were kind of predictable. A couple of the “twists” toward the end, I saw coming long before they arrived, but that didn’t make the story any less enjoyable.

And is it wrong that after finishing “Mockingjay,” I would love to read more about President Snow? I’ve always been the kind of reader who is fascinated by the bad guy, but in this book Snow, who I considered a very impersonal villain in the beginning, transforms into something more sinister, cunning and satisfying to me. I’m fairly sure that it wouldn’t be a best seller like these books, but I’d love to have a chance to get inside his head, see how he works and watch his rise to power.

I find myself quite surprised with “Mockingjay.” When I started “The Hunger Games,” I felt sure that I would find the series enjoyable and entertaining, but I never guessed that the final book would give me a whole different perspective on it. As I said to start, it is what the final book of a trilogy should be – the best. Collins leaves readers with more than a good story. As with the best science fiction, it offers readers some food for thought, about the world we live in, the technology that advances every day, the kind of leaders that we elect and, of course, the things that we consider entertainment. It’s certainly not a new idea or approach in the genre, but Collins does it well.

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