[ Book Review ] In which Meg tries to tone down Collins Fangirling

Meg’s Review: Mockingjay

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

(the third book of the Hunger Games Trilogy)

When the Nebula Awards announced their short list for this year’s best books, and I decided to jump in and read all the nominees for YA fiction. I started with (and actually only read) Mockingjay because a) I already own it and b)I thought it would be the fastest to knock out. I’ve already read it, after all.

Six months after my first read, I did not expect that same gut-wrenching emotional response to the conclusion of this phenomenal trilogy.

Yes, I just said phenomenal.

The trilogy follows Katniss, who is selected as a tribute to participate in The Hunger Games, a yearly reality show that pits children from across a dystopian future-America in a battle to the death. While the first two novels are concerned with the Games, the third moves into new ground. The reality show games are over and the war games are just beginning. However, I’m not going to discuss the plot of Mockingjay. It’s impossible to do so without spoilers. Suffice it to say, the novel picks up a few days after the end of the second book, Catching Fire.

In this third installment, rather than rehashing the events of previous books, Collins brings the important facts up when the plot demands it, and I love her for it. The story moves at a steady pace, laying out the story with a careful deliberation that I did not appreciate on my first read. This time, however, I was engrossed with how well Collins crafted the structure of this novel.

This series has one of the best uses of first person present tense I’ve ever read in YA. Not only that, the chose of narration style drives the characterization forward. The 17-year-old Katniss Everdeen is a well-written and intense character, and the reader is completely immersed in her mind.  Because Katniss she’s not one for long-term thinking, neither is the reader. And that allows Collins to pull one of the best and most emotionally terrible misdirections in YA literature I’ve ever had the harrowing pleasure to read. Even on the second time through, I was crying by the end.

The main character herself is perhaps one of the most unlikeable heroes in YA fiction, straying hard left onto the line of anti-hero. But again, it’s because of how well Collins has crafted her. Because Katniss is so much more concerned about the well-being of her family and friends than her own safety, it almost gives readers the right to disregard it as well. In the first book, I distinctly remember not wanting Katniss to live, but rather Peeta and Rue. This doesn’t change in Mockingjay; Katniss’s survival is secondary to stopping the war as quickly and as bloodlessly as possible. This might be a turn-off for some readers, but it works. For me, it is a testament to the characters and world Collins has built.

Overall, if I had rated this on the first go around, it would have only received four canaries — the first hundred pages were so intolerably long. Collins took her time building the world and adding in characters and I simply couldn’t care about, still high off her previous book and wanting to get to the end of this one. Who’s gonna die, I yelled at the book. How will the trilogy end?

In my impatience, I missed how much more thematic Mockingjay is compared to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The motifs and symbolism (and I mean those words in the capital-L Literary way, not the every-book-technically-has-symbolism-and-motifs way) are in sharp relief here. They’re still not shoved down the throat (except the anti-war bits), but they’re not as easy to shake off as in the first two books. They sink their claws in for the long haul.

Okay one last last thought: I still hadn’t unpacked my books after moving, so I borrowed Mockingjay in Nook book format from a friend. With 100 pages left, I put the Nook down, went to the basement, and dug out my hardcopy in order to finish it. The Nook just wasn’t substantial enough. It didn’t feel right to not hold the weight of the book in my hands as I came up to the ending. I wanted to be able to touch the page with the closing line to be that much closer and connected to the final moment of the story.

That’s the kind of book Mockingjay is.

I could go on — I absolutely adore the book and series — but I’ll stop with one last-last thought: If you haven’t read the Hunger Games series yet, do it. Do it right now. Go to your library and pick it up.

You will not be disappointed.


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About theothercanary

Science journalist by day, canary by night, Meg lives with a cat named Thing Two and a computer named Squishy. She has a writing degree from John Hopkins and a Nook that she plans to utilize to its full capacity the next time she needs to escape being chased by zombie raptors. View all posts by theothercanary

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