Scholastic, 2010, 400 pages, C$19.99 hc, ISBN 978-0-439-02351-1
Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy wraps up to a close with Mockingjay, a final entry that abandons the previous novels’ structure (which was admittedly wearing thin in Catching Fire) in favor of an outright story of rebellion against the established order of Panem.
After the events of the story so far, series narrator/heroine Katniss Everdeen shows up in Mockingjay even more damaged than she has ever been. Forced to abandon the ruined remnants of her home district, coerced in acting as the Rebellion’s “Mockingjay” spokesperson, Katniss certainly isn’t an enthusiastic rebel. It doesn’t take a long time for her to realize that the rebels aren’t necessarily morally superior to the regime they’re fighting against. The book doesn’t end with another bout of the Hunger Games, but sends Katniss deep in enemy territory in the hope of ending the war.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Mockingjay is the depiction of the heroine as a traumatized survivor. Katniss’ heroics have only bought her most pain and suffering. As the book progresses, she sees her ambiguous paramour Peeta brainwashed by opposing forces to the point that he tries to kill her. A lot of people die around her, more poignantly toward the end of the novel. Her thirst for vengeance isn’t noble or admirable, but twisted and self-destructive. War isn’t glorified, but shown as an atrocity, and she can’t even be sure that the rebel leaders will be any better than the established order, which is the kind of thing that tempers any kind of enthusiasm. Readers are brought along cringing and fearing the next plot point, especially when characters openly start discussing what is real and what isn’t. (One can argue that the epilogue is just a hallucination, but that’s being a bit too mean.)
Fortunately, this increasing grimness isn’t a jarring evolution in the series. The Hunger Games was noteworthy for its blood-thirstiness even in today’s unsentimental Young Adult marketplace, and Katniss’ gradual deterioration well in-line with her character’s arc through Catching Fire. Given that she narrates the events, however, it does become a bit tedious to live in her head. The announcement that Mockingjay would be adapted on-screen as two separate movies raises a few interesting questions regarding the re-structuring of the novel, especially given how much action takes place away from Katniss and thus far removed from her narration. There are a few plot cheats in order to give her essential information, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the novel makes the leap from first-person to third-person narration. More explosions are likely, but what’s going to be more interesting is in seeing whether the rather loose plotting of the book will be further diffused by spreading it over more than three hours, or if the filmmakers will be able to tighten up the story. (Given the first film’s clunky third-person exposition, it doesn’t bode well.)
Otherwise, it does bring the series to a conclusion, even though some plot threads are cut short in the rush to complete the ending. Katniss, damaged as she is, is still a likable protagonist, and the characters surrounding her all have a role to play in the unfolding of the story. Anyone who makes it to the third volume is likely to be satisfied, even though this novel is substantially different in structure from its predecessor. While the trilogy may not be entirely believable nor all that pleasant to experience, it’s a well-told story with a strong heroine, and the bittersweet conclusion decently wraps it up.