Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3)

Summary

After emerging from the Hunger Games arena as victor  (again) Katniss Everdeen finds herself in the fabled District 13.  President Snow is livid with her and revolution is brewing throughout Panem.  District 13′s President Coin has a plan, though and, once again, Katniss is expected to be a part of it. But the Girl on Fire is starting to burn out, and not everything is as it seems. Or as it should be.  Will President Snow destroy Panem to quell the revolution? Or worse, will he get to Katniss’ loved one’s first?  And in the end, who is it, really, who has won?

Review

Katniss Everdeen has survived the 75th annual Hunger Games. Unbeknownst to her, the other players (former Hunger Games victors) were doing everything in their power to make her the winner. This, to continue the revolution and make her The Mockingjay, the revolution’s symbol.  Initially, there is no Peeta (he has been captured by President Snow and is being tortured). This time, there is Gale. This time Katniss, ever the struggle between Good and Evil, must struggle on her own. And this time, this reader, was disappointed.

Underground, in District 13, we are struck almost immediately, with the sameness of the of District 12 under President Snow and are wondering what the Revolution is really about. President Coin, the leader of District 13 and the default leader of the Revolution, is strangely similar to President Snow. In some ways, District 13 is even more controlling than the capital.  As such, while Katniss fights against President Snow – that is, against tyranny and for freedom – we wonder if she isn’t being duped. As readers, we wonder if we aren’t being duped. Who, exactly, are we cheering for?

And this is where I struggle with this book. Up until now, good has been good and evil clearly defined. And now, while the Revolutionaries believe they are fighting for freedom and Good, what they are actually fighting for is the exchange of one evil system for another.

Sadly, Katniss is entwined in this questionable battle. She is often motivated by revenge and “the promise to kill Snow.” and at one time, in the heart of a battle for the Capital center, notes that “people shoot reflexively and I’m no exception…Killing whoever comes into our path.” (341) It is here that I am particularly shocked out of the narrative of the story and am confronted with Collin’s anti-war sentiment and, perhaps, her misunderstanding of war and the way it is fought. Does she believe soldiers to raid towns and kill indiscriminately? I’m not convinced she doesn’t. And I was yanked out of the story to question whether it is so, or not.

I am left, then, not only with an unconvincing climax, but a disappointing heroine. A heroine that gives into revenge and destruction. And in the end – in the future – Katniss has a hard time finding the Joy in counting the Good. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome? Could be.

But maybe, just maybe, it is because in a post-apocalyptic society, still scrubbed of any definitive and knowable Goodness, Truth, or Beauty, there really isn’t any Joy.

Details

  • Author: Suzanne Collins
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1st edition (August 24, 2010)
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Reading Age:

What You Need to Know

  • Role Models/Authority Figures - Peeta remains good – though he is (literally) tortured into a false darkness. Katniss is not always the heroine in this book. While she has her redeeming moments, she is often motivated by hate to revenge.
  • Violence - This novel has at its center, war. There are battle scenes in which we see immoral acts of killing (even for war), the wounded, the dead, and the battlefield.
  • Sexual Content - We learn about Finnick that President Snow “sold his body. Tales of strange sexual appetites…charges of incest.” (170-1), Katniss “finds comfort in Peeta’s arms and…his lips.” (388)
  • Language - None.
  • Consumerism - The Capital remains the epitome of consumerism. It is in this novel that the “Panem et Circenses” quote is revealed, and charged.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – Haymitch remains a drunk.
  • Religion - There is still no God in Panem.
  • Other
  • Awards

 

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)

Summary

After surviving the Hunger Games, tributes Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have returned home to District 12 and are looking forward to the privileged life previous victors have enjoyed. Katniss soon learns, though, that by saving both her and Peeta’s lives in the arena, she may have threatened her own. Oh, and her mother and sister’s life as well. It seems she and Peeta have sparked something of a revolution in Panem, and President Snow isn’t happy.  In fact, he visits her and orders her to quell the rebellions on her upcoming Victory Tour.  And if she and Peeta can’t put out the sparks of revolution? President Snow has assured Katniss the consequences will be dire.

Review

While Catching Fire picks up almost exactly where the Hunger Games left off, the pace is decidedly slower.  Indeed, I found myself speeding through this book only to get on to Mockingjay. But you shouldn’t do this! The book is good in its own right, and shouldn’t be missed.

This time, Katniss and Peeta must convince all of Panem – including President Snow – that they are really in love.  But this isn’t that easy for Katniss who is struggling with her feelings for Gale.  Or rather, she is still struggling with knowing what to feel at all. At the heart of this love triangle is The age-old battle of love and forgiveness against hatred and revenge.

Peeta remains the boy we love to love. He continues to make the right decisions and is always searching to put the darkness behind him – in as much as he is able – in order to preserve himself.  We begin to see in Gale a predisposition to believe that the ends justify the means. And that, if possible, revenge is the best way. Katniss struggles between the two, knowing that Peeta is beautiful but Gale is more attractive.

As the 75th annual Hunger Games find both Peeta and Katniss in the arena and battling against the victorious tributes of the past, we see a wiser Katniss, now trying to show that she is “more than just a piece in their games” (242).  And even as we hear her tell this to Peeta, we can’t help but wonder if she is somehow becoming the piece in someone else’s game.

A final cautionary reminder: The Hunger Games Trilogy is dystopian. My opinion hasn’t changed since I reviewed The Hunger Games in that I still don’t believe the series is appropriate for the younger crowd, or even the more sensitive older children.  Those that do read it will most certainly need to discuss and process the contents of the book.

Details

  • Author: Suzanne Collins
  • Publisher: Scholastic; 1st edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Hardback: 391 pages
  • Reading Age: Ages 13 and up

What You Need to Know

  • Role Models/Authority Figures - Katniss remains a relatable character. Peeta remains good.
  • Violence - Revolutions are rising and the Peacekeepers must…keep peace. This of course, is accomplished through rather violent means: shootings, whippings, crowd “submissions”. Another Hunger Games.
  • Sexual Content - former Head Peacekeeper of District 12, Cray, lures “starving young women into his bed for money” (114), more cuddling, kissing. Finnick is described as a “ladies man” with vague details (210). Katniss kisses Peeta with more passion (352)
  • Language - None.
  • Consumerism – Panem is still the epitome of consumerism, still a statement against it.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs - Haymitch is still a drunk.
  • Religion – There is no God in Panem.
  • Other -
  • Awards – Booklist Editor’s Choice (2009), ALA Top Ten Books for Young Adults (), Kirkus Best Book (2009), Indie’s Choice Award (2010)

 

The Hunger Games

Summary

It is sometime in the future in a place once known as North America.  This new place - new country – is Panem and it is made up of a Capital surrounded by 12 districts.  Sometime ago, the districts staged a revolution against the shiny but cruel Capital and were defeated.  Now, to punish the districts and to remind the newer generations not to repeat the mistake, each district must send two children (one boy and one girl) to the annual Hunger Games – a televised fight to the death.  When 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen is picked to represent District 12, her older sister volunteers to take her place.  And now Katniss must fight, not only against the other children in the arena, but against her humanity, and yes, even – however quietly – against the Capital itself.

Review

I enjoyed the Hunger Games. The writing is superb and moves at a comfortable pace. The plot is dark, yet brilliant.  But you knew all that and isn’t why you came here for a review.

Before I get the review itself, I’d like to point out the obvious context here. The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel. As such, it must be read in context: a comment on the current trends of society, following them to their extreme conclusion.

The future country of Panem is Godless, wiped clean of even the memory of any Christian names.  Beauty has been removed from the outlying districts, and is only present in the Capital in the false forms of glitter and excess. Truth has been altered such that even in the natural world animals have been altered into cruel and evil distortions of their original form.  And Love. In the Capital, everyone loves. Themselves.

Meet Katniss Everdeen. It is out of love that she risks her life to feed her family. And it is out of love that she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games.  Her District 12 opponent? Peeta. An acquaintance of Katniss’ that risked abuse from his parents to save her life many years ago, in the back alley behind his family’s bakery.

And it is this story line – a story line of love – that redeems this outwardly dark novel.  Never are we led to believe that anything that occurs in the Capital nor anything the Capital oppresses the district with are good. The Capital is the embodiment of evil, even as it glitters and shines and projects itself into the lives of its people.  Yes, we see evil acts of children killing other children. Yes, these acts are televised to the entire nation even as the outlying districts are forced into watching. But we never believe it is good. We are never asked to believe these things are good. Rather, we are asked to watch Peeta as he struggles to keep a part of himself whole – to prove “they don’t own [him]. [He is] more than just a piece in their games” (142). We are asked to watch Katniss, a superior hunter, as she struggles to maintain her humanity and not hunt her fellow “contestants.” We watch Katniss reintroduce humanity as she holds a dying girl in her arms and sings to her a farewell; as she places flowers on the dead girl’s body. Here, in Katniss, there is hope. Yes, Katniss kills. But generally only in self-defense, or in the defense of others.

If good is good, and evil is evil, than anything that blurs that line should be read cautiously. I noticed two such instances in The Hunger Games. Firstly, there is an instance where Katniss shoots a boy being mauled by dogs. The boy was nearly dead, and the act was presented as a mercy killing. Also, just before the end of the games, a suggestion is made that committing suicide may be a viable option to keep the Capital from winning.  While the plan is not carried out, it is not presented as an act clearly immoral. No. The ends do not justify the means. No, you may not commit evil in order to bring about a greater good.

Should you let your children read this book? I can’t tell you that. But I would say that you MUST read the book first. Yes, the entire thing. And then, please, for the love of Beauty, and Truth, and Love – discuss it with them.

The book is dark. But then, a world completely and utterly without God would be dark.

Details

  • Author: Suzanne Collins
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press  (2008)
  • Publisher’s Reading Age: Ages 12 and up

 

What You Need to Know

 

  • Role Models/Authority Figures – A few minor adult characters in District 12 are good people.  The further away from the Capital, the better the people. Katniss is a role model, although she does struggle with doing the right thing. Peeta never wavers.
  • Violence – Umn. Televised to-the-death-fights between children. The most violent part of the killing is the cold and heartless description of it by the author.
  • Sexual Content – There is cuddling. A few kisses.
  • Language – None.
  • Consumerism – The Capital is the epitome of consumerism, and as such is a strong statement against it.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – The children’s coach is a drunk. The children are allowed to drink, Katniss does.
  • Religion – In Panem, there is no God.
  • Other – A major motion picture released March 24, 2012.
  • Awards – Cybils Award (2008), ALA Best Book for Young Adults (2009), Booklist Editors Choice (2008), Kirkus Best Young Adult Book of the Year (2008), a Hornbook “Fanfare” Book (2008), New York Times Book Review Editors Choice (2008), School Library Journal Best Book (2008), and many, many others. Too many to list.