“Mockingjay”…a review, of sorts

I am so very late to the party. The Hunger Games are quite the sensation in both the literary and film world, but until recently, I only knew the story from the two films. My daughter has been a fan of the books since she read them years ago, and has told me repeatedly that I ought to read them because she thought I’d like them. Julie read the series, too. And she thought the books were quite compelling and told a very compelling story. She thought I’d like the story as well, but I resisted because I’m not a big reader of fiction. It’s not that I don’t enjoy fictional tales, it’s just that I find non-fiction more interesting. But maybe that’s all changing.

I just finished Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Her name, I must admit, conjures memories of a couple of Collins sisters who acted and wrote. You know, Joan and Jackie), and was very satisfied with the way in which Collins wrapped up the story of Katniss Everdeen — a headstrong rural girl from an impoverished area of what was once North America who, through an act of familial sacrifice, becomes a symbol of rebellion against a totalitarian state. On the face of it, the story is a good teen yarn because it pits a cruel world against the freedom-loving desires of an oppressed class of teenagers. If it wasn’t for the more ambiguous and subtle political undertones coupled with a commentary on media manipulation of the masses, it would be a rather conventional (and probably boring) book. However, Collins has taken a conflicted girl and made her the hero of the story where the levels of manipulation that she’s subjected to should make her bend to the will of one or another force vying to control her — or at least the image she represents. However, Katniss is quite street smart, can read people’s intentions, and she’s quite aware of the power plays going on around her. In this story (the last in the trilogy) sees our hero beaten up quite badly throughout the novel. She suffers strangulation, bodily burns, and other injuries that should have broken her. She also eventually reconciles the love triangle between her, Peeta, and Gale in a way that some may find puzzling, but I thought worked quite nicely.

Mockingjay is a very dark story (probably darker than the other two novels in the series) but it’s a much more satisfying work that deftly weaves in a complex political story that is fairly nuanced for a novel directed toward a largely teen audience. But that’s probably why these novels are appealing to readers who are not in the targeted demographic. The way in which Collins balances action, a love story, and political struggles makes it more than just a boilerplate novel. Don’t write these books off as “just another teen sci-fi novel.” Collins has done a good job of creating a story that’s a both a commentary on our current society and a gripping action novel that has plenty of surprises.

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