Mockingjay

26Aug10

Long post today.

Mockingjay is the third book in Suzanne Collins wildly popular Hunger Games series, and it came out two days ago, so I’ve had the chance to read it carefully and to think about it and process it a little, but not to do my usual second read . . . and I’m not sure I will. That’s not because it isn’t good–it is a very good book–but because it is emotionally difficult, almost physically difficult, to read. I talked about the first book in the series here, but I’ll give a quick synopsis of the series to the point where Mockingjay begins before I talk about the book itself. I won’t spoil anything in Mockingjay, but WARNING, if you haven’t read the first two books you will find the way they end discussed.

Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old living in District 12 in an indeterminate time in our dystopian future. War has destroyed much of our earth, and the country has survived terrible civil strife. Now, there is a central capital city/district surrounded by thirteen districts, each of which, except District 13 which has been bombed out of existence, serves the Capital in a different way, supplying food, coal, metals, manufactured goods and so forth–but all are, in essence, slaves. As tribute, since the rebellion the Capital demands that the districts supply by televised lottery, two children, a boy and a girl, each year for the Games . . . a televised reality-show in which the tribute children face deadly traps while trying to kill each other. Only one can win, and a win means special privileges for the survivor’s district and for the survivor. Small touches paint the big picture here: watching is mandatory; the faces and names of the tributes killed are televised at the end of the day to nostalgic music; viewers can supply life-saving gifts to the tributes (for high cost). If they want to survive, tributes must play to the crowd.

from Wikipedia

Katniss lives a life only a little less grim than most. Her father was killed in a mining accident and she illegally hunts and sells her kill at the black market to help feed her mother and sister. Her hunting partner, Gale, loves her, and she may be falling for him. Peeta, her friend from school, loves her and once saved her life by giving her bread (for which he was beaten) when she and her family were starving. Katniss’ 12 year old sister is chosen to fight in the Hunger Games and Katniss volunteers to take her place. Peeta is chosen as the male tribute. Peeta and Katniss are pushed to pretend to be lovers to increase the chances of their survival, and manipulated into being the final survivors. Both start to swallow poison berries to avoid having to kill the other and the games are called a draw, but the powers behind the game have neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Catching Fire, the second novel of the series has Katniss and Peeta drawn into a special Game of survivors from previous Games, since the Capitol can’t have her unpunished for spoiling the previous Game–their control over the population is fragile, and people have embraced Katniss and the Mockingjay pin on her costume in the previous Games as a symbol of rebellion. In the Game, Peeta and Katniss team up with a couple of other tributes to survive. They find a way to destroy the arena and some are rescued by rebels and taken to District 13, (which it turns out does still exist in a tense, quiet detent with the Capitol). Peeta does not escape, and Katniss really does love him. Katniss is told that District 12 has been firebombed out of existence.

Mockingjay, the final book, takes its name from the symbol Katniss has become, the symbol of resistance to the unjust authority of the Capitol and of President Snow. The Mockingjay is a bird genetically engineered by the Capitol to spy on the rebels–it can learn anything said and repeat it. The birds became useless as soon as their purpose was learned, but hold symbolic value as the Capitol’s failure. Katniss’ father sang so sweetly that he could silence the Mockingjays, which then learned his songs and repeated them.

The book is hard to put down. Each page draws you into the next. The writing is flawless and nuanced, but this is still a hard, hard book. Katniss begins the book emotionally torn and lost, walking through the ashes of her home and blaming herself for the deaths of the thousands in it, the deaths of so many who loved her or tried to help her . . . and those she had to kill in order to survive. And yet her family survived and Gale survived. Shockingly, the Capitol airs an interview with Peeta. Peeta survived and seems to have turned, to be trying to stop the fighting.

Katniss is a survivor. She is surrounded by users, by people for whom personal ambitions or the bright cause for which they fight is more important than the lives or the pain of other human beings. And they all want to use her, but Katness still cares. She has a fierce loyalty to those she loves and her hatred for those who destroyed her district and so many she cared for burns through the pages.Again and again as she reaches out to people or they to her, they are killed brutally and ruthlessly. Katniss becomes distant, dissociated. She cannot care whether she lives or dies, but there are still others who do, and so do we.

This is really a book for an older young adult. While the level of violence and pain in the book is high, we are never left with the feeling that killing is glorified or even that ends justify means. The people who die here are people, not ciphers. It is a worthwhile book, but it is one that should be talked about.

I would welcome any thoughts.

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