Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: March 10th, 2012
Date finished: March 11th, 2012
This book is the third in The Hunger Games trilogy and this review WILL contain spoilers for both The Hunger Games (Book 1) and Catching Fire (Book 2). So skip over this if you've managed to avoid the series so far. You really should read the books, though. : )
Katniss Everdeen has survived not one, but two Hunger Games, and is now a wanted criminal. Her home district in Panem has been completely destroyed, but luckily her best friend Gale and her family, as well as a few hundred survivors have been rescued and taken to the believed to be destroyed District 13. While Katniss is still alive, she's not allowed any respite. The survivors of District 13 have rebuilt their civilization underground, and manage to feed, clothe, train and educate everyone through rigid order. They are now in open rebellion against the Capitol and want Katniss to help them mobilize the rest of the country by operating as a figurehead and symbol, the Mockingjay.
"My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is possibly best if he is dead..."
While Katniss was rescued from the 75th Hunger Games by District 13, Peeta was not, and it turns out that there are fates worse than death. Peeta appears to support the cause of the Capitol, and begs Katniss and the rebels to agree to a peace treaty. Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay on the condition that Peeta (and some of the other surviving Hunger Games contestants unaccounted for) be rescued, and not executed as traitors. Until he is, it's quite obvious that President Snow is torturing him specifically to try to break Katniss' spirit, and through her the rebellion.
Is Katniss right to agree to be a figure head for a civil war she wants no part of? While she has survived the Hunger Game arena twice, it's quite clear that war, politics and propaganda are just as deadly a game to traverse, and she has to make sure her loved ones are safe. She lives with the knowledge that District 12 was destroyed in retaliation of her actions, that Peeta is being tortured because of her, and that if she steps a foot out of line as figurehead, she could endanger the lives of the loved ones she has left. Unable to truly trust anyone, she has to make the best of a dreadful situation, and hope that things turn out right in the end.
While I thought that Catching Fire became a bit of a rehash of the first book in the series, Collins takes the book and her heroine in a different direction in Mockingjay. The districts of Panem are now in open rebellion, and while the first books had fights to the death as televised entertainment and a way to keep the population cowed and contolled, this book depicts full on civil war. Katniss is still so young, but forced to make nearly impossible decisions, to keep herself and her loved ones safe. She's racked with guilt about Peeta, who's being tortured and brainwashed by the Capitol and President Snow. She feels conflicted towards Gale, who seems to excel and thrive at guerilla warfare and advanced weapons development. She knows that District 13 and its President need her to act as figurehead, but that also that because of her popularity, she may not live long once the war is over, no matter what side emerges victorious.
I didn't have books like this when I was a teenager, that's for sure. I kept putting off reading Mockingjay because the previous two books were so dark, and I had heard this one was especially bleak. However, The Hunger Games trilogy are now the publishing phenomena of the season, with a very good film adaptation in the cinemas, and teenagers everywhere devouring the books. Three of the teenage girls I teach claimed that they couldn't do their homework properly (which among other things, involves writing a reading log), because they were worried they were going to spoil the book for me. Obviously, I can't give my pupils excuses to skip their homework, so I devoured the book in the course of a weekend, and can now with authority join in the discussion of whether Team Peeta or Team Gale should win. I certainly think teenage girls (and boys) have much better role models in these books than they get in the Twilight books. Collins certainly can't be accused of underestimating the intelligence or maturity levels of teens, and teens today could do much worse than reading and discussing these books. A very good (if bleak) ending to an engrossing series.