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Fire and Flowers: A Book Review of Mockingjay (Spoilers)

The world probably doesn't need another review of Mockingjay, but I'm going to write one anyway. I didn't expect to love Suzanne Collins' trilogy as much as I did, especially after reading the first book in the series - The Hunger Games. You can read my review of it here. As you can see, I was less than captivated. But then I read Catching Fire and everything changed. By the end of the second book, I could tell we were getting to the real subject matter at hand. To my mind, Mockingjay is the book that asks the hard questions and tells the most truth, and honestly, I think that's why most of the young adults I have talked to like it the least.

Before I go any further, I should issue a warning that if you haven't read the entire Hunger Games trilogy yet, you should probably come back to this post later, since I can't write the review I want to write without giving away some major plot points. Secondly, so that you know I am not making up the fact that I have actually consulted the targeted demographic of The Hunger Games trilogy, I guess I have to confess that by day I am a recreation leader, and a delightful number of the kiddos I care for every weekday are avid readers. So yes, it's true - I have consulted a few people between the ages of 10 and 13 about their experience of The Hunger Games. All of them - not most - all of them reported that the first novel in the series was their favorite, and Mockingjay was their least favorite. I, however, LOVED Mockingjay - particularly the last twenty pages - which doesn't surprise me because I am a weirdo and it just figures that I feel the exact opposite of everyone else I've talked to.

I do have a defense prepared, though. What do we mean when we say a book is "good?" More specifically, what do I mean? I could not agree more with Anne Lamott when she says, "...good writing is about telling the truth." By this she means exactly what Shakespeare did when he said (and I'm going to paraphrase a bit here) that the purpose of fiction is "to hold a mirror up to nature" - we read to escape, yes, but the higher purpose of both reading and writing is to learn more about the human condition and, consequently, ourselves.

Suzanne Collins has done a beautiful job of this in Mockingjay. How fitting is it that the purest life we encounter in the story, the wisest and most caring heart - that of Primrose Everdeen - is the ultimate cost of all the war and political scheming in The Hunger Games trilogy? It is absolutely fitting, because it is the truth. Prim's death is horrifying but appropriate, when you consider the symbols and motifs at hand. Throughout the series, fire represents war, rebellion, fighting, and the unquenchable spirit. Katniss is "the girl on fire," and in the end, Prim is taken by fire, but not from bombs belonging to the Capitol. Katniss's suspicion that the rebels are about to repeat the dehumanizing cycle of violence, just after they've taken back control from the Capitol, is confirmed when President Coin suggests that the best way to exact vengeance is to hold yet another Hunger Games, only this time involving the children of the Capitol instead of those in the Districts. I was thrilled and impressed when Katniss shot Coin instead of Snow.

Mockingjay "holds a mirror up to nature" because the Latin phrase that Plutarch explains to Katniss - Panem et Circenses - hits uncomfortably close to home, does it not? We think we would never host a Hunger Games, but Jennifer Lawrence herself commented that we already glean entertainment from other people's pain, using the example of Kim Kardashian's divorce.

I think it's possible that young adults reading Mockingjay are put off by the "messiness" of life that Collins reveals. When two boys are both in love with you, there is confusion, guilt, fighting, broken hearts, jealousy, and deception, not bliss. When two people have faced the kind of torture, trauma, violence, and loss that Katniss and Peeta have faced, they don't come through it whole, and there needs to be time for reconcilitaion and healing. Collins could not have painted a more accurate picture of youth in their situation. And that's why I think the young adults around us like Mockingjay the least - life is messy, life has trauma and then slow healing, and life is pain, but they don't know this yet. I think years from now they will look back and realize they are all too familiar with what Collins was trying to teach them.

In closing, I have to say that I knew I was in love with Mockingjay when I read Katniss's older-than-her-years insight in which she says, "..what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that."

You can't help but love Peeta. He has always represented peace and selflessness. I think it is good for young people to read about an adolescent girl making the choice of Peeta for the love of her life. And I think we could all use more dandelions in the spring.

Comments

  1. Hehe I am so glad you liked the trilogy. Can you see now why I was freaking out on New Years Eve?? I was reading the last twenty pages of the trilogy while you were all playing Risk. I agree that the books were incredibly realistic. That's what I love about them. I also enjoy that Suzanne Collins truly broke gender stereotypes.

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    1. No wonder you kept exclaiming while we were playing the game! I can definitely understand now. I could not read those last 20 pages fast enough - I was dying to know how it all "ended" (I don't really believe in endings), and I was so pleased with how it did.

      And I agree - the author's treatment of the genders in this series is great, and very counter-cultural. It is refreshing and interesting to read about a teenage girl who is hesitant to marry because (at least at the beginning) there doesn't seem to be a point to romance, and hesitant to have children because of the fear of bringing them into such a violent, hungry world. And even though she does end up with Peeta and have kids, it wasn't the end goal.

      Which book in the series was your favorite? Did I already ask you this?

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  2. I've got to agree with the kiddos - Mockingjay was the weakest part of the trilogy for me. Although it's an interesting point - it does seem older readers are happier with the messy nature of the book compared to younger readers, who presumably prefer a neater plot.

    My review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

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