The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

She triumphed in The Hunger Games. Against unspeakable odds, she returned victorious in Catching Fire. She is the face of a rebellion she never dreamed existed, and carries the weight of her people on her shoulders.

She is Katniss Everdeen, and she's back in Mockingjay, the third installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

In this dark conclusion to the series that captivated the young adult audience at large, we find Katniss in a situation that is hauntingly foreign. As the mockingjay—the poster child for the District 13 rebellion—Katniss tries to live her life as it was before she participated in the hunger games. But with Peeta captured by The Capitol, and Gale attempting to forge a tentative romance, she finds solace only in solitude. To make matters worse, political tensions are mounting in District 13, and full-on war is progressing against The Capitol.

The foreign element from this story comes from the lack of the hunger games themselves. Many readers felt like Catching Fire simply rehashed its predecessor, but I think that "the games" was this element I was looking for in Mockingjay. The games themselves—as twisted and askew as they may be—are what initially drew readers to Collins' trilogy, and without them, Mockingjay is, admittedly, weaker.

Instead of the slightly off-kilter dystopian of the previous books, Mockingjay is a dark tale of post-war trauma. Of people who die a little inside, and never completely live again. Katniss finds herself thrust time and time again into situations where she could be happy, but she finds it impossible to rebuild her life. The only time she feels like herself is when she's in the middle of the war.

Collins' characterization is… difficult to define, mainly because the characters have changed so much between Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Prim is no longer the na├»ve thirteen year old; Finnick isn't the falsely arrogant Adonis; Peeta isn't the sweet, if misguided boy we've come to love, and Katniss herself is raw. Hollow. And yet she trudges on. These new qualities in her behavior are exhibited especially towards the end of the novel when she makes decisions that the reader will doubt. She acts as our all-too-human narrator.

The prose in Mockingjay is in the same style as the other books—very simple, first-person, present tense, but not condescending. However, the story goes from merely violent and fantastic, to dark and foreboding. This is not a kid's story anymore. This is something darker. Grittier. This is, for all intents and purposes, the story of a young soldier who is suffering from post-war trauma.

I'm afraid that Collins will lose some of her readers with this novel. However, at the same time, I think she'll gain a new audience. Mockingjay is more of a post-war story of existence, than a conclusion of redemption. And the bittersweet taste that it leaves behind will linger.

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