(SPOILER alert—> in case you haven’t already guessed, this article contains spoilers for the The Hunger Games trilogy.)
Wow. I’m not even sure where to begin. This series of novels is one that only seems to get better the farther along you get. Collins’ characters start out seeming “very teenage” (and thus hard to relate to as an adult,) despite the weighty backdrop of a dystopic society where their everyday life is hard and wanting, and their lives are considered as forfeit by the ruling Capitol. However, as the series progresses, Katniss, the main character, seems to spend less time pondering immature pursuits. It becomes evident from almost the start of the book, that life in District 13 has a very regimented and controlled aspect. The similarities to the Capitol are not lost on the reader.
While Katniss struggles with what is effectively post-traumatic stress, the leader of 13, Coin, tries to enlist her to officially pick up the mantle of rebel “mascot.” As the Mockingjay, Katniss has heavy responsibilities (even given the backdrop of the Games as an established part of her life.) Now her actions and words directly influence not only her own life and the lives of those close to her, but the lives of all the other rebels, and possibly the fate of the war itself.
Contrary to that, or maybe even complementary to that, is the fact that she is still only seventeen years old (sixteen when the series began,) and by the opening of the Mockingjay novel, she is beginning to crumble under the strain of her experiences and responsibilities. Her fellow tribute Peeta, who has now become much more in her eyes, is in the hands of the enemy, and her actions also directly effect his treatment. Although she still has not admitted her feelings for him, she is devastated by the pain her every action as a part of the revolution costs him.
Far from being a flaw, her declining mental state endears her more to the reader; she is not an invincible hero(in), like John McClane in a Die Hard flick. She can’t just keep taking the hits and maintain not only her physical well-being, but her mental well-being as well. She is human and relatable.
Following that vein, the secondary and supporting characters begin to grow on the reader. The best praise I can give this novel is probably the fact that I found myself smiling, laughing out loud, or almost crying at several points in the story. I have become somewhat attached to the characters and I care what happens to them. To me, this is truly the mark of a successful piece of writing.
With Mockingjay, Collins also manages to be shocking, surprising the reader with unexpected plot twists and very adult themes, while never being ribald or vulgar. She manages to disclose Finnick’s use as a sex slave by the capitol without cheapening the writing with tacky imagery. After all, the books are categorized as teen reading.) To me, this speaks of her growing regard for her readers (or her growing confidence in her books sales.)
Now the tough part…the end. As Katniss and her small band of soldiers (having been rapidly and violently depleted, make their way to President Snow’s mansion. There they encounter a cement barrier, and penned inside, meant to be used as a shield between the rebels and the President, is the Capitol’s children. Suddenly, in callous and brutal fashion, timed bombs, disguised as gifts (similar to the gifts given tributes during the Games) are rained down on the children by a hovercraft bearing the Capitol logo. As if this is not heartless enough, a second wave of explosives detonate as the rebels’ medics swoop in to aid the surviving children. Katniss’ sister Prim is among the medics and immediately after witnessing her sister’s violent end, Katniss herself is then consumed by fire and blacks out.
It all sounds very dramatic. However, when Katniss comes to, she in the hospital wing that has been established temporarily in Snow’s residence. Some indeterminate amount of time has passed for Katniss in a medically drugged state. Snow has been apprehended. The war is over. With the brutal murder of the children, the Capitol lost its last remaining supporters, and Coin now the President of all of Panem. The whole thing, while terribly emotional, is a bit anti-climactic. Where is the protagonist’s long-awaited victory over the evil oppressors? Where is her moment of vindication?
And yet, there is still more tale to tell. Because while Katniss is healing up from her physical injuries (and slowly succumbing to her emotional ones,) she is awakened to the fact that the bombing might have been a rebel ploy to finally topple the Capitol. And if that is the case, Katniss’s best friend Gale helped design the weapons that were used and Coin has used her like a tool, sacrificing innocent children to the cause, and then assuming power for herself. Understandably, Katniss is confused and does not want to believe. Already, her relationship with Gale is irreparably damaged due to the fact that even though may have been unaware that they would be the direct cause of Prim’s death (Katniss’ sister,) Katniss will never fully be able to reconcile herself with the part he played.
With victims of the Capitol clamoring for justice, there is discussion amongst the remaining victors (at the behest of Coin) to decide whether or not to institute one last series of Hunger Games using the Capitol’s children this time, to punish the offending Capitol citizens. When the vote breaks down, the reader is shocked to find Katniss and Peeta on opposing sides, Katniss feeling that someone has to pay for her sister’s death. It may occur to the reader than that this will be one more obstacle between Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.
However, everything changes when, at the last moment, as Katniss stands ready to execute Snow for his crimes, an honor she has been promised, she has a change of heart and kills Coin instead. At this point, the reader may be expecting this maneuver.
Skip some of the interim details and the reader finds Katniss exiled to the abandoned District 12 Victor’s Village, having been exonerated of Coin’s murder by dint of being a “helpless, shell-shocked lunatic.”
Perhaps what is most poignant about this novel is the fact that there really is no happy ending…for anyone. Finnick is dead, leaving his new bride to mourn him. Rue, Maggs, Boggs, Cinna, Portia, Rue, Prim, and many others who found their way into Katniss’ cautious heart are still dead. Gale essentially disappears to work in District two. Katniss’ mother, with whom she had a strained relationship at best, is completely distraught over Prim’s death and throws herself into hospital work in another District. Haymitch is still a raging alcoholic.
Peeta and Katniss do end up married with children. Katniss has realized that she needs Peeta’s light, not Gale’s anger and fire. But Katniss describes her life in terms of “keeping busy,” and as she talks about her children and how she will eventually have to tell them about the Games, she speaks of them as “the dancing girl” and the “boy with blond curls.” It’s as if, even now, some fifteen years later, she is afraid to speak their names, afraid to love them to much, lest she lose them like so many others in her life. Katniss survived the Games…twice…but she is still only surviving. The experiences she has had and the losses she has sufferef have effectively ruined her, and by time the reader turns the last page of Mockingjay, they will realize that Katniss Everdeen will never truly be able to leave the Arena.