The Hunger Games – Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. Book Review

by Kamille Roach.
Suzanne Collins; author of the enormously successful Hunger Games series of books and a movie; was flicking through television channels one night and saw a reality program where teams competed to reach a given destination for a monetary prize. On another channel, armed children were involved in war. Click; she had the idea to mix the two and the confronting and brilliant Hunger Games was born.

The Hunger Games, Mockingjay; the third offering in the Hunger Games Sci Fi Trilogy, is another fast and furious ride with 17 year old, bow-and-arrow wielding Katniss Everdeen, in a world where poor ‘districts’ – or communities – face a daily battle for physical and emotional survival.

Previously, the Districts starved while all raw materials they produced were skimmed off and used by the unashamed consumers in the Capitol, maintaining their opulent, excessive lifestyles. Worse still, to keep peace with the evil power, these communities had to contribute two children labelled ‘tributes’, – a boy and girl between 12 – 18 years of age; each year, to fight to death in an arena where there can be only one victor. The horrific reality show; complete with themes, costumes and sponsorships; is screened live by the wealthy Capitol whose population are willing to sacrifice young lives for their entertainment. But the game has changed.

The districts are rebelling after Katniss’s second Hunger Games where she escaped to District 13, previously thought destroyed. The story begins in her old home of District 12 which has been reduced to ashes.
District 13 has emerged as a strong force armed with nuclear weapons. Those in 13’s upper echelons of power have been waiting for their opportunity to attack the capitol, but they need the people of the Districts on side. Katniss; named the Mockingjay to symbolise hope and resilience, is the ideal face to lead and inspire a united rebellion. But she is haunted by the capture of her on-screen sweetheart Peeta; believing correctly that he is being tortured and brainwashed.

With her close friend, and possible love interest Gale, Katniss is again a pawn in a larger game; this time using propaganda via the media to encourage support for the rebels, threaten the Capitol and seek revenge. We watch fascinated the strategies and training for the uprising, but Katniss is plagued by nightmares and her concern for Peeta who, she realizes, is someone far more important than just an on-screen love. Plans to rescue Peeta are put into place when Katniss cracks under pressure after seeing the obviously injured and transformed boy she survived two hunger games with.

‘underneath the paint that cannot cover the bags under his eyes, and the fine clothes that cannot conceal the pain he feels when he moves, is a person badly damaged’.

‘Behind me, I can hear the accusations against Peeta building. The words traitor, liar and enemy bounce off the walls.’

Twists and turns such as who the real enemy is, and the possibility Peeta has been transformed irreparably by the Capitol, keep interest and nail biting tension as a final Games is planned: this time with the rebels taking on the Capitol.

Again Collins creates a vivid sense of place filled with colourful characters in an alternate world. But far from disorientating us with such a large cast and vast distances, there is enough of Katniss in her microcosm to keep us deep within the action and inside her heart. Finally, unlike previous books, we see more of Katniss with Prim – her younger sister; the reason Katniss volunteered for the Games in the first place.
The romantic thread between Gale, Katniss and Peeta is strong; though not dominating. Which man she will chose should they all survive?

The world is high tech: there are mutants and psychological weapons dreamed up by pure evil, but practical enough so that a non Sci Fi follower or average reader can keep up.

The conclusion to this rapid; sometimes violent and disturbing ride is satisfying, but the carnage is great and the scars deep. Will there be anyone left to cheer for?

The underlying theme is sombre; the parallels with historical and contemporary conflicts; the distance and fascination for reality television and the divide between the poor and the rich is discomforting. But the dark humour, romance, colour and creativity make this a worthwhile read. The characters embed themselves in our heart and psych so that readers may need a copy of the trilogy in their bookcase for future visits back to District 12, the arena and it’s wonderful young cast.

455 pages, Published by Scholastic, 2010.

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