Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Genre: young adult, fiction, war, dystopia, heartbreaking evil
Rating: 5 out of 5
Summary: Suzanne Collins is going to break your heart, sew it back together, then rip it out of your chest and stomp on it. That’s all you need to know.
The world is on fire right now. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. WISCONSIN, for Potter’s sake. There are people all over the world protesting actions that they deem unjust. Watching people (for the most part) peacefully demand that they be heard, that they deserve something better than what has been given, has been amazing. Of course, there are the gut-wrenching scenes that come with the revolutions: Dictators firing on protesters; museums getting looted; women being assaulted in unstable times. Obviously, this is an extremely simplistic summary of our current situation. But my point is that revolution seems to be catching.
This led me to thinking about Mockingjay, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy. It explores the themes of revolution and war in extremely human terms. However, this post isn’t going to be a very thorough review, more of a “random musing” on war and its place in fiction. SO – there are going to be massive SPOILERS in this post. Meaning I plan on speaking freely about what happens. But seriously, why haven’t you read these books yet? Go forth and get them, devour them, and come back to discuss!!
I want to get the review-ish part out of the way: HOLY SHIT THIS SERIES. There have been no other series or books since Harry Potter that had me so deeply involved with the characters and action. The story is so brilliant – taking our current love of reality TV and making it a hundred times more brutal. Make the divide between the wealthy and poor become insurmountable and openly oppressive. Add-in Katniss, the unwilling symbol of rebellion who just wants to get home to her family. It’s just too good. And the secondary characters are just perfection. Collins brings people to life, even if we only briefly meet them. Like Rue – my god, when she gets speared in book one. And then we see her district paying homage to Katniss in Catching Fire. I cared so much and was insanely invested in this series, rereading it several times before Mockingjay was released. That cliffhanger when we realize Peeta is captured by the Capitol, I NEEDED to know what happened. Just like everyone else who read the series.
So when I started to read Mockingjay, I don’t really know what I expected. Most likely more of the romantic dilemma (Team Peeta!) and a resolution to the conflict between the Capitol and the other districts. Beyond that, I had a few theories about what would happen. But nothing too detailed. All I know is that Collins delivered a novel of war, and it shocked me. Though in hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have. The brutality of the first two books should have prepared me for the finale, but I guess I thought things couldn’t get more horrible than the actual Games. How wrong I was. (A caveat: I completed the book last August, so I may not be able to speak with a desired amount of specificity. Apologies in advance.)
This book is unrelenting in the sadness and horror. And the ending is so out of control, that I had to reread it several times that day to ensure I wasn’t making words form incorrectly. Katniss is just constantly beaten down the entire book, witnessing brutal attacks, being a pawn in the giant game of media vs media, seeing people she loves go insane or be killed. Finally, Prim. I can’t even explain how much I cried. It was a Dumbledore cry, a Fred Weasley cry, a Lyra and Will parting forever cry. When Peeta and she make the book of the people they lost, I could barely stand to continue. The pain was palpable. Though, post-tears, I was mad. Why was this book so cruel? Why did Prim or Boggs or Finnick have to die? I cursed Suzanne Collins for the rest of that day, as I laid on my couch, emotionally drained. However, I was able to distance myself enough from the raw emotional content to start really thinking about the structure and meaning in the book.
I think it’s easy to forget we are involved in wars as they are so far removed from our daily lives, or what war even means on a human-scale. We haven’t had a sustained war in America since the Civil War, and have recently only experienced the horror and tragedy of attacks in isolated events, like Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center. Personally, it’s hard to imagine living in a war-ravaged country. But Collins makes war an absolute reality, and yes – it’s hard to bear. The more I think about it, the more I believe this ending was absolutely necessary. Katniss is broken by the revolution, and so is the country. Because it’s war. It’s not something easy, and Collins doesn’t want it to be easy. It shouldn’t be easy.
I read something about how Collins’ father was a Vietnam veteran, and this fact made so much sense when I thought about the Hunger Games, especially the ending. I barely learned anything about the Vietnam War in all my years of public education. Most of the information I know is stuff that I sought out (I’m interested in human rights and America’s involvement around the world) on my own. But the other day, I read this quote: America “dropped more non-nuclear bombs on [Vietnam’s] small territory than had been dropped on all of Asia and Europe in World War II. At the height of 1968 fighting, the US military was killing every week the same number of people or more as died in the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center Attack” from 1968 (xviii). I was stunned. Sometimes succinct numbers can say so much, and yet I wasn’t taught any of this. It’s glossed over in our history texts; a brief chapter thrown in with the Cold War. Though numbers can be a really effective means of sharing information, they can still be an abstract concept. It’s easy to forget about the human life represented, each story ended by those bombs.
Collins puts a face to the numbers. She made us care so deeply about Katniss; we had verbal sparring matches over the merits of Team Peeta versus Team Gale. We came to love the gruff Haymitch, even as he drinks himself to numbness. Wanted to be dressed by Cinna and butt heads with Buttercup. We have started to inhabit the world with these characters. So when they are bombed, we are bombed. When Katniss loses another friend, so do we. This novel is insanely effective in purpose – war has a cost, and it’s not currency.
Finally, the epilogue. I believe Collins perfectly encapsulates our struggles with telling future generations about war. The kids need to be aware of what has happened, but how much? We don’t want to fixate on the horrors humans inflict on each other, but we cannot ignore entire wars either (like America does with Vietnam). This one quote sticks with me – “We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver.” Can we truly make the next generation braver than the last, brave enough to resist war? I don’t know. But with series like The Hunger Games asking these questions, at least we are talking about it. And that has to be better than silence.