Wednesday, February 22, 2012


“Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!”

The subject of war is not new to the sphere of literature. It has been portrayed in everything from sweeping epics like War and Peace to heart-wrenching sagas like All Quiet on the Western Front. But the vast majority of "great war novels" are strictly in the adult genre. Peruse the aisles of children's and YA literature and you'll find novels of good vs. evil, novels of children affected by war, and novels that glorify battle. What you won't find are novels that show war for what it really is: complicated and morally ambiguous. The final installment in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy fills this gap and takes its young protagonist to the very brink of destruction.

The Plot:

It is all out war in Panem. Katniss Everdeen has been rescued from the Quarter Quell arena only to find out that her home of District 12 has been wiped out by the Capitol. The few survivors including Gale, Prim, and Katniss' mother who do escape find refuge in District 13, once thought to have been defeated by the Capitol but which survived by moving underground. District 13 is now leading the revolt against the Capitol, possessing the weapons, the technology, and everything they need to get the job done. Everything that is except a symbol. Whether she likes it or not, Katniss has become the symbol of defiance to the people of Panem, and the rebels want her to help them by taping propaganda messages to go out across the country. After much deliberation, Katniss decides to become the "Mockingjay".

But things are not as cut and dry as she originally thought. She is under full control of District 13's President Coin with little to no say in the actual battle plans. Her overwhelming desire for revenge and freedom soon meet up with the reality that is war. She is faced with the mass killing of innocent people, battles with ordinary citizens of Panem, and the loss of comrades in arms. On top of that, Peeta is being held and tortured by the Capitol and she is forced to see him disintegrate before her eyes. Then the final, crushing blow comes which plunges Katniss into a despair the depth of which she has never known. Throughout this story, she has proven to be a survivor. Now she must wonder if surviving is even worth it.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Having already fallen in love with the previous books in the series, I was prepared to enjoy the final installment. I wasn't prepared to be blown away by it. Suzanne Collins certainly took the story in directions that I did not see coming. After finishing it, all I could do is sit back, take a deep breath, and reflect on what I had just experienced.

Everything in the first two books had led to this. The war is in full swing and we are ready for it. Ready to see the Capitol pay for the horrific things it has done. Ready to see Katniss stand and face President Snow in defiance. And then it happens. We see hospitals full of innocent victims deliberately bombed. We see characters we have grown to loved wiped out in an instant. We begin to question whether either side is really worth rooting for. Collins does a masterful job of portraying war like it really is. We are so used to seeing movies or reading books that have defined good and evil sides. We can pull for the "good" side without fear of being betrayed. Of course, this is not true in real war. Both sides make mistakes that needlessly send their warriors into danger. Both use propaganda to wage psychological warfare. Both leave physical, emotional, and mental scars on everyone involved. And both sacrifice the innocent in the name of the cause. It is this moral ambiguity that makes Mockingjay's war both so familiar and yet so terrifying. To me the line "If you we burn, you burn with us!" is so symbolic of Collin's message about war. It is said in a moment of defiance, a kind of "I dare you". But the truth is war is fire, and no one is left unscarred by it's flames.

After the war's conclusion, Panem is a shattered place. Thousands have died, many are left homeless, and no one will ever be the same again. After all she has witnessed, including the horrifying death of her sister, Katniss cannot imagine how life can continue. And yet it does. Slowly but surely, the survivors begin to pick up the pieces around them. Peeta and Katniss reach out to each other, slowly bringing themselves back to life. The meadow that covers the bones of so many dead blooms again and becomes the playplace of the next generation. It is this image of hope enduring in the face of the most unspeakable horror that Collins leaves us with. Beyond the anti-war message of most of the book, Mockingjay makes us realize that survival is not really about ourselves, but about the ones who will come after us. It is for them that we continue on.

This is truly a fitting end to this series and one that is well-worth your time. Collins reminds us of the total depravity that we humans are capable of. But she also reminds us of our resilience and the hope that lies at the end of every tragedy. I know some may be disappointed with this quiet and sober ending, but I found it to be perfect. One of the best books that I have read in a long time.

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