By Sammy Bina & Vanessa Di Gregorio
As you probably all know, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the last installment of the Hunger Games trilogy. And we must say, it was worth the wait! Perhaps we didn’t love it as we loved The Hunger Games (though the jury’s still out on that one, in Sammy’s case); but there’s no doubt about how good a read it is. Now, in order not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, we will be as vague as humanly possible.
So here’s our vague summary: Some stuff happens (some of it quite epic). Some people die. There’s a climax and a conclusion. And you will laugh, and you will cry. The end!
But in all seriousness, what is so brilliant about Mockingjay is the way it resolves many of the series’ conflicts; and there are a lot of conflicts. In this novel, we find the Capitol once again at odds with the Districts, find Katniss fighting with almost everyone, and we see Katniss, Gale, and Peeta all struggling with themselves and each other. The most notable aspect of this novel is how it leaves you thinking about the horror that is war; and its consequences. Katniss and her friends aren’t spared from this cruelty, and deaths (which there are many of) occur quickly and furiously. We would find ourselves stopping to try and absorb what was happening, as the pacing during the action-heavy scenes is rather quick. However, we found that it worked really well and was far more realistic than if Collins had stopped to dwell on each and every individual death. Because in war, you lose friends, and you lose them quickly. You don’t have time to stop and think because thinking is what could get you killed, and by using that same tactic in the book it was, we felt, far more brutal and painful.
However, the book (which is spilt up into three parts) lacks the same urgency that is felt in the previous two titles of the trilogy. The story begins slowly, with Katniss absorbing everything that has happened since (and there’s a lot). And as the bits and pieces fall into place, we’re faced with a relatively slower pace for the first half of the book. Considering how Catching Fire ended, we had assumed that this book would start off in medias res. But while it doesn’t start off with a furious pacing, it does certainly end off with one. And if the book had started off where Katniss just hit the ground running, it probably would have been a much less effective opening. So much transpired during the first two books, especially at the end of Catching Fire, so it seems fitting to give Katniss some time to think things through (and there is a lot to think about!).
Peeta was by far the greatest surprise for us. His character is wonderfully explored in ways not seen in the previous books. He changes from the sweet, optimistic son of a baker to a scarred and brooding shell of a man. In some ways, Peeta has endured even more than Katniss, and everything that he has experienced up until now has really brought out a new side in him that, at times, can be really hard to handle. Because the books are told from Katniss’s point of view, sometimes it can be challenging to really get into the heads of other characters, but we believe Peeta was really challenged and explored in this last enstallment, and really rounded out an already beloved character. We may even like him better after this book, if that was at all possible.
Another aspect of the series that is really explored is the idea of good versus evil; which side, if any, is the enemy. Up until this point in the trilogy, we were led to believe that the Capitol was the root of all evil, but what if that wasn’t the case? Corruption exists everywhere, not just within the confines of the Capitol, and the way Collins portrays both sides is wonderful; neither the Captiol nor the rebels are perfect. She also does an excellent job instilling doubt in both her characters as well as her readers. If the supposed “good guys” aren’t always so good, what does that say about the “bad guys?” It’s really left up to the reader to decide which side they ultimately believe in.
The story is shocking, thought-provoking, and original. What we would’ve loved, though, was being able to see what was happening, instead of being told. There are a lot of blackouts in this novel which, sadly, means that we are told of events after the fact. And while it’s understandable to use one or two, it happened enough that it began to take away from the urgency of the later half of the book. We felt like a lot of the tension was lost each time Katniss woke up and was told what had happened while she was unconscious. Some of it was pretty intense, and it would’ve been really nice to have seen Katniss in those situations, rather than knocked out and on the sidelines.
There is also a lot of explaining; perhaps a bit too much at times. The Hanging Tree song was explained at great length as Katniss remembers the significance of the song. It felt a bit too much; we certainly didn’t need to be told what it was about for over a page, and we’re sure younger readers would have understood it as well. But we certainly can’t say Collins doesn’t trust her readers to understand complex ideas or issues, because this trilogy is full of it; Mockingjay especially. Which is one of the reasons why this series is so good.
We did love that the romance wasn’t so blaringly obvious in this book; in fact, there wasn’t really much romance at all. With everything going on, Katniss didn’t have time to think about whether or not she’d rather be making out with Gale or Peeta. Everything about the romance was very toned down and simplified, and really worked to keep the tension surrounding the revolution very immediate. The little romance that is in the book doesn’t take away from the trilogy’s overall theme and message. Some readers will definitely be disappointed by the lack of romance, but we felt that it worked incredibly well with the overall story/series arc. It would’ve ruined the book if it had been included more.
And that ending! It is bittersweet and haunting, and includes an epilogue that actually works. Though the epilogue might not be necessary, it ends the trilogy with an absolutely wonderful visual; one of hope. After everything that has happened to Katniss, the ending was perfect.
All that being said, Mockingjay is a must-read; especially if you’ve read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Collins has written a wonderful story featuring a remarkably strong heroine who suffers through heartbreak, hunger, and the horrors of war. It is gripping, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful; and not at all what you will have predicted. If you haven’t picked up this book (or this trilogy, for that matter), you are missing out! So, we definitely recommend you read this.
Actually, we insist.
For our thoughts on Mockingjay with spoilers, check out the transcript from our live chat here.
Sammy Bina is a 5th year senior who just completed her Creative Writing degree. She is currently querying her adult dystopian romance, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and is working on two new YA projects. She is an intern at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter or at her blog.
Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.