Mockingjay, the final installment in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, suddenly became one of those books this summer. This seemed to catch a lot of people by surprise … but not those of us who had read the first two installments, Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
The popularity of YA literature in general and dystopian YA lit in particular was recently examined in an insightful essay in the New York Times. I thought this had just dawned on me since I started working in a public library and suddenly had daily contact with YA books. But now that I think about it, I have been reading more stuff intended for young readers since the Harry Potter phenomenon hit the bigtime — especially Phillip Pullman’s magnificent His Dark Materials trilogy (though I feel like I need to go back and read Paradise Lost to really understand it and, darn it, I just haven’t gotten around to that). I’ve also read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1, and enjoyed it.
But The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire, were on a whole different level. They’re set in an unspecified future, after the nation has destroyed itself via nuclear weapons and is divided into impoverished districts that are all governed oppressively by the decadent Capitol. One of the methods and symbols of oppression is an annual spectacle called the Hunger Games in which a pair of kids from each district are sent into an arena to fight to the death. Naturally, our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is chosen in the first eponymous volume. Actually she volunteers — she’s a skilled hunter and outdoorswoman and it’s her timid and beloved little sister’s name that is drawn on the horrible day.
The final volume is a showdown between the rebel districts and the Capitol and our heroine has become the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. I’m not going to reveal any further plot points but I’ll say that the book is, like its predecessors, compulsively readable and thought provoking at the same time — more nuanced and multi-level than a lot of your good-versus-evil fantasy tales. I felt a slight sense of letdown for two reasons, neither of which I can blame on Collins. 1) I had elevated expectations, from my own anticipation and abetted by all the public excitement — I had a similar issue with the final Harry Potter volume. In the future, I’ll have to try to wait until after all volumes in a series get published before jumping on the bandwagon. (Yeah, right.) 2) A related problem — I was reading too fast. I do that when I’m gulping down a book purely for plot, which I was here. I’d like to go back and re-read — maybe all three volumes since there’s only three and they’re reasonably sized, not Harry Potter-like tomes. Overall, though, I’ll give this one 4 stars and the series as a whole 4 1/2.