In which I finish a series that imagines the extreme result of the reality television society in which we currently live
Author: Suzanne Collins
Warning: Spoilers Ahead! If you haven’t read The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, I don’t recommend you read this review! What you should do is go read those two books, because they are great, then read this book, because it is great, then report back here and we can talk about it. Those who are not willing to take that advice proceed at your own risk! Don’t come crying to me when you find out that Peeta dies!
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Woops, just kidding! He doesn’t die. Freaked out there for a minute didn’t you? Everyone feeling better? Okay.
Here’s what it’s about: Mockingjay is the third and final installment in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. When last we saw our intrepid band of heroes and misfits, they were being rescued from the exploded dome of the Seventy-Fifth Hunger Games, an annual reaping in which children from across the post-apocalyptic society of Panem are forced into combat in a televised death match something like Survivor gone wrong. Katniss and Peeta have been in the ring twice. The first time they escaped together–despite the Capitol’s decree that only one tribute can survive–through a last-second suicide pact. Their stunt earned them no friends in the government though, so for the first time past victors were sent into the ring to battle it out again. However, the rebellion has orchestrated a plan to rescue the survivors of the last Hunger Games. Katniss makes it out, but Peeta doesn’t. Now Katniss and her family are living in the fabled District 13, an underground stronghold where a group of rebels has been planning an attack against the Capitol for years. Katniss finds herself as the unwilling face of the rebellion. All across Panem, people have interpreted her actions in the Hunger Games as defiance of the Capitol. Now, they see her as a symbol of hope and the rallying point for their battle against the oppressive government of President Snow.
Now you’re about up to speed on where Mockingjay picks up. Katniss finds herself once again valued more as a product than a person. This time she, her childhood friend (lover?) Gale, and past victors like Finnick, are being used as television stars, filmed for the Rebellion’s campaign. She and her friends are allowed into relatively safe areas to film short battle sequences, but Katniss’s impatience and disobedience often turn their exercises into real fights. She has to come to terms with the fact that the rebels are using her in much the same way the Capitol did. No matter her allegiance, Katniss has always been just a pawn. Added to that is the rescue of Peeta. Once her staunchest ally (and lover?), Peeta has been brainwashed by the Capital to believe that Katniss is trying to kill him. It all culminates in an assault on President Snow’s mansion and Katniss’s hope that she’ll be the one to finally end it all.
The Reality TV angle: One of the most interesting aspects of this series is its comment on reality television. To me, it’s the most creative facet to the story. Katniss is basically the biggest reality star in Panem, the winner of their greatest competition show The Hunger Games, and subsequent star of her own version of Katniss Getting Married?. That’s followed by her return to the ring in a new season of Hunger Game: The Revenge and her subsequent rise to be the most famous soldier in the rebel army. Collins spends a lot of time showing the reader the staged nature of Katniss’ life: a Prep team buffing, polishing, and dressing her for every appearance; the carefully orchestrated shots and meetings meant to send different storylines to the audience across the districts; even her fabricated romance, fake pregnancy, and subsequent pretend miscarriage meant to make her more sympathetic. Katniss is a product and much of her struggle as a character is trying to understand who she is outside of those roles. No wonder she has no idea if her relationship with Peeta or Gale is real. To her, there’s no difference between the reality in front of or behind the cameras. This idea resurfaces as she tries to help Peeta remember their past with the Real or Not Real game. Peeta’s brainwashing has remade his memories, but much of his confusion is spawned by the fact that his relationship with Katniss was somewhere on the border, neither Real or Not Real.
Would I recommend? As my disclaimer indicates, yes. Mockingjay wasn’t my favorite of the three books (that honor still belongs to The Hunger Games), but it does wrap up the story nicely in a satisfying way.