The Hunger Games (Trilogy) is one of the most "unputdownable" books to enter the teen market in a long time. The cliffhangers at the end of each volume are so intense, you can't help but continue on. Knowing this in advance, I decided against reading the series last summer despite the fact that everyone was talking about it. I waited the extra year, and I'm glad I did--even a week was torture when it came to getting my grubby mitts on a copy of Mockingjay.
For the record, this isn't a series for everyone. You will be drained emotionally by its end. The Hunger Games is one of the grimmest dystopian worlds I've encountered in literature. A lot of characters die, and their deaths aren't pleasant. This series may not be for you. Then again, those who know me well would say it's not for me, either. I'm one of the most squeamish people you'll meet, and The Hunger Games more closesly resembles the movie Battle Royale than I thought it would when I started reading. I really enjoyed the series, though. There are scenes so poignant, they'll stick with me. Between this and Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, I've found that even squeamish ole me can still enjoy a disturbing book if it's thought-provoking and well-written.
Now that I've warned you about the contents, let's move on to the meat of this review. It's hard to go in-depth without giving a lot away, so I decided to focus on the trilogy as a whole instead of singling out Mockingjay and reviewing it on its own (though I do have a paragraph dedicated to it further down). A brief synopsis for the uninitiated:
The trilogy takes place in the future. The USA has been destroyed; in its place is Panem, which consists of thirteen districts and a Capitol city. Before the series begins, the districts revolt against the Capitol and are defeated; the thirteenth is completely obliterated. As retribution for their crimes, each district is now required to send a boy and girl, called tributes, to participate in the annual Hunger Games. The games are centered around survival; there can only be one winner (Luckily, most of the deaths occur off-page, so it makes it easier for the squeamish to read). The characters are very rich and detailed; some of their deaths hit incredibly hard and are forever memorable. In the second book, Catching Fire, there is a lot of unease in the districts, and a lot of anger when the year's Hunger Games take a twisted turn and past winners are forced to battle it out for survival. The final book, Mockingjay, consists of a full out rebellion; the districts are at war with the Capitol and it's do or die in a showdown so explosive, readers never see it coming.
Mockingjay has already received flack for not going in the direction fans anticipated. Most were caught up in a romantic triangle and hoped the final book would have a heavy emphasis on this theme with war as a backdrop and a happily-ever-after on the horizon. At the same time, Suzanne Collins has been setting up the revolution since Day One; the grim nature of the first two books should lead readers to believe that the finale will continue in a similar vein. Yes, people will die and it won't always be fair. That's life. I think the direction of Mockingjay was natural, especially in war-like situations. Characters will not be the same as they were earlier in life; war changes you. I would have been disappointed if Collins sidestepped harsh realities in order to soften the story. The tale she weaves is extreme, but it's also genuine. To me, by sticking to her guns and not copping out for something friendlier, she has created a memorable, haunting series that will stick with you long after you've finished reading it.
I'd also like to bring attention to the amazing book jacket art put together by designer Elizabeth B. Parisi and artist Tim O'Brien. At first glance, they don't mean much, but once you've read the serious, you notice just how ingenious they truly are. Before I read the series, I looked at the preview of the Mockingjay jacket and thought, "Wow, that's bright compared to the first two." Now I know better. Each book features a mockingjay, which is a hybrid mix of mockingbird and jabberjay (a Capitol creation used for spying on enemies during the first rebellion). The first book features the bird as the pin the main character, Katsa's, friend gives to her. The book is black and grim, giving it a desolate air. Every character in the Games feels hopeless, as though he/she won't survive. The second book's mockingbird is trapped inside a clock-like environment, which is the setting of the Hunger Games in this volume. The book is red for fire (both for its title, Catching Fire, and the literal associations with the element in the book), for anger (the fact that previous survivors of the Hunger Games must participate once more), and for bloodshed. Both books feature these circular objects that link to one another representing the way the districts and Capitol are linked. The final book features a mockingjay with its wings spread out. The linked circles are in broken pieces around it. The book is a vivid sky blue, the color of peace and hope. These covers have become favorites of mine; I adore the symbolism.
All in all, I'm personally glad I've read this series and wouldn't change a thing. I'm glad I didn't sidestep it due to its violent nature and extreme situations. This trilogy is one I'll read again to delve into the intricate layers I know Collins has laid out for us. Collins is a master at capturing a society at war and showing the horrors that come when a corrupt government is in control.