Another season, another embargoed Big Book. This one is the hotly anticipated Mockingjay, the conclusion to Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. We have had to wait along with the rest of America, as Scholastic, masters at whipping up anticipatory frenzy from their experience doling out Harry Potter books, decided to deny book reviewers our customary sneak-peek perk.
As if that doesn’t make a deliberate evaluation of Mockingjay difficult enough, Collins has requested, in an open letter to her fans, that speed-readers “avoid sharing any spoilers, so that the conclusion of Katniss’s story can unfold for each reader the way it was meant to unfold.”
What’s a book reviewer to do? A simple, “Great book—read it,” doesn’t seem quite enough, but delivering a substantive review without giving away particular story elements is something of a challenge. However, never let it be said that Kirkus Reviews ducks a challenge, so here goes...
As this third volume opens, Katniss has returned for a visit to the wreckage of District 12, her home, annihilated by the Capitol in retaliation for her having joined the rebellion and thwarted the Quarter Quell, the special extra-brutal anniversary Hunger Games designed to firmly grind the Districts under the Capitol’s heel.
Shortly after arriving back in District 13, once thought to have been obliterated and now openly the rebellion’s headquarters, Katniss learns, along with the rest of Panem via an official Capitol broadcast, that her former Gamesmate and would-be lover Peeta is alive and in government hands.
Partly to protect Peeta, partly for revenge—which part is larger, not even Katniss knows—Katniss agrees to become the Mockingjay, physically donning the (armored) mantle to star in a series of “propos,” televised propaganda spots designed to rally the other Districts to the rebel cause.
Throughout the trilogy, Collins has asked readers to consider heavy questions. What level of violence is justified to achieve needed change? How much integrity can one compromise for a just end? To what extent does responsibility to others demand sacrifice of self? How much control does anyone have over the construction of self? Katniss is the ideal vehicle for this dialogue, her present-tense narration constantly putting her own motivations and even identity under scrutiny.
It’s not giving away anything to reveal that Katniss will be tested sorely, that allegiances will shift, that heart-thumping scenes of combat will yield to anguished reflection, that she and readers will find themselves always wondering just whom to trust, that she and readers will lose friends they love.
In the final analysis, this is exactly the book its fans have been hoping for. It will grab them and not let go, and if it leaves them with questions, well, then, it’s probably exactly the book Collins was hoping for, too.