A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review Wednesday--MOCKINGJAY

I'm not sure I'm in a position to review MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins, (published by Scholastic Press), other than to say the entire series was awesome.

Enough said.

Except, that's not enough, because there is so much that can be said about MOCKINGJAY. And then there's always the "Mom" portion of the review, which I will get to in a second.

Synopsis: (No Spoilers)

MOCKINGJAY and all of the HUNGER GAMES series (HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, and MOCKINGJAY), take place in a post-apocalyptic North America. Twelve colonies are ruled by one supreme Capital. In the beginning, there were thirteen colonies, but colony number thirteen was destroyed for rebellion. (If you've read MOCKINGJAY, you know there is more to that story, but I promised no spoilers.) To punish the remaining twelve colonies the Capital instituted the Hunger Games, a contest in which one teen aged boy and one teen aged girl from each colony (total of 24) are forced to fight to the death. The three books follow Katniss Everdeen through the Hunger Games and beyond. (That's a tiny spoiler, but about all I can say without giving anything away.)

The plot is so full of action and plot twists that it will keep you turning pages far into the night. As my son said while I was reading it on our vacation, "I found something that distracts Mom more than writing...reading." Yes, I brought it on a family vacation and yes, I finished it (late) the first night. (So it wouldn't continue to be a distraction.)

The plot is compelling, but the thing I liked most about this series is Katniss. She is REAL, REAL, REAL. She never
intended to be a hero (or heroine). She only wanted to keep her family safe. She did what she needed to do to protect them and to survive. She did what she thought was right. She got angry, she did stupid things, she was confused. Katniss was well aware of her own weaknesses, so much so that she worried (in a very real way) that no one would like her if they knew what she really was. Don't we all feel that way sometimes.

One of my favorite parts in MOCKINGJAY was when they (again, no spoilers) tried to make Katniss into the celebrity they thought they needed, but figured out that she was only likable when she was real. That's a good message for anyone writing a main character and honestly for anyone who is trying to figure out who they are.

Keep it real.

There is also a "love triangle" which kept me guessing all the way to the end. The romance part of this was light, but well done. Katniss is not clear on her own feelings and both guys, Peeta and Gale, are different and likable for different reasons. It was hard for me to chose sides. (No team Peeta or team Gale.) I actually rooted for both of them at different points in the book, and ultimately liked the outcome. (Although I probably would have liked it either way.)

MOCKINGJAY is riddled with excellent political messages. Here's what I got out of it: War is brutal. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nations shouldn't sacrifice their children to settle their differences. Freedom and democracy are worth fighting for. It is NOT okay for one group of people to stand by and allow another group to suffer.

I felt the ending to the series was perfect. (Again no spoilers.) Both sides tried to mold Katniss to what they wanted to suit their purposes. But the Hunger Games (both the series and the game) couldn't end until Katniss acted on her own and struck the final blow.

Ambiguous enough for you? Read the series and maybe you will get it. Or maybe you'll come up with a completely different idea. Either way, I highly recommend reading these books.

They will make you think.

An now for the MOM REVIEW

All of the books in this series are BRUTAL! That is the only way to describe it. No sex, no bad language. TONS OF BRUTALITY and VIOLENCE done REALISTICALLY. Death, destruction, war, and mayhem. You have been forewarned.

So, would I let my kids read it?

Before I answer that question let me go back a little. In fifth grade my son was learning about the Revolutionary War. All of the fifth graders were all assigned one of four books that took place during colonial times. My son read, MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. As I often do, I read the book along with him. I was struck by the brutality of the ending. In fact, I wasn't sure it was appropriate for a 5th grader. (It made me sick.) And then I realized--it was real, it was true to the time period, and war IS brutal. I decided that a story that paints the brutality of war truthfully might be just what a generation of kids who are used to HALO and CALL OF DUTY might need. I feel the same way about the HUNGER GAMES series. Even though it is not real, I think there are a lot of "reality" lessons to be learned by reading these books.

That being said. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under the age of twelve or thirteen. (Or maybe even older.) I let my fourteen-year-old son and my twelve-year-old daughter read the series, but you have to know your kid and what will upset them.

Discussion Points:

THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES can be used to facilitate a discussion on the price of freedom and democracy, and about American History and World History. Questions to ask: Which historical leaders were like the leaders in the Capital? Are there any causes that are worth going to war for? What methods should a civilized society employ to preserve their rights and/or protect their freedom? Or maybe: Why weren't the people in the Capital sympathetic to the plight of the other colonies? How did their excess blind them to the poverty of all of the other citizens? And the big one: How can we keep the brutalities of the past from happening again?

I would highly recommend MOCKINGJAY and any of THE HUNGER GAMES books. They have an amazing plot, real characters and the entire theme is thought provoking.

I'm sad that the story has come to an end. I can't wait for the movie(s) to come out.


  1. great review w/out spoilers. I read Mockingjay on the plane to visit my Mom. My 12 year old son thought it was hilarious watching me cry at the end of the book. Today was his first day of 7th grade. His english teacher recommended the Hunger Games Trilogy to the class. I would let him read the books. As you mentioned, my son plays Call of Duty and other violent video games, so maybe the violence won't be so shocking to him. The books are beautiful, well written and rather gory. I hope he enjoys them as much as I did.


  2. I've been comparing The Hunger Games with The Lord of the Flies (my daughters sophomore reading assignment). She was posed the question, "Are men born good or is mankind naturally evil?" I believe that we (the human race) was created with inherited "good" characteristics, but Lord of the Flies makes that a hard argument to prove. While reading Mockingjay I kept asking myself that same question. There are some parts of the book that are downright frustrating. It seems that even the people that are trying to help have their own agenda. This might say that man is not capable of doing good with out compensation. But as Jen said, Katniss is real. She is all of us and she herself (whether completely sane or not when she makes this decision) comes up with the solution to the problem. I love how you stated it "Katniss acted on her own and struck the final blow" :)

    I have also since reread The Hunger Games (Book # 1) and I found lots of examples of how Katniss acted for good for no reason other than her heart told her it was the right thing to do. So if Katniss is us, then, yes we are capable of doing good for goodness sake :) And good happens all around us everyday!

    Also, the whole Peeta/Gale thing is pretty darn frustrating too. You come to the point where you think that there will never be a solution to that problem. Here again, FINALLY we see Katnis acting with her heart.

    The frustration I felt in reading this book was a positive reaction to the story. It made me think. The Hunger Games Series is entertaining but goes beyond entertainment. I enjoyed digging deeper into my soul and exploring these questions as well as the ones posed by Jennifer, and I'm sure as I discuss this novel with my children, friends, and colleges I will find even more questions to explore. I think this book will be a classic. I imagine my grandchildren being assigned this as required reading. Way to go Suzanne Collins!

  3. Jenny, I have spent the last few hours learning so much that I did not know about one of my Nieces. You are truly amazing. Being one who loves to read myself. I'm amazed to see what a wonderful talent you have. I know that my brother is very proud of you as I am for not giving up on your dreams and talent. Please be assured that I will be one of your biggest fans and reader of your writings from now on.
    Your Loving Aunt Sally

  4. Jen, dear, way to go. I was in such a bad mood after reading the trilogy that I was just angry at every thing. I couldn't clear my head long enough to get over the "brutality" of the books and find any application to good in life. My daughters again, have taught me more than I could learn on my own. Thanks for pulling my head out of the sand. The world is good but getting less good daily. We are/will face war and the next generation will catch the brunt of our mistakes. With great Moms, they will be prepared! love you Jen and Kris, (and Aunt Sally).