Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy (see my reviews of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire), brings Katniss’ story to its brutal but overall logical end. Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion—the Mockingjay—a tool of politicians on both sides of the conflict. Finally she violently takes things into her own hands and fights her own fight.
The last part of the book reflects on the horrible things that have happened—she manages to eventually salvage a life after everything that’s happened, but it’s a long road. It’s very clear that she’s a different person and that things will never be the same.
The last 60 pages or so are worth reading twice—once in a hurry as you need to find out what happens, and once when you can reflect on the many things contained in those pages, sometimes mentioned only in passing. They deserve a close and reflective reading.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The violence certainly doesn’t back off any in this book. In some places it’s more graphic than previous books have been. Plenty of gore and vivid descriptions, such as the aftermath of a bomb going off among a bunch of children. There’s lots of torture—in fact, several main characters are tortured horribly, both physically and psychologically—although we see the aftermath or suggestions of it rather than graphic descriptions of what happens. Katniss is also frequently hurt and there’s a good bit of detail about the pain she feels.
What bothers me most, even though arguably it’s realistic, is that at some point individual deaths stop mattering as much to Katniss. Her dreams may be haunted, but she’s taking lives of innocent people without compunction. I know—it’s a war and she’s fighting for her life and her goal of taking down President Snow. There isn’t time for introspection in the moment. Even though it’s arguably justice, she has no regrets at all when she kills President Coin in cold blood. The Katniss from The Hunger Games had trouble even with the necessary deaths. That seems to be gone now. Since the brutal consequences of violence were part of what I appreciated about the previous two books, this really bothered me.
She does reflect on it to some extent—she mentions that she felt brainwashed into the idea that using weapons was necessary and she would rather die than let them do that to her again. But to me it doesn’t feel quite strong enough to counteract her choices through about the third quarter or so of the book.
President Coin suggests one last Hunger Games, this time using kids from the Capitol families. Half the people agree, half are strongly against. Katniss says yes, to do it for Prim. Haymitch sides with her, and the Games are agreed to. Right after this, Katniss shoots President Coin, so I don’t know what ever happens with that final Hunger Games. I didn’t see any mention of whether or not it happened. I’m rather horrified with her agreeing to them, especially as this decision isn’t revisited.
So very many people die. Way too many to list individually here. Several deaths are described graphically. Some are sudden and we just move on, even when it’s a friend. Finnick’s death is like this—he’s just gone, and there’s no time to reflect on it. We learn of many, many deaths of minor characters from District 12.
The most emotionally brutal is Prim’s death because I expected her to survive. This pretty much destroys Katniss, as was likely the intent of putting Prim in harm’s way to begin with. I don’t know—I didn’t like how it was handled. If she had to die, I wanted more reflection on why and what it means. It mostly drove home that Prim was never more than a way for people in power to hurt Katniss.
Through pretty much all of this book, the rebels are at war against the Capitol. It’s pretty clear that something drastic needs to be done—there can be no peaceful compromise. One of the major themes through the book is how far you can go before you’re no better than the people you’re fighting against. Gale works to design lethal traps to kill as many people as possible—in the end, it’s one of these traps that kills Prim, even though that was never Gale’s intention. Gale feels they should do whatever is effective—if the Capitol would do it to them, then it’s fair game. Katniss often stands up against taking actions that will kill innocent people because she wants to be better than that. By the end, those principles seem to get sacrificed to reality.
On later reflection, Katniss decides that perhaps Peeta was right—humanity should cede control of the planet to a species less likely to mess it up.
Gale, Katniss, and Peeta have a suicide pledge where they promise to kill each other rather than allow any of them to be captured by the enemy. Each time they’re faced with the decision, though, they can’t or don’t kill their friends. However, Katniss seriously considers suicide, several times. It’s through no fault of her own that she survives. If people hadn’t prevented her repeatedly, she wouldn’t have made it to the end of the story. She gets angry with the people who stand in the way of her ending her life.
There are more stories of kids being essentially sold. It underlines how awful President Snow is, in case we had any lingering doubts. A night with the good looking Victors is a hot commodity, and President Snow threatens the Victors’ friends and family to ensure compliance. Finnick learns how to receive compensation in secrets—a skill he later uses to his advantage.
We all know the former regime is evil in its immorality, slavery, and excess. It turns out that the rebel regime isn’t much better with its strict structure and brutal punishments for breaking rules. Regardless of which side they’re on, all politicians seem to be evil, more concerned about power or appearances or whatever their focus happens to be. You can understand why District 13 had to be run strictly for everyone to survive, but at some point they go well beyond what is reasonable. In the end, they are just as horribly and viciously manipulative as those who ran the Capitol, sacrificing innocent and often young lives for their goals.
Katniss’ main role continues to be that of media darling—it’s her existence as the Mockingjay and how she’s portrayed that seems to matter more than anything else. She chafes at being protected and put in fake situations so she can be filmed—even though she’s a crack shot and she’s trained as a soldier, they still primarily use her as the face of the rebellion.
After the war is over, no one seems to know what to do with the Mockingjay. Plutarch, who seems to have played some sinister PR role through the whole thing (it’s possible he helped design the bombing that killed Prim and all the kids because it would play well on TV and cause the people of the Capitol to give in—of course, it turns out that’s what happened) suggests that they’ll find something to do with her if they go back to war. He says of course peace is good and maybe the world has changed, but it’s pretty clear that he’d happily go back to war if he thought the ratings would be good.
Drugs and Alcohol
Haymitch, of course, continues to be drunk aside from a brief stint of sobriety in District 13. This is never really viewed as positive, and sometimes it really is negative, but it’s also just kind of accepted as part of who he is.
Katniss is always getting drugged with something. She’s sedated on an alarmingly regular basis—I’m not sure it even strikes her as wrong anymore. She ends up addicted to painkillers, although she’s eventually weaned off of them.
If you’ve already read the first two, of course you’ll read the third. But even moreso than especially The Hunger Games, this is a book for older kids (maybe 13 and up). It’s horrifically violent and brutal and a reader needs enough maturity to see the message that’s hidden (sometimes a little too well) inside the plot.
I can see now why many people who have read the whole trilogy picture Katniss as a kickass girl, fighting through whatever gets in her way and taking down those who oppose her. But I don’t think that’s the message the book is intended to convey. You need to see past that and examine the broken girl who comes out the other side, even if she is in many ways victorious.
If you choose to let your younger child read this book, I strongly recommend reading with them—if not out loud, get two copies and read at the same time and discuss what’s going on.