Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins
In middle school, I was a diehard Hunger Games fan. I dressed up as Katniss Everdeen at summer camp. I saw Catching Fire in theaters four times within two weeks of the film release. I even made my own iPod case out of book pages.
Suzanne Collins really earned my devotion as a reader at a young age, and even now I find myself returning to The Hunger Games every once and a while as a reread. The story is well written, and I feel a strong attachment to many of the characters.
Obviously, having read the trilogy so many times, I have a favorite book. One of my most controversial opinions on the series is this: I think Mockingjay is the best book. I know, Catching Fire has an exciting plot and The Hunger Games is a wonderful introduction to the universe. But Mockingjay is dystopian YA at its best: teaching young readers messages and strategies applicable to real world issues through engaging storytelling.
Warning: Mockingjay spoilers below!
Centering the first two novels around time in the arena makes them both captivating and fantastical. I love reading chapters surrounding the scary pack of Career Tributes or solving the puzzle of the clock arena. The arenas feel distant from the real world. But Mockingjay has no arena to hide behind. This is a story of war.
In losing the arena, we lose the unawareness of our protagonist. Throughout the first two books, Katniss is fed bits and pieces of information about rebellion in the districts, and almost all of this information is said to be directly linked to her actions. I think that Mockingjay initially runs the risk of falling into the trap of an unrealistic savior protagonist. The Capitol is a massive enemy, and it would be very easy to satisfy readers by writing a story where Katniss single-handedly unites everyone and saves the day.
But in Mockingjay, the true nature of rebellion is unmasked to Katniss and the audience, and it takes a form that is very much not centered around the work of a lone figure. The audience learns about political strategy, rebel militarization, and propaganda. President Coin, Plutarch, Cressida, Boggs, and many others are a part of an organized group that strategizes to take down the Capitol. Mockingjay shows the audience how a successful rebellion can plan and function. This story fascinates me. So much YA considers the protagonists to be at the lead and center of every rebellion, but Katniss is often overshadowed or debated in Mockingjay. She doesn’t have all the answers, and there is no other character that does. The first part of the book consists of a lot of strategizing and teamwork to accomplish goals.
The book breaks away from political strategy once Katniss takes a group to go rogue. This section brings a lot of excitement to the novel, and reading it I began to wonder if she would succeed in killing Snow all on her own. That is, until she catches on fire.
The ending of Mockingjay gutted me the first time I read it. Admittedly, it still does (Prim… why?). Just as it seems Katniss is on the precipice of victory, the opportunity slips through her fingers and she fails.
Failure. The most important piece of this ending is the fact that Katniss fails but the rebels succeed. She went rogue and got caught in the crossfire of the rebellion’s actual plan.
This, right here, is why I love Mockingjay. We get to see real collective action attain a victory. It isn’t a rogue mission or a stroke of luck that takes down the Capitol, it is the work of rebels planning and working together. As much as I would’ve loved to see Katniss march up the steps to Snow’s mansion and assassinate him, this would’ve weakened the message of collective action that is so strong throughout the beginning of the book.
From a storytelling standpoint, seeing Katniss fail offers so much more opportunity for exploration as she is forced to contend with the moral ambiguities and atrocities of both sides. Her final conversations with President Snow are incredibly unsettling and set up what is Katnisss’ boldest stroke of independence in the final novel—killing President Coin.
For me, the killing of Coin works because it feels individual. Teamwork was crucial to dismantling the systems of the Capitol but the personal vengeance Katniss feels towards Coin in this moment reads as a separate entity from political motivation. It is rooted in personal fear and rage, and is not done to dismantle a system.
No, I don’t think Mockingjay is a perfect book. But Suzanne Collins is incredibly smart in what she teaches her audience in this final installment of a trilogy surrounding rebellion against oppressive government. Rebellions having a ‘Katniss Everdeen’ is important for inspiration, but the victory comes through unity, planning, and collective activism. Teaching readers the value of political organization to achieve goals is very smart, especially given the world’s political history.
While some claim the third novel feels slow with the absence of an arena in the story, I admire Mockingjay for teaching YA readers the power of organizing.