“What Could Become of our
Current Fixation with Reality TV?”
A Review of
By Suzanne Collins.
Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith.
Hardback: Scholastic, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Throughout Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins delivers a fierce, believable and engrossing end to a series that introduced a new level of unflinching violence in the Young Adult (YA) market. Collins delves into the issues of war and peace, as well as the wisdom in questioning what is “presented for our viewing pleasure” as truth.
The Hunger Games, the first book in this series, shocked some and delighted others because of its graphic storyline. Pandem, a future country made up of 12 Districts and a Capitol is a place of tyranny and oppression. Every year the people of each District are reminded of their inferior positions by being forced to participate in The Hunger Games. Two young people from each district travel to the capitol, where they are made-over and glammed up, only to be dropped into a stylized, horrifying arena, where they must fight to the death. The winner is the one who survives. All people are forced to watch; everyone must see the children kill and be killed.
In the first book, Katniss Everdeen learns to play the Game, providing the pampered, oblivious people of The Capitol with the entertainment they desire, while still surviving. She achieves something so shocking that she becomes a hero of the whole District, a symbol of their ability to fight back. In Catching Fire, Katniss must deal with the fallout from winning the games. She must face head on the hurt of both Peeta, whose love she took advantage of in order the win the game, and Gale, her best friend and hunting partner, who took care of her mother and sister during her absence. She also must deal with the anger of the President, and a vengeful act that catches the entire nation by surprise. After again thwarting the desires of her President, Katniss’s District is destroyed and in her rescue, she is forced to leave Peeta behind.
Mockingjay begins shortly after the end of Catching Fire. Katniss Everdeen and the few people who have survived from District 12 are living safely, if rigidly, with the people of District 13. Katniss does not trust anyone, except Gale and her sister Prim. She is recovering from a psychological break, and fights to find out what’s happened to Peeta. Forced to face reality via a visit to the destroyed District 12, where the bodies of the blown up and torched people still litter the streets, Katniss agrees to be the face of the rebellion. She finds herself again made-over and designed for viewing. Again she’s followed by cameras and given speeches. Again she is used to rally people. Again she is the pawn of the powerful (the rebels, without irony, call her televised “documentary” moments “propos” or propaganda pieces.) As the true and final Game takes place, Katniss faces head-on the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting on others. She sees people she loves taken from her and destroyed, not just physically, but mentally. She realizes that neither side is immune from these horrors—even Gale, who has been her best friend for years, is infused with anger and hate that both draws and repels Katniss.
Mockingjay is at least at violent as the previous two books. When The Hunger Games first came out, it brought a fresh point of view to the YA fantasy genre. It wasn’t an emo-romance; it wasn’t a kitcshy science fiction novel. It was a violent, bloody and extreme take on what could become of our culture’s current fixation of reality TV. Collins easily could have left her series at that; an entertaining and cautionary story—a wake-up call to the post-MTV generation. But she did not. I can not think of a YA book that so vehemently addresses the issues of peace and war. Perhaps a little too vehemently: I imagine Collins was as focused on the “issues” of the books as she was the storyline. My primary criticism is that Collins seems a little too aware of the adults in her audience and how they might use the books in classroom discussions. Collins assumes her reader is intelligent enough to get the complexities of the issues. Katniss is not a pacifist; she certainly desires and plots the death of her greatest oppressor, but at the same time, Katniss is repulsed and horrified by what she’s seen, endured and done and she desires a balance to her fire. Collins assumes her readers can deal with characters who are shades of gray. It’s a nice assumption in a market that is usually a bit more black and white. Ultimately, Mockingjay provides a satisfying, if disturbing, end to the trilogy.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com