Posted in Book review

Book review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Three of five stars

The Quarter Quell is over, District 12 is destroyed, and Katniss finds herself at the center of a revolution she gets credit for starting. She and her family are safe — so to speak — in District 13, while Peeta has been captured by the Capitol and seems to be serving as their mouthpiece against the uprising. To counter his influence, Katniss is asked by the rebel leaders to take advantage of her status as the symbol of the Revolution by being their public face. Hijacked broadcasts of strategically timed photo-ops become the order of her day; Katniss’ growing rage and rebellion at this stricture drives her in directions that could cripple the budding independence movement forever.

The action takes place largely in the underground District 13 headquarters of the rebellion, and the reader can easily understand the increasing sense of entrapment and claustrophobia Katniss feels at being confined and closeted away from the fresh air and outdoor life that largely defined her days in District 12. She has nothing to do but be prepped and primped for the camera, while both her mother and little sister have real work, useful work, to fill their days. So when the opportunity to join an actual fighting unit comes along, Katniss jumps at the chance.

The final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy is just as fast-paced and easy a read as its predecessors. Given the plot-driven storyline and breakneck speed, it’s not surprising that world-building details and character backgrounds are given a cursory nod and then left alone for the reader to make the best inferences possible. Not necessarily a bad thing in a YA novel, but somewhat frustrating for an older reader more accustomed to savoring those little background details and nuances of character. Rebel leader Coin was particularly cartoonish and flat, even when Plutarch, another one-dimensional character, took time to explain to Katniss the reason for Coin’s animosity toward her. Katniss herself was, upon occasion, so arbitrarily contrary that I wanted to smack her. She grows, though, much more in this novel than in the previous two, and by the end, I liked her again, and wished her peace and happiness on her chosen path.

Posted in Book review

Book review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Three of five stars

After their stunning Hunger Games double victory, Katniss and Peeta return home to District 12 and try to get back to their old lives. Being the victors, however, means their lives will never be their own again. As they are being prepared for the Victory Tour of all districts, Katniss is stunned to realize she must continue the pretense that she and Peeta are in love. But is it entirely pretense any longer? Katniss isn’t certain.

Rumors of rebellion, spurred by Katniss’ dramatic public defiance of the Capitol’s authority during the Games, leak out. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by design, the Capitol announces the names of this year’s Hunger Games tributes will be drawn from each District’s surviving victors. As the only female victor from District 12, Katniss knows she’s going back to the Arena. The only question is, will Haymitch or Peeta be accompanying her? And which one of them will she need to kill to survive?

The followup to The Hunger Games covers much of the same territory as its predecessor, but provides a somewhat deeper background for the world Katniss and her fellows inhabit. As Katniss and her victory entourage travel the Districts, I got a better sense of Panem’s history: still no real details, but I could see some of the blank spaces starting to fill in. I was much more satisfied with this section of the book than when Katniss and her partner re-enter the arena. Really, one visit to the kill zone of the first book was plenty. And, although this arena had an entirely different — and more intriguing — setup, there’s only so much slaughter this reader can take. Even if it is mostly “offscreen”. And the novel’s final twist felt contrived and arbitrary.

While it’s worth reading on the whole, I think Catching Fire suffers from Middle Novel Syndrome, a failing shared by the second novel of most trilogies — the story contains information necessary to set up the final novel, but the reader knows that final novel is where all the good stuff will finally happen. This is the chief reason why I haven’t re-read The Lord of the Rings in many years. I love The Fellowship of the Ring but I just can’t bear to slog my way through The Two Towers again to get to The Return of the King. It’s a personal failing, that.

Posted in Book review

Book review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Four of five stars

Once upon a time in the not-too-near future, the United States lies in ruins, and in its place is Panem, with a glittering Capitol City at its center and 12 outlying districts supplying the City’s needs. Life in the districts is hard, and nowhere is it harder than in District 12, where 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives with her widowed mother and little sister Prim.

All Katniss wants to do is provide for her family, and so she hunts illegally in the forest outside the district fence. She works tirelessly and lives in fear each day of being caught and punished. But, more than being caught poaching, she fears being chosen for the Hunger Games, a mandatory annual competition in which 24 teenagers, one boy and one girl from each district, are selected to fight to the death on national television.

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast, my Aunt Fanny: Survivor ain’t got nothin’ on the Hunger Games.

When 12-year-old Prim’s name is pulled from the box, however, Katniss volunteers to go as tribute in her place. She and the other tribute, baker’s son Peeta, travel to Capitol City to take their place in the arena, and face what is likely certain death for both of them. Their mentor, Haymitch, the only winner District 12 has ever produced, has other ideas. And an unlikely strategy that just might give them an edge.

But the rules state that there can be only one winner. Victory. Or death. Those are the only options. Because she’s our heroine, we know going in that Katniss must come out the victor, but how she gets to the winner’s circle is a harrowing, fretful journey indeed. And one entirely worth taking along with her.

I started The Hunger Games on a Friday evening and finished it the next day by mid-afternoon. I can hardly wait to start the next book.