Book(s) Review: “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”
I had wanted to do separate reviews for the second and third book for the Hunger Games trilogy, but I simply couldn’t pause in my reading long enough to do so. There will be spoilers in the below, so be advised.
I’m a self-professed history fanatic. When I hit the first book in the series, I was immediately able to see the allusions to Ancient Rome and the Punic Wars. When I came to “Catching Fire,” I interpreted it as a transistor in the analogy. In the second installment in the series, Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, learn that for the third quarter quell, the Hunger Games roster will be filled by victors from previous years. Immediately, Katniss realizes that her win from the year before has resulted her being a target for the Capitol, and that Peeta is just as determined as before to ensure her survival, even at the cost of his own. The attendance of victors from across the years, from Katniss and Peeta as the youngest, to the oldest being estimated in her eighties, appeared to me as a reference to the European states heading into World War II. Collins is not the first to make the connection between the wars of the later Roman Republic/Early Empire and WWII. However, she makes it personal on a level at which historical texts often fail.
As the Quarter Quell kicks into action, Katniss is again unable to comprehend the intensity of Peeta’s love for her. Tribute-Victors begin to fall left and right in the new arena, a tropical rain forest environment which is designed to look and function as a time piece. (Again, I see this as Collins informing the reader that, while our alluded era is shifting, so much remains the same.) When Peeta is nearly killed by walking into an electrified force field, Katniss begins to connect with her own burgeoning emotions, and realizes that she, too, is falling for him. However, Katniss has never been a romantic, and she remains focused on her goal. By allying with several tribute-victors, including the dashing Finnick, the inventive Beetee, and the no-nonsense, Katnisslike Johanna, the band is able to out-maneuver the Capitol’s best attempts to rid themselves of the growing threat their survival poses. In a confusing, high-action series of events (the confusion here stemming not from any fault in the quality of writing but, on the contrary, to a very crafty and concisely penned reflection of Katniss’ own bewilderment), Katniss is able to out-smart the workings of the Capitol’s force field device, and is rendered unconscious by Johanna. Feeling she’s failed and giving herself over to death, an amazed and jaded Katniss awakes to learn that her elder, allied victors were part of resistance group determined to overthrow the Capitol, that she was kept in the dark so she couldn’t be interrogated for knowledge of the workings of the group if their escape from the arena failed, and that in retaliation for their actions, Katniss’ home district, District 12, has been destroyed. Though her mother, sister and best friend/suitor, Gale, have escaped to the once-thought-destroyed District 13, Peeta was not successfully rescued from the HG arena, and is being held prisoner by the Capitol.
“Mockingjay” opens several months after the events of “Catching Fire.” Now harbored in relative safety in District 13, Katniss is on the edge of sanity, her mind warped by injury and circumstance. District 13’s survival comes as a surprise, and provides a refuge for the survivors of District 12, but isn’t above using Katniss as a pawn in their war against the Capitol. Asking her to serve as the symbolic leaders of their cause, she’s disappointed but not shocked to see that she would be used as tool by them just as she was by the Capitol in the first HG. Gale, having professed his love for her, is nonetheless separated by his need to rebel against the Capitol’s power, and even in moments where Katniss softens and lets him nearer, he finds himself again immediately sidelined by either her use of him as a diversion, or in her difference of goal in the upcoming war. Several Capitol defectors, District 13 citizens, and former HG Victors become Katniss’ friends, supporters and allies. Most of these parties are in turn symbolic references to various players in WWII (Gale=France, Pollux= Poland, the Capitol=Germany, District 2=Italy, Haymitch may be a general characterization of Churchill, Coin, FDR, and Snow, Hitler). Peeta is being used as a propaganda device under the Captiol’s control, appearing on Panem TV to beg the rebels and Katniss to give up the fight before it destroys them all. The rebels volley with a series of propos on hijacked Capitol airwaves, showing the damage the Capitol has wreaked and their disregard for the value of the slave labor districts they control. However, Katniss finally agrees to serve as the Mockingjay symbol, which inspires the revolution in the districts. Leading ever closer to the Capitol, Peeta is eventually rescued in a covert mission, though he has been brainwashed to believe that Katniss is his enemy. Having become aware of her love for Peeta, she soldiers on nonetheless, determined that her personal vengeance for Peeta’s love’s corruption and the loss of her home district can only be manifested against the Capitol by personally assassinating President Snow. In a tragic turn, outside the gates of presidential mansion, with her goal in sight, Prim falls victim to the cause. The loss leads Katniss, betrayed and sober, to see District 13 in the same light as the Capitol, and when her chance to dispatch Snow finally arrives, she instead kills President Coin. Declared insane, Katniss is sent back to District 12, where only the victor’s village remains, to live out her life in alienation from the New Republic. Eventually, a reprogrammed Peeta returns to her, and the two are slowly able to build a life together. A rather brief, a-little-too-sugary epilogue references the birth of Peeta and Katniss’ two children, and despite the excitement of the events leading to the fall of the Capitol, the final few chapters seem rushed, convenient and lacking resolution.
Over all, the HG trilogy is one of the best YA series I have ever read. It respects the intelligence and emotional maturity of the target audience while not oversimplifying the consequence of decisions, actions and fortune the way many other members of this genre do. Though its anti-big brother message and warning of the evil of totalitarian societies and analogy of the communist/fascist paradigm is sometimes a little too heavy in the subtext, it is still spun over an engaging-enough tale that one doesn’t mind taking a little medicine with the sugar. Katniss’ struggles are realistic and her actions sincere. Peeta’s devotion sometimes comes off as a little too intense for someone asked to sacrifice so much at such a young age, but then again, if not for the innocence and romantic blindness, his character could never have played the role required of it. The violence in some passages is extremely graphic, and I would advise readers sensitive to accurate portrayal of war and death to shy away, but I highly recommend this without reserve to readers ages 14+.