So I did it again. I finished Mockingjay in one day. I told myself I wasn't going to, but as I was reading, I just didn't want to put it down. At this point I just wanted to know how the story ended.
I'd like to take this moment to give another spoiler warning. Now that I've read all three books, I will be saying things that give away earlier plot points. I'd also like to discuss Mockingjay in more detail than I've done for the other two books. So if you haven't read the trilogy yet, you might want to stop reading.
Mockingjay was a really strange entry in the Hunger Games trilogy. As I was reading it, I was struck a few times by how it felt like I was reading a completely different story. Sure, the characters were all there (or mostly there anyway - although even the characters who died tended to come up quite often). I find myself comparing Mockingjay to Worldwired, the final book of the Jenny Casey trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. No, Mockingjay doesn't start following other characters. But the scope of the story changes.
The one word that comes to mind when I think of Mockingjay is "revolution" (or "rebellion" works too). At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss was rescued from the arena along with a couple of the other tributes only to discover that District 12, her home, no longer exists. It was firebombed, much the same as District 13 was in the Dark Days which preceded the Capitol's complete control of the country and the beginning of the Hunger Games. Her rescuers are bringing her to District 13 which was actually not destroyed as everyone was led to believe. Unfortunately Peeta was left at the arena and is now in the hands of President Snow.
Katniss has been the spark that began the rebellions in several of the Districts. Those in charge of the rebellion (mainly headed by the President of District 13) want Katniss to continue rallying and inspiring the revolution by becoming the Mockingjay, the symbol of her pin (and the dress her stylist made for her to wear during Catching Fire). After a lot of time resisting, Katniss eventually agrees, but only if the tributes who were left behind in the arena (Peeta and a few others) will be given immunity.
And so begins Katniss's adventures in propaganda. After an initial attempt to produce a video in-studio fails (Katniss is a terrible actress), she is sent into the field. The shoot is supposed to be safe, with Katniss walking around a hospital talking to the wounded, but the hospital is attacked, giving Katniss the opportunity to shoot down some hovercraft. This gets her camera crew some amazing footage.
Meanwhile, President Snow hasn't been idly sitting by. He keeps staging interviews of Peeta on TV, showing Katniss how much Peeta is deteriorating. Finally, Katniss breaks down, prompting a rescue mission. Unfortunately Peeta has been more badly damaged than anyone can anticipate; he has been tortured in such a way that his memories of Katniss have been confused and he believes she is the enemy. He tries to kill her when he first sees her.
And this becomes the first real big setback to her possible relationship with Gale (who I had been rooting for since book 1). Other setbacks happen, making a relationship with him less and less possible (the most noticeable one being his plan to cave in the last place of resistance within the Districts - it is painful for Katniss because her father died in a mining accident).
Finally, Katniss and company makes her way into the Capitol. Her squad is supposed to be just the face of the rebellion, celebrity tributes and beautiful people being used for propaganda only. But Katniss has other plans, wanting to kill President Snow herself. Her squad experiences a setback when Peeta is sent to them; this is clearly a signal that the District 13's president wants her dead because Peeta isn't really better. But the squad helps him as best they can.
Then on a mission deemed safe, all hell breaks loose. A hidden trap takes out their commanding officer, and other traps kill a few other members of the squad. The remainder escapes just in time before the Capitol's forces blow up the building they were last seen in. Both Capitol and Rebel forces believe the Mockingjay is dead. So Katniss and her squad attempt to continue on and kill the President themselves. Unfortunately he realizes they are still alive and starts hunting them within his city. Slowly she loses more and more of her squad until there's only her, Gale, Peeta and two others left. They make it to the President's Mansion just as the rest of the rebels do. A group of children is kept in front of the mansion, and the children get bombed by a Capitol hovercar. Rebel medics rush into help, including Katniss's sister Prim. In a trap much like one discussed earlier by Gale, a secondary explosion goes off, killing the medics.
Katniss is in a daze for a long time after the death of her sister. She finds herself walking into the room where Snow was being held before his execution. She has a brief conversation with him, which is when she starts to wonder just who bombed the children and her sister.
Finally, Snow's execution is at hand. Katniss is supposed to be the one to kill him with an arrow. But at the last minute she turns and kills the Mayor of District 13 instead. The Mayor had assumed control once the war was over. Katniss is brought into custody where she contemplates killing herself, but in the end she is released to go back home to District 12 (where her house and a few others have miraculously survived). Gale has gone elsewhere because he knows Katniss will always think in the back of her mind that he was responsible for her sister's death. She spends a long while in a fog, doing nothing, until one day she finds Peeta has also come home. And so she slowly mends mentally, living out the rest of her days with him and the children they eventually have.
I know I've gone into a lot of detail about the plot, but I felt it was necessary because this book was so full of twists and turns. The original book was all about the actual Hunger Games, so that was all that happened. The second book was first about Katniss's trip with Peeta, the beginnings of rebellion, and then the Quarter Quell, which was an excuse to get Katniss and Peeta back into the Games. Mockingjay does not feature the Games at all (although the fight through the Capitol is rather like another Hunger Game in many ways). While Katniss is still very much controlled by others, she also seems to lose her spirit in this book. That has a lot to do with the stress of being the Mockingjay, and Snow's attempts to break her using Peeta. But she also spends large amounts of the book aimless, uninterested in her surroundings and rather boring. The beginning and end really drove that home. At the beginning she was recovering from her last Hunger Games (the Quarter Quell) which involved a head injury. She was disoriented, having a tough time adjusting to the rigidity of District 13 and hated being stuck underground. At the end she was tried for killing the District 13 Mayor, but spent the entire trial in solitary confinement. Why didn't we get to see the trial?
I realize that part of this is very realistic. I mean, she was a 16-year-old girl at the beginning of The Hunger Games who liked hunting with her friend Gale. By Mockingjay she has survived two Hunger Games, incited revolution, been the face of that revolution and killed an awful lot of people. She isn't coping very well with all of that, but still has to pull through because everyone expects her to.
But by the end it was hard to like Katniss. Peeta kept saying, all the way through the series, that she had no idea what effect she had on others. And it's true that Katniss didn't. But I as the reader also didn't get it. She had two boys who loved her (although I really don't know why Peeta continued to. No matter what she did, he just seemed to love her unconditionally without really knowing her). She kept doing things that made people notice her. But she was selfish (and admitted that to herself). She knew that good people didn't win the Hunger Games, and that Peeta was special because he was a good person (I keep thinking back to when she realized that before the Quarter Quell began. The only reason Peeta won was because of her. He's too good to have done it on his own. I do not fault him for that - it's part of who he is, what makes him so special). And she seemed to give up too much, particularly in the last book. In previous books she was always determined to fight for something; the fight just seemed to be gone this time around.
I was also really disappointed by her lack of a relationship with Gale. Right from The Hunger Games I thought he was the one for her. Gale was the one who knew her, who watched out for both her and her family. But first Catching Fire disappointed me by not starting with their reunion (to be fair, Katniss tells us about it before long. But I would have preferred to jump right back into the story at that point, not months after it happened). And then their relationship deteriorates more and more as Mockingjay progresses.
I really don't want to say much more about Mockingjay or the whole Hunger Games trilogy in general. I did enjoy reading them (I did read them in three days afterall). I found I didn't want to put the books down. But I was struck, over and over again, that if this had been my story, it would have been a lot different. But this isn't my story, so I cannot fault Suzanne Collins for telling her story her way. As I said, it's a good read, so definitely consider The Hunger Games trilogy if you're looking for a good post-apocalyptic tale.