Sunday, January 16, 2011

If We Burn, You Burn With Us!

This review is for those who have read the first two books in the trilogy, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, or don't mind knowing some of what happens in them. Mockingjay, however, will remain spoiler-free.

The Hunger Games
Book 3
By Suzanne Collins
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

The war has begun.

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen is still alive. With District 12 reduced to ashes, her friends dead or captured, and her dreams haunted by her latest run in The Hunger Games, it's not surprising that her brain's a little jumbled. Unfortunately her recovery can't take too much longer.

The leader has been picked.

District 13, a civilization thought to have been destroyed 75 years ago, is once again leading the charge against the Capitol. Those in charge need Katniss to be the figurehead of the rebellion, the Mockingjay.

Everything comes down to this.

Problem is, Katniss is tired of being told what to do. She's tired of the lies, of the planning behind closed doors, of the betrayal. But she's also tired of the injustice, the inhumanity, the indecency that she and her loved ones have suffered. Neither side is innocent, but which one will she choose? And can she live with the lesser of two evils?

The Mockingjay will soar.

This is still pretty raw, but I'll try my best to be tactful and sincere in my review. If you've read the trilogy so far, you'll no doubt have connected with Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, or any of the other characters. I doubt you would have continued this far otherwise. After all, the subject material isn't exactly inviting.

I'm happy to say that Katniss and crew are as evocative as ever. Our narrator is a bit less fiery in this book, but considering all she's been through I found her believable. The others, new and old, are all handled with such finesse that, no matter how long you've known them, have a firm grip of your heartstrings throughout. If I had one complaint, it was that I could have used a character glossary, as some names would disappear for 100 pages and then pop back in without any recap.

The pacing was much the same. Chapter breaks weren't really breaks in the action (sleep always came in the middle of chapters rather than the end of them) and I was always desperate for what happened next. However, for the first time in this series, I did stop at chapter breaks and put the book down for a rest period. Not that this book was any less exciting—I was always eager to pick it back up—but the events and emotions got a little overwhelming at times.

And now down to the hard stuff. This final book doesn't pull any punches. It's a war, and there's absolutely nothing hiding that fact. People are hurt, killed, tortured, sacrificed... And yet, others keep going. I feel like there needed to be a sticker on the front with one of those warnings, like at the beginning of House and Bones:

Reader Discretion Is Advised
Warning: Some of the situations in this novel may be disturbing to some people.

I've read some reviews from people who were disappointed in this finale (I'm sorry but if you've only been reading these for the Peeta vs Gale romance debacle, I have no sympathy for your disappointment). I wasn't disappointed in anything except that the reality this book draws from is our own. Situations, strategies, politics... I'm sorry to say that sometimes we humans know how to screw things up royally.

As for recommendations, once again I'm not sure how to. For staring young characters, I'm unsure if I should hand these to Young Adults. They have politics, they have war, they have death, they have survivors... If you have aversions to any of this, you're probably better off reading notes on Wikipedia. I'm afraid even the movies might be hard to handle, especially for those who've read the books. If, however, you are set on reading this cannot recommend discussion groups highly enough. Again, you will want someone to talk to/cry with after you're done.

Bottom line is I haven't cried this hard since perhaps Half-Blood Prince. I was able to keep it together until the end, but then I had a good hard cry followed immediately by some cookies and comedies to cool-down. Perhaps it's because of following these characters through three books, perhaps it's Collins' evocative prose, or perhaps it's just a human reaction.

I don't plan on ever reading The Hunger Games trilogy again. I have no wish to revisit that place, replay those events, reconnect with those characters. Regardless, these books will stay with me. And I think that's about the best thing I can say about any book.

Approximate Reading Time: 6 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Carolyn McCormick
Length: 11.6 Hours
Listened at 1.9x Speed

I was very surprised to find (since I read the book along with the audio) that there were lines added! Once when Peeta's defending Katniss on TV, there were a good two or three sentences added to the audio that aren't in the book. Whether these were edited out of the final book, or added to the audio (and possibly an upcoming paperback release) I don't know. And yet, there are still the "I say," "he says," etc. lines there. Ah well, wasn't really expecting much change there.

Speaking of change, I'm not sure why, but for some reason they decided to add "Mockingjay Disc #" to the beginning of each disk. It's not a complete throw-off, but I don't see that it's necessary. Well, perhaps for the visually impaired... Yeah, I could see that. Just found it interesting that this is the first audiobook of the trilogy they did that with.

My emotional response to this book was no doubt aided by McCormick's masterful reading. Both a curse and a blessing, I'm afraid. I don't think I'll ever fully forget the tune of The Hanging Tree, nor A Mountain Air (Rue's Lullaby) from the first book.

Once again, I can't recommend these audiobooks highly enough, though I would definitely avoid being in the driver's seat during the last disk or so. They heighten the emotional connection, so it may not be advised for some people, but they are definitely worth the experience if you want to remember these books.