Mockingjay, the third and final installment of the Hunger Games series, began as it ended: in the wake of devastation. Katniss, now rescued from the Quarter Quell and reunited with her mother and sister, Gale and Haymitch in District 13, opens the book by visiting her native District 12. She finds it reduced to ashes, bombed by the Capitol in retaliation for her rescue and the defiance she’s come to represent. After much resistance – she’s sort of in a depression due to the loss of her home and former life and Peeta, who was captured by the Capitol – she agrees to be the Mockingjay, the symbol of the uprising, a role that requires she shoots video with survivors of the various battles taking place in other districts and occasionally fighting a bit herself in order to boost morale and keep the resistance going. She and the leader of District 13, President Coin (eerily similar to President Snow in her demeanor) butt heads, though, and Katniss’s participation is limited.
The story really picks up once Peeta is rescued. Much to my surprise, he was brainwashed (with the aid of tracker jacker venom) into believing Katniss to be his enemy and tries to strangle her to death upon seeing her. I expected him to be angry for not being part of the rescue; I did not expect him to have been warped into an assassin. Very slowly, he begins to differentiate his actual memories from the nightmarish ones implanted by Snow and return to the Peeta I fell in love with in the first book. He, Katniss, Gale and a small team of other soldiers eventually set out to invade the Capitol and join the fight, though they are instructed to steer clear of the front lines since they are the ‘Star Squad’ – the face of the rebellion – and their defeat would destroy morale. Katniss secretly devises her own plan to hunt down and kill Snow and I was elated to see her back to her wild, brave self.
Many die or are captured but the rebels do ultimately win the war. But not before Prim is killed in a senseless bombing of medics and refugee children. I didn’t see this coming and I admit, it crushed me. Katniss can barely find the will to keep breathing, the only thing keeping her going is the promise made to her by Coin that she’ll be the one to execute Snow. Another awesome twist: Katniss visits Snow before said execution and he admits to her that he did not order the bombing of those child refugees. Coin did. Prim was not the primary target, she just happened to be in the wrong place at the worst time. When execution day arrives, Katniss shoots her arrow into Coin’s heart, not Snow’s, trying to avoid ending up right back where they started.
What I’d hoped for, but really did not expect, was that Peeta not only lived through the revolt but eventually won Katniss’s heart. Given their long-time friendship and similar personalities, I expected Gale to be Katniss’s choice. She and Gale did have a strong bond, for sure, but it was Peeta, the boy with the bread, who saved her life when she’d been starving and again, more than once, inside the arena. They’d saved each other and helped each other cope with the emotional scars they’d earned and, ultimately, it was Peeta who helped Katniss overcome her grief at the loss of her sister.
I love that at the end of the series, Katniss and Peeta (and everyone else) are deeply damaged, scarred beyond repair. It’s so far from a fairy tale and for that, I am grateful. Suzanne Collins has impressed me more than any other new (to me) author I’ve read in the past few years. Her characters cope as best as they can and go on, hopeful but irrevocably changed, as though they were real people, and once I’d finished this series, I kind of wished they were.