Given the right movie adaptation, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, which concludes with Mockingjay, has the potential to be the next Twilight-style phenomenon: books aimed at teenagers, but reaching a wider audience. Remarkably, Collins turns the final volume, Mockingjay, into a grim, cynical reflection on the human cost of war. A series that started out as a dystopic tale of derring-do with undercurrents of social revolution has ended by addressing how the system will always chew up individuals, and the mechanisms of power are inevitably abused.
The Hunger Games books tell the story of Katniss, a girl in a dystopic future United States where teenagers are forced to compete to the death at the behest of a cruel, corrupt capital. Katniss wins the games in the first book, gets tossed into the midst of a burgeoning revolution in the second, and becomes the face of that revolution in the third. As she attempts to play the latest role that’s been thrust upon her, she suspects that no one—not even the two boys vying for her affections—has her best interests at heart.
Collins makes this work because her action sequences rival those of anyone writing today. She often overexplains her subtext, and she stretches out her central love triangle for its own sake, but the scenes where Katniss descends into hell and emerges on the other side bloodied but unbowed are fantastic. Collins commits to the emotions of these moments: Katniss’ longtime friends sacrifice themselves for dreams most of them will never realize, and Collins constantly ramps up the tension, even when other books would pause to mourn fallen companions.
But the book’s final third makes it the best in the series. All governments are corrupt, Collins seems to argue, and the only thing people can do is try their best to care for each other. The final slog toward doom for Katniss and her friends gets as grim as any book aimed at teens ever written, a death march that leaves Katniss and the readers choking on ashes. Collins closes the book on two improbable moments of grace, but stunning as they are, they’ll be too little for many readers. The real hero of Mockingjay just might be Collins, for creating an ending that invites readers to hold on to hope, but question everything.