(first published in Manila Bulletin)

The long wait is finally over for fans of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, as “Mockingjay,” the final installment in Scholastic’s hottest property since Harry Potter, was released worldwide this week.

Since “Mockingjay” was announced in December 2009, fans have kept an eye on the countdown clock as they held their breaths on the fate of the series heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and the nation of Panem. Much of the fandom is based online: fan pages, countdown counters and badges, miles of fan fiction, online book clubs and book discussions, and blog tours.

“Mockingjay” has been so highly anticipated that even those in the literary circles were scrabbling about for advance copies, but to no avail. Scholastic kept it under wraps, more closely guarded than “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” that furor ensued all over the internet when Andrew Sims, administrator of Harry Potter fan site mugglenet.com, tweeted that he got ahold of a copy nearly two weeks before the release.

And when a video of Suzanne Collins reading the first few paragraphs of “Mockingjay” was posted on the internet one day before the release, fans all over the world hung on to her every word.


THE HUNGER GAMES PHENOMENON

The Hunger Games is a young adult dystopian trilogy that has gained much popularity from both teens and adults since it broke into the scene in September 2008. Hailed as “addictive” by Stephen King in his review in Entertainment Weekly, and “amazing” by Stephenie Meyer on her website, “The Hunger Games” has appeared in the New York Times bestseller lists for 100 consecutive weeks now. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book of 2008, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2008, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2008, a 2008 Booklist Editors’ Choice, a Kirkus Best Book of 2008, and a 2008 Horn Book Fanfare Book.

Its sequel, “Catching Fire,” published in 2009, was #1 on the USA Today bestseller list on the week of its release and simultaneously topped the bestseller lists on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly. It has won its own plethora of awards, including Time Magazine Top 10 Fiction Book of 2009, a People Magazine Best Book of 2009, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and a Kirkus Best Young Adult Book of 2009.

Foreign publishing rights for The Hunger Games and its sequel have been sold into 39 territories to date. In May 2010, Suzanne Collins was named to the TIME 100. Film rights for The Hunger Games have been optioned by Lionsgate, with Suzanne Collins set to write the initial screenplay and production to start in early 2011.


‘REAL’ vs. ‘NOT REAL’

Reading “Mockingjay” necessitates having read the first two books in the trilogy but those who have read the books are in for a treat. Collins, who has been named among the 2010 TIME most influential people for the Hunger Games trilogy, sets the finishing touches in a story that blends adventure and romance, suspense and social commentary.

“Mockingjay” brings back Katniss Everdeen, one year after she volunteers herself for the Hunger Games to spare her younger sister. Instituted as a safeguard against uprisings among the districts, the Hunger Games are an annual tradition in Panem (what is left of North America after a disastrous meltdown), where districts have to sacrifice two of their young in a gruesome sporting event broadcast over national television.

Katniss’ performance in the Hunger Games has added kindling to the unrest smoldering throughout the districts of Panem, where rebel forces have anointed her as the living symbol of the revolution, after the mockingjay bird that has thrived in the embers of the nation’s dark history.  Katniss once again has a role to play, and she is reluctant to perform it, especially after all the anguish she has endured in the events leading up to the brewing revolution.

“Mockingjay” makes surprising revelations about the revolutionary movement that has been lying in wait since the Dark Days of the Panem and introduces more players in the struggle for power in the nation.

The novel explores the separation of reality from construct, as Katniss and other characters in the story struggle to find out for themselves what is “real” and “not real,” attempting to get at the truth of the situation amidst the smokescreens launched by both sides of the revolution to gain support for their respective causes.

The situation is bleak on the warfront, as more and more lives get caught in the crossfire, and the novel drives home Collins’ commentary on the effects of war and violence on those coming of age. Despite the sobriety of the novel, however, Collins manages to plant the seeds of hope, with the promise of a new tomorrow for the future generations of Panem.

“Mockingjay” also fulfills what fans have been eagerly awaiting for in the past two years, Katniss’s final choice between her best friend, Gale Hawthorne, and her Hunger Games partner, Peeta Mellark.

Suzanne Collins gracefully delivers the last installment of her trilogy, granting the followers of the series some long-awaited satisfaction as the thrilling story comes to a close.


THE FANDOM CONTINUES


The Philippines joins the rest of the world in celebrating the release of “Mockingjay” as Scholastic Philippines and National Book Store partner with book club Flips Flipping Pages and The New Worlds Alliance for the Mockingjay Launch party on Sunday, Aug. 29, 1-5 pm at NBS Bestsellers in Robinsons Galleria.

An afternoon of fun and fandom await Hunger Games fans with a spoiler-free book discussion, and Live Action Role Play (LARP). Hunger Games themed booths also await fans, who can capture their “Mockingjay” moment at the photo booth, get a mockingjay tattoo at Cinna’s Corner, and enjoy special Mockingjay treats at the Haymitch Bar.

“Mockingjay” is exclusively available at National Book Store.

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POSTSCRIPT (still as spoiler-free as I can make it, but stop reading if you have doubts)

I’ve had trouble writing this review because Mockingjay is taking a while to sink in — even up to now I don’t think I’ve fully sorted through how I feel about the book, so pardon the rambling thoughts down this post. I’m also attempting to keep this as general as I can, because there are a lot of people who haven’t read it yet, and I don’t want to ruin the experience for them.

I claimed my copy of the book at lunchtime on the day of the release, but had to postpone reading until that night. Forgoing dinner, I curled up under the blankets (it was sa cold and rainy evening) and read straight for four hours.

Many crumpled wads of tissue paper later, I was finally done.

Mockingjay is a lot different from the first two books, in the sense that it moves away from the Hunger Games arena. Although it is still told from Katniss’ point of view, it is less about her and more about the forces at play in the revolution — it’s a bigger game altogether and the whole of Panem serves as the arena as Suzanne Collins zeroes in on the theme of war. There’s plenty of action in this book, although to Katniss’ (and the readers’) frustration, it’s often not on her own terms.

I’ve read a lot of books on war (especially since I joined a World War II reading challenge last year), and like most war novels, Mockingjay is incredibly sad, in the sense that there’s a lot of helplessness in the situation, and a lot of casualties involved (I won’t say who), but it does send a powerful message on how war has no victors, no matter what side you’re on.

If there’s one thing I found lacking in Mockingjay, I guess it’s the sense of epic in the finale — I was hoping Katniss had a bigger role as the Mockingjay rather than, for the most of the book, being a pawn caught between the two sides of the battle.  I was also expecting an explosive ending, but surprise, surprise — Collins goes for quiet and haunting. Quite unsettling, which is probably why it’s taking a while to sink in.

It’s not my favorite book in the series  – Catching Fire is — but Mockingjay ties up all the loose ends satisfactorily, I guess just not in the way we all expected it to. While I’m still vaccillating about Mockingjay, I know for sure that the trilogy — and Suzanne Collins — will always be among my favorites.

***

The Hunger Games, hardcover with dustjacket, 5/5 stars

Catching Fire, hardcover with dustjacket 5/5 stars

Mockingjay, hardcover with dustjacket, 4/5 stars (book #107 for 2010)

The Hunger Games trilogy, 5/5 stars

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