Real or not real?

Mockingjay by Suzanne CollinsMockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 390 pages

“My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.”

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans — except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay — no matter what the personal cost.

Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay was probably the most anticipated release of 2010. Tens of thousands of fans all over the world eagerly awaited the conclusion of the bestselling Hunger Games series, a wait made that much more breathless after the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire. The hype that surrounded this release was almost as if an eighth Harry Potter book had been released, with blog tours, interviews, predictions, midnight release parties and book launches happening across the world as the August 24 release date approached.

I was one of those excited fans. I remember feeling anxious as the week of the release arrived, exchanging predictions with other fans and jointly planning “Mockingjay Leaves” (the book release was on a weekday). I squealed with delight when I saw that the Kindle edition was available the day before the hardcover was released here, downloading the sample and devouring it so I could have an idea how the end would begin. When I finally received my copy I reserved the next few days to reading only Mockingjay.

If you haven’t read The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, the spoiler warning starts here.

“There is no District 12.” These were Gale’s last words in Catching Fire, which left readers wondering what exactly happened to Katniss’ home town. Mockingjay opens with Katniss staring at the ashes of her district, a month after she has been taken out of the arena and had been living in District 13. The rebellion against the Capitol has begun, but cannot go full scale because it’s missing one last ingredient: they need Katniss to be the Mockingjay, the symbol of the movement. Katniss, reluctant at first, eventually agrees. She finds herself smack in the center of a dangerous power play between her enemies and her so-called “allies,” most especially District 13’s President Coin. While she tries to fulfill her role as the Mockingjay, Katniss starts to question the motivations of the people around her – and her own motives as well – finding herself a pawn in a web of manipulation that could cost her life and the lives of the people she cares for.

Mockingjay takes its cue from its predecessors and comes out as another adrenaline pumping read. Collins’ writing is captivating from the start, sucking the readers deep into the even bleaker world that Panem has become, fleshing out the mysterious District 13. Mockingjay’s pacing leaves readers breathless at the end of each chapter as the author dishes out one cliffhanger after another. LA Times compared the action scenes to “a battlefield akin to Iraq” – even the innocent aren’t spared from the carnage and the brutality of war. Click here to read the rest of the review.

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This is a pretty late review, but better late than never. It’s pretty formal since I wrote it for The POC, so more opinions/comments and such right after the cut. Spoiler warning!

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The Evil that is the Capitol

Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages:  391
My copy: hardbound, bought from MIBF

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

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Note: This is a very late review, I know. This was meant to be posted at Pinoy Pop, but because of some events, I’ll just post it here. Plus I need to have this up before I finally write my Mockingjay review. So…yay, finally this is up. This review is written without much references to Mockingjay so let’s assume I don’t know how the trilogy ends as you read this review. :)

Whenever the word sequel comes to mind, I know a lot of people often cringe. More often than not, people only have one question about sequels: how will it measure up? Sequels – be it in books or movies – are either a hit-or-miss, usually because of the high expectations set by its predecessor. Will the sequel live up to the fans’ expectations? Will it be everything that we loved in it and more? Or will it just disappoint?

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is one of those sequels. Released a year after The Hunger Games, Catching Fire was one of the most anticipated books to be released in 2009. While other fans who got the first book when it was released had to wait a year before they got to read it, I was lucky enough to be able to get a copy of Catching Fire at the same time that I got The Hunger Games. Call me a late bloomer, I guess, but it was a blessing in disguise because even if the first book didn’t end with a huge cliffhanger, the waiting time was reduced and I could just get into the action immediately.

If you haven’t read The Hunger Games, then this spoiler warning is for you. Catching Fire starts with the heroine Katniss Everdeen preparing for the Victory Tour with her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark after winning the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss thought winning the games would bring her life back to normal, but instead, it changed everything: Peeta remains cold to her after he found out that Katniss was just playing their romance for show, and her best friend Gale is aloof with her for reasons he knows why. Unknown to Katniss but revealed soon after, her final act at the Hunger Games that meant to save herself and Peeta has fueled the unrest in the other districts, and these rebels have made Katniss the symbol of their rebellion. Just in time for all this unrest is the 75th Hunger Games that is also the Quarter Quell: the rules of the games are changed, raising the stakes higher to remind Panem – and ultimately, Katniss – that the Capitol still owns them, no matter what.

I really didn’t have much doubt that Collins would deliver a great sequel, especially after some of my bookish friends have praised Catching Fire, but I tried to keep my expectations down as I read the book. I think that might have helped because, personally, I thought Catching Fire was all kinds of awesome. Katniss is back, and she was still as great as she was in the first book, fighting against fear and the people that threatened the safety of her family and friends. I liked Katniss more in The Hunger Games, but the sequel shows us a different side of Katniss now that she is thrown into a situation she did not expect would happen if she won the Games in the last book. Her confusion and fear is palpable, and I liked all the moments when she found strength somewhere in her to protect the ones she loves. It’s almost like a maternal instinct, which I wouldn’t doubt if it is given that she practically raised her family after her dad died. Katniss is still surly and not too charming here despite how she was being packaged to Panem, but she is still that same protagonist that fans of the first book would definitely root for.

This book also gave us more of a glimpse of the people around Katniss, particularly the two guys in her life, Peeta and Gale. In Hunger Games, there was more screen time for Peeta that people tend to gravitate to him instead of Gale. In the sequel, Peeta still gets more screen time but we get to see more of Gale, as much as Katniss sees him, anyway. Here we see and understand a bit more of Katniss and Gale’s relationship, as well how Katniss depends on Gale. It’s kind of hard to read Gale here at first, but we get a glimpse of how he has been hardened by what he has went through, and even more after what his best friend (and love, perhaps) has gone through. Peeta, on the other hand, really becomes the golden boy here, by the way he manages the pressure and invisible (at least to him in the early story) threat to Katniss. Later, he becomes the “most” protected, which puts him more on spotlight — again. No wonder more people liked Peeta. :P These two boys provide good contrast over Katniss’ character in the story, and set the dynamics of their relationships is what set the scene in Catching Fire. These boys aren’t perfect, which is a breath of fresh air from all the seemingly perfect YA male leads.

The Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle is also one of the big ones that divided the fans into separate teams, akin to — yes, I dare mention it — Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga. Personally, I didn’t make a choice between the two. I like Peeta, but I’m (always) very partial to the best friend. In the end, though, I didn’t really care who Katniss would choose, if she will choose. I felt like Katniss doesn’t feel the need to make a choice here. I don’t think she even really understood the weight of the affections of the two guys had for her, which can be frustrating to read, especially since she kept on swinging from one to another. I agree with Adele: Katniss can very well make a choice, but the thing is, will she? Can she make a choice? Does she have enough strength to choose one and let go of the other? Or will she just let romance go altogether? In a way, I can sort of understand Katniss’ indecision. More often than not, it’s easier to just not make a decision than decide and think of the what-ifs after the choice has been made. I’m pretty sure that is going on in Katniss’ mind, and it didn’t help that the Capitol is making it hard for her. Talk about really making it hard for her. Love is already hard, and life in Panem for Katniss just makes it harder. :P

But I think the real star of this novel in my opinion is not Katniss or Peeta or Gale, but the Capitol. All throughout the novel, I was trying to think of a justification why the Hunger Games was happening, specifically, why there was a need for a Quarter Quell. I know it’s already been introduced in the first novel, but the cruelty of the Quarter Quell just seemed too senseless that there has to be some kind of good reason why they had to do it. Perhaps I was just being naïve, but I wanted to find something good in the Capitol, to give some kind of justification for this…horror. But as I continued reading, I am always struck by how evil they really were, how senseless the games really were. This realization made me not only really hate the Capitol (and President Snow as the face of the Capitol) but also understand what The Book Smugglers said about dystopian novels having one unifying factor: the Truly Villainous Government. Think your government is bad? Wait till you live in Panem.

True to its title, Catching Fire is a fiery read. I think this may be the first time that I have loved the sequel more than I loved the first book. Re-reading it in preparation for Mockingjay didn’t change my initial opinions of it – in fact, it was even better the second time around. Catching Fire is truly a heart-pounding, explosive, adrenaline-inducing, page-turning read. Definitely my favorite among the three books. :)

Rating: [rating=5]

Let the Games Begin

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 374 pages

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with every one out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I was never a fan of dystopian or post-apocalyptic literature. The thought of reading a book where the world I know has been destroyed by natural or human forces (or both), or one ruled over by oppressive totalitarian government is depressing. With all the bad news on TV and in the papers, I don’t need to escape to another reality that pains an even bleaker picture of the future. So when I first heard of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins from a fellow Filipino book blogger, I just skimmed over her review. Kids killing other kids–dystopia and gore? No, thanks.

Then, at last year’s Manila International Book Fair last year, I stopped at the central display of National Bookstore. There was a huge display for The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire, and a TV interview of Suzanne Collins playing on loop. The lady beside me was so enthusiastic about the books and, not wanting to waste my trip to the fair, I ended up getting both books despite my apprehension. Book-wise, that choice was probably the best I made last year.

The Hunger Games is set in the future in a nation called Panem, formerly known as North America, before a series of disasters decimated the once successful nation. Panem is ruled by the Capitol and divided into thirteen districts, each with a specific industry that sates the Capitol’s lavish needs. Seventy-four years ago, the thirteen districts revolted against the Capitol but were defeated. To prevent further uprisings, the surviving 12 districts were punished through the annual Hunger Games: each district provides “tributes” — a boy and a girl between the age of 12 and 18 — through a lottery called “reaping.” The tributes, after much pomp and ceremony, are sent to the Hunger Games arena where they are made to fight each other to the death in a televised extravaganza, until only one remains. The last remaining survivor is declared winner, ensuring that his/her family and neighbors will have enough food for the rest of the year.

We meet the heroine, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, on the morning before the reaping, with her best friend Gale, in the woods outside of District 12. In the course of the first few pages of the book, we learn a lot about her family background, her role as provider for her family, and the fact that her entire existence revolves around keeping her sister, Prim, safe. When Prim’s name is drawn in the reaping, Katniss volunteers in her stead, knowing that her decision likely means her death.

Katniss has to compete not only against tributes from the richer districts, many of whom have been training to participate in the Hunger Games all their lives, but with Peeta Mellark, a young man she has a history with. As the Games go on and the tributes fall one by one, Katniss has to draw both on her learned skills and rock-hard determination not only to survive, but to make the hard decisions necessary to make it back to her family.

The premise may seem a bit complicated, but Collins weaves it into the story in a manner that makes it comprehensible and unobtrusive, as readers are plunged right into the action. The first thing readers will notice in The Hunger Games is the solid world building. Panem, the Capitol and its Districts, were described in such a matter-of-fact tone and detail that it felt real. It wasn’t exactly the numerous details that made the world so convincing, but the way that Panem was portrayed not just as a place, but as a living, breathing character in the novel. The contrast between the rich Capitol and poor District 12 was stark, and disturbingly familiar, almost a mirror to the societal division between the rich and the poor here in the Philippines. Click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating: [rating=4]

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 62 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: Hardcover, from National Bookstore

Blurb: Goodreads