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When THE HUNGER GAMES was published two years ago, I initially started listening to the book on CD. After a few hours of that, though, I found myself at my local children's bookstore, buying a print copy instead. It turns out that the audiobook narration, although adept and exciting, just couldn't keep up with how fast I wanted to ingest Suzanne Collins's harrowing story. Caught up in the action, I wanted to find out what happened next at a pace faster than the narrator could read aloud. So, like countless other fans, I devoured the rest of the book at breakneck pace, did the same with its sequel, CATCHING FIRE, when it released last year, and spent the last several months eagerly awaiting the final installment of the series.

Well, MOCKINGJAY is here, and a satisfactory conclusion it is indeed. Although it lacks the sort of concentrated, stage-managed drama necessitated by the "games" structuring the THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE, the freer form of the storytelling matches the increased complexity of Collins's plot and themes. She doesn't spend a lot of time getting readers up to speed (note: if you haven't read the first two novels in the trilogy yet, do yourself a huge favor and do that first), instead dropping right in on a Katniss who is confused, weakened and disoriented following the devastation at the close of CATCHING FIRE. She's unsure who to trust, deeply ambivalent about her own role in the mounting rebellion against the Capitol, and distraught in the wake of so much loss.

Eventually, however, Katniss agrees to fulfill the role the leaders of the rebellion intended for her --- to become the Mockingjay, the public face of the rebellion. In interviews, promotional videos and skirmishes that are (of course) televised throughout the districts, Katniss is an inspiration to millions, a fact that she only fully understands when she ventures into other deeply damaged but still hopeful and fighting districts: "I begin to fully understand the lengths to which people have gone to protect me," Katniss comments.

"What I mean to the rebels. My ongoing struggle against the Capitol, which has so often felt like a solitary journey, has not been undertaken alone. I have had thousands upon thousands of people from the districts at my side. I was their Mockingjay long before I accepted the role."

Meanwhile, however, Katniss's Hunger Games partner and love interest, Peeta, is being held captive, publicly turned against Katniss and the other rebels, shattering Katniss's trust and forcing her to question everything she thought she knew. And as Katniss and her friends and fellow Hunger Games Victors are sent into dangerous, highly orchestrated missions, she begins to wonder whether the ends justify the means and even, finally, whether it's possible to have "ends" at all.

Collins's countless fans will be eager not only to see how she addresses the complicated political situations she has set up in the first two novels, but also to learn whether and how Katniss resolves the conflicts being waged in her heart, as she struggles to love either Gale or Peeta, both of whom --- like everyone in Katniss's world --- are damaged in their own ways. At first, it looks like Collins might take the easy way out, using external forces to make Katniss's decision for her; rest assured, though, that Katniss must eventually find her own way here as elsewhere.

Although the suspense in MOCKINGJAY is perhaps of a less obvious variety, it is no less palpable than in the previous trilogy installments. Palpable, too, is the anti-war sentiment, stronger here even than in Collins's earlier novels. But amid staggering losses, impossibly high stakes, and indelible scars both visible and invisible, hope, fragile and rare like the mockingjay's song, still abides.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 24, 2010

by Suzanne Collins