I covered the “Twilight” series when it went to film, as well as the beginning of the end of “Harry Potter.” Now, the newest thing in young adult lit, “The Hunger Games,” opens March 23. The movie poster I like best features a flaming gold pin of a bird.
I’m a sucker for birds, especially anything in the corvid family (crows, magpies, jays). They’re everywhere — constantly in your face. On a recent trip to Colorado, we were stalked by a gray jay and a Steller’s jay who tried to steal our food. They were noisy, as were the black-billed magpies near our cabin. It was thrilling to see so many birds in the winter, especially when I had brought along Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. I could not believe my luck when the story included a fictional corvid called a mockingjay.
In this non-techy sci-fi series, certain animals have been genetically altered to serve as weapons. One of these “muttations” is a jabberjay, capable of repeating conversations word for word. At one time, the birds, like homing pigeons, spied on the rebels and then betrayed them to the totalitarian government. Then the rebels figured it out and fed lies to the birds. The jabberjays were released into the wild to die. Except, they didn’t die. They mated with female mockingbirds and created a hybrid, the mockingjay. Like mockingbirds, they can sing. Like jabberjays, they can repeat a song with perfect accuracy (if they like you).
The mockingjays continued on page 138 really like the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, a girl who hasn’t sung in a long time, although she inherited the ability from her father. The arena of the Hunger Games allows her — “the girl who was on fire” — to find her voice and ignite a revolution. She becomes the human representation of the mockingjay.
Katniss lives in District 12 of the country of Panem, all that remains of North America. The evil Capitol holds an annual competition called the Hunger Games, a perverse way of keeping order over its citizens. Each district contributes a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in a televised extravaganza. Twenty-four “tributes” go in, and only one comes out. Believe me, you will never view reality TV or even a sporting event the same way again.
The violence in the series is intense. I wonder what the filmmakers cut to get a PG-13 rating. Despite the bloodshed, there are unexpected moments of kindness that occur during the games. Maybe that’s one good thing about darkness: It makes the moments of light almost blinding. And in a world like this one, where the odds are not in your favor, a bird becomes the symbol of defiance.
In the second book, “Catching Fire,” Katniss says the Capitol: “never intended the mockingjay to exist … They hadn’t anticipated its will to live.”
That’s why “The Hunger Games” is worth reading, despite the moments of horror. It’s about the will to live — not for selfish reasons, but for sacrificial ones.
Katniss doesn’t always get it right, especially in the area of love. She is torn between the boy who is her hunting partner, Gale, and the boy who is her fellow competitor from District 12, Peeta. If you want to see how the situation resolves, you have to read the whole series to the very last sentence. This love triangle makes Edward vs. Jacob look like a comic book.
Like most books I end up loving, I started out with no interest in this one until just before my vacation. If you have a Kindle, you know you can download a free sample of the beginning of a book before purchasing it. Initially, I didn’t even make it through the free sample. It seemed too dark, and I knew it was going to get darker. Several friends urged me to push on; I ignored them. It wasn’t until my son had to read the book for his English class that I caved.
Even teenagers who don’t have to read “The Hunger Games” for school are passing these books around and reading them late at night or listening to them on Audible. The setting represents an extreme version of an adolescent world I remember well, where appearance was everything. Where background seemed to determine destiny. Where an act of love could become an act of war.
When my kids were little, I could not imagine them as teens. So far, I have been surprised to find that being in the company of these jabbering young adults is a little thrilling. They are constantly in your face, stealing your food. When they win — when they sing — they bring an audience to its feet. They make us want to live and live well. They are the mockingjays.