Ms Collins' first two novels tell Katniss' story starting with her participation in the 74th annual Hunger Games, where she substituted for her little sister as a "tribute" in that highly-hyped and televised fight-to-the-death annual event. The games are a punishment of the Panem districts for their past rebellion, and amount to the sacrificial death of a boy and girl from each district, aged 12 to 18. Katniss survived that year's games, along with her co-tribute Peeta, and emerged as a symbol of resistance for the districts. The Capitol's President Snow sought to squash that symbolism in the second novel (Catching Fire) by having past game "winners" be the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games. But those games were cut short by subterfuge from rebel forces in the districts (centered in District 13) and an act of insight and courage by Katniss. And so began the outright, armed rebellion of the districts that forms the backdrop of Mockingjay.
Mockingjay picks up right where second novel left off, with Katniss being swept away from the Hunger Games and the Capitol by hovercraft to the center of rebel resistance in District 13. There she becomes a "media star," transformed by the propaganda wing of the rebels (with help from her former Hunger Games makeup team) into the "Mockingjay," complete with costume. She becomes the living symbol of the rebellion and makes propaganda videos that the rebel tech and former Hunger Games champion, Beetee, plays over the Capitol's television feed to all the districts. Her work inspires the rebels to martial gains even as she continues to work out her emotional relationship with her childhood friend, Gale Hawthorne. That relationship is developed in triangle with Katniss' fellow-tribute, Peeta Mellark, who was taken prisoner by the Capitol and then rescued, but returned in a shattered state.
The working out of that love triangle is not completed until the very end of the book, and by then Katniss' choice seems right and natural. Ms Collins handles that very well, and indeed, she handles everything very well in this book. There's a lot of action in this novel (much with a video game flavor that the generation Xers will appreciate), enough to provide material for the two movies they've done on it. Even so, Ms Collins doesn't lose her thread of Katniss' character through it all, which is admirable, otherwise her story would have fallen flat. All the fighting, suffering, and political machinations that Katniss goes through take their toll on her and we feel it as she carries on, wearing down into a black pit that it seems she will not escape alive. This dynamic leads to a very satisfying ending (in terms of being believable and "right" within the context of the story being told) and was done so well that it prompted my award of a fifth star.
Another thing Ms Collins does well in all three books is to express the populist struggle of oppressed workers against their masters. I see her story as a 1984 and Brave New World for our times and I expect it, and the resultant movies, will join the ranks of classics in that storytelling genre. It is that political, human, aspect that, in my opinion, makes this story tower above other speculative, fantasy, action stories (YA or Adult). It is why I recommend the book so highly. I hope it will continue to avoid suppression and that young readers will see beyond the action and romance, and learn from its theme of class injustice that it mirrors so well from our appallingly amoral civilization.
You see that mirror in Katniss' summation of the world she has come to know through all her trials:
But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.
There is so much truth in that, applicable to the real world.
What impressed me most about Mockingjay, though, was its ending. And Ms Collins did end her epic, leaving no opening for continuation (without writing a totally different story). I believe she was right to do that, and in doing so she gave us an ending that is somberly touching, with just the right mixture of mellow sadness and hopeful highlights. Katniss is at the end of her journey, bearing awful scars--physical and emotional. We sympathize with her spiritual drain, having persevered with her through the three novels, and are still pulling for her even with the adventure completed. We want her to be OK as we take our leave. This is a good place to be at the end of an epic. It reminds me of the end of The Lord of the Rings, which has a long post climax where you say goodbye to characters you've come to love.
So we say goodbye to Katniss and the other characters we've come so far with. These characters, bits of dialogue, situations and themes will come to mind as we long ponder this story. And we will, because it stays with us, speaking beyond the closing of its cover.