Monday, August 30, 2010

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Like everyone else in the blogosphere, we believe we can add something to the discussion of the last and final book in the "Hunger Games" trilogy by the genius Suzanne Collins. Here's our take on some of the issues in Mockingjay, as we don't necessarily agree, despite both enjoying this book and the rest of the series.

*Spoilers are included, so please beware







One of the things I loved best about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the fact that I read it at the exact same time as thousands of other people across the world. Reading, an inherently solitary act, became - in a way - a social act as well. I felt like my own excitement mingled with the world’s - the build-up to the release, the feeling of finally holding the book, turning the first page and delving in - and it made the whole experience that much richer.


I haven’t felt the same level of excitement since then, but Mockingjay came pretty close. It had been three years since I felt so enthused about a book’s release, and the feeling was almost intoxicating. I tell you this because this is the mood I was in when I began reading Mockingjay, and the mood was sustained through the four hours it took me to finish.

All the things that I expected were here: lots of action, lots of death, an explanation of President Snow’s blood-scented breath, questions answered and a few left unresolved. Even with such an action-propelled book, Collins still managed to give us new characters we care about and build upon the ones we already knew. I often complain about young adult literature’s sacrifice of things like character and setting in favor of a fast plot, but Collins has struck a good balance.

A week after finishing the book, the thing that sticks with me most is hijacked Peeta. Even for those of us who feel confident that our relationships (romantic or otherwise) are based on love, sometimes we all worry that the person who claimed to care so much for us is going to wake up one day and not remember what is it they thought they liked so much about us. While I think this could have come across as a cheap ploy to cause romantic strife, it reads naturally and believably in Collins’ hands. Even more than Finnick’s or Prim’s death, this is what I remember. 

Peeta’s return to himself (and to Katniss) isn’t rushed like so many things in the series are. It’s slow, deliberate, takes effort, and isn’t fully complete by the end of the book. We as readers aren’t sure that it ever will be complete. One of the things that bugged me so much about the romance between Katniss and Peeta in the first two books is that Katniss never knew how Peeta really felt - whether he was putting on a show or expressing genuine emotion. (Personally, I could never be with someone who left me guessing so much, which is why I was so strongly Team Gale.) Peeta’s hijacking allows us to see that his feelings for her are real. Not only that, but his love is strong enough that he fights to regain it. Even more than the romantic angle, though, it’s a really good piece of character development.

I had some quibbles with the end. I didn’t buy that so many people would agree to a reinstatement of the Hunger Games. I know why Collins wanted that in there, but I felt her point could have been made more subtly. (Perhaps something less horrific than another Hunger Games, something that would have been more believable as justice rather than revenge, thus making it more of a grey area, would have worked better for me.) I felt the writing off of Gale was rushed, and that Katniss’ decision of Peeta should have stood alone without her one or two sentence explanation at the end. (If a decision is truly in keeping with character development, it shouldn’t require an explanation - that’s what we readers get to do!) I wanted more backstory about Panem. Above all, I was disappointed that Katniss wasn’t involved in the final battle and that her trial occurred off-page.

These quibbles are really just nitpicks, though. For me, reading is ultimately an emotional act. I can be clinical about a book and tell you honestly whether its plot was derivative or its characters too two-dimensional or its writing sloppy. (Not that Mockingjay falls into any of these categories.) But really, I base my judgment of a book on how I feel when I walk away. Mockingjay engrossed me from start to finish. The action was exciting and felt natural, I was fully invested in the characters and their fate, my heart rate increased at all the right points, and I didn’t feel like Collins had cheated me or that the hype had been for nothing when I finished. It’s not a perfect book, and it’s not on my all-time favorites list, but it’s still really damn good.






I've got to get off my chest immediately that Catching Fire bored me. I read it the day it came out, and I reread it in an attempt to make myself like it a week ago, but I still felt the same way. It's not that it's not a good book or that the tension doesn't develop more. It just felt a little bit like cheating to me, as the Quarter Quell happens, and it feels like The Hunger Games rehashed a little bit.

I was excited when my expectations for that were shattered at the beginning of Mockingjay, when Katniss decides to bite the bullet and be the symbol for all things anti-government. Kind of, at least.

If I were to rate this series, Mockingjay would be my second favorite, but it still didn't quite captivate me the same way that The Hunger Games did, and here's why: Katniss. Katniss throughout this book felt like a bit of a whiner to me. For the first two books, she's a strong, independent and absolutely astonishing main character. She's a revolution, if you will. But when Katniss steps up to truly take on the part of the revolution, she becomes a little too whiny for my tastes.

Not only that, but we know she's been told straight out that when she's not being fed lines or moves and she acts on her own accord, she's a much more interesting, strong, and brilliant person. Yet, throughout the book, Katniss doesn't WANT to act of her own accord. This is particularly evident, I think, in the end when she returns to her old home and proceeds to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting around and being inactive. Obviously she has a lot on her mind, but it felt to me she'd rather feel sorry for herself and wait to be told how to act than to be the Katniss we knew and loved. I just felt let down that she couldn't listen to the fact she's such a powerhouse; I saw Katniss as more of a person to take that compliment and move with it.

Alas.

I did quite enjoy the growth of Prim throughout this book, but it left me longing for more of it in the other two books. I liked her a lot as a character and seeing her come into her own was worth the wait. And Gale? Loved seeing his transformation. As far as Peeta went, I thought he was perhaps the most dynamic character in Mockingjay, as we got a glimpse of someone truly impacted by the games to the point of (imho) PTSD.

I'm a little sad Katniss ended up with Peeta. I was Team Gale, if I had to pick one, if for no other reason than the fact they'd been buddies forever. But I'll also say that the romance in this book never worked for me, as I like it a little hotter and heavier, but for a book aimed at teens of all ages (it's on a middle school awards list in Illinois, even), I think it strikes a good balance of reality and fantasy.

Overall, I thought that the third volume answered a lot of questions burning from the other two, but it didn't *quite* live up to what I was hoping for. I still wish I could know more about Panem and how it came to be, and I wish that Katniss would have grown a little more as a character, rather than wither. The anti-war and government message grated a bit on me, as well, but I don't believe it's as much as political statement as other readers may have believed. Maybe that says something about me, too.

What did you think? Share your comments with us, and feel free to post spoilers in the comments.

2 comments:

  1. Kim, thanks for reminding me why I was Team Gale all along - Peeta confused me in the first two. I couldn't tell if he was being manipulative or really loving her. Great thoughts both of you!

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  2. I was pretty sure I was Team Peeta but when I read "Real?" I knew I was for sure.

    Still not sure I've processed things well enough to write my own review/discussion yet, though.

    ReplyDelete

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