Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Opinion: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

It took a bit, but I finally finished the third and final book of The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay. And, while I have a deep respect for the series, I can’t deny that I was left a little flat with the somewhat anticlimactic ending to the book/trilogy.

I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire (books 1 and 2 of the series) in quick succession and was captivated by the rawness of Collins’ protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (a fantastic name if ever there was one). Set in a dystopia one can only assume exists in a future United States, Collins’ paints a bleak outlook. It is a post nuclear war world, many years into a future that is dominated by the generic, but ever present Capital. The Capital rules over 12 remaining city states (known as Districts) with decimated populations that are identified by what they provide to the Capital. Katniss lives in one of the most impoverished districts, 12, that supplies coal. The crux of the story is the namesake for book 1, The Hunger Games. Set up by the Capital to remind the Districts of its power, each district must provide a boy and girl to fight to the death in a specialized arena. If the District’s representative wins, it means an abundance of food and provisions to that District. A loss means more of the same.

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the first two books of the series, but know that I thoroughly enjoyed them. They are taught, exciting reads with great characters. That being said, I’d like to discuss parts of the third and final book.

(Spoilers to follow! If you haven’t finished Mockingjay or you plan on reading it someday, stop reading here!)

If Collins spent two books building up the character of Katniss Everdeen, she quickly deconstructs her in Mockingjay, and understandably so. This is an extreme example of taking a character and placing them into extraordinary circumstances. To do what she did with Peeta, and have him try to kill her (multiple times!) completely turns the tide of where you might have expected the book to go. It’s a daring move. Collins avoids the easy path of trite love and gives Katniss the difficult choice of loving someone who has been turned against her. I hate how the marketing team tried to play this out like a Stephanie Myer's Twilight thing (Team Gale! Team Peeta!) It might make sense for a vampire story set in modern-day, but it felt misplaced given the circumstances of this particular story. Especially when one choice is mentally incapacitated midway through the novel.

I understand what Collins is trying to get at. At least I think I do. The sense of “the survivor” is carried through from book 1 to book 3…almost to distraction. I’m reminded of Treasure Island’s Long John Silver: “Them that die'll be the lucky ones.” The survivors are the ones that suffer, and boy do they suffer in Mockinjay…and suffer, and suffer, and suffer. But, if Katniss went and hid one more time, I was going to go find her myself. Katniss carries with her the burden of all of the people that have died with her or for her or at her own hand. She keeps a mental catalogue of sorts and even has a dream where all of these people pile dirt on her while she lies in a grave. I hate to say it, but this felt a bit forced. I don’t know why, but her repeated sense of accumulation just didn’t come off as genuine (maybe I just can’t imagine feeling responsible for that many deaths).

Dying is a regular theme in The Hunger Games, so I really shouldn’t be surprised at how much happens toward the end of Mockingjay. However, it becomes so common that, when Prim is killed, I’m numb to it. I’ve already been witness to so many deaths of those who are close to Katniss that one more doesn’t have the effect I think it should. This is her sister! I should be more upset by it, but to be honest, I found it to be of little surprise when it happened. It’s almost a deus ex machina moment, where Collins needs to provide Katniss with an additional motive to do what she does to Coin in the end (she catches a Katniss arrow). And, after all the buildup, can we really allow Snow to get away with a laugh and a mysterious death? I guess after all the gore and blood, Collins decided to let him go with a whimper.

Speaking of which, did Katniss and Peeta really need to suffer physical scarring on top of the ridiculous amount of mental scarring they already endured? Peeta’s presence in the City Circle at the end seems like almost an afterthought and a convenient means of connection between he and Katniss. And, who really ever doubted that she would end up with him? I mean, the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was remarkably woven throughout the series, which is what made it so infuriating to have him hijacked with the Tracker Jacker venom.

Collins works with a variety of themes. Anti-war sentiment runs strong. The sense of what happens to those left behind in war is evident. Anti-establishment is also a strong theme. By the end of Mockingjay, we’re left with the idea that no political figurehead is trustworthy (and if you want to take it a step further, that we should hand our presidency over to a strong military leader…hmmm?).

Overall, though Mockingjay didn’t wrap up The Hunger Games series as I had hoped, I still recommend it as the coup de gras of an excellent series. The characters are vivid and the setting is stark. It’s a daring plunge into a dystopian world aimed at a rather “mature” young adult audience. For adults, it’s a good, thought-evoking, entertaining, gripping read that pulls no punches.


  1. Okay. I thought Mockingjay was (close to) perfect. A lot of the issues that you (and others) have taken up with are some of my favourite parts. Don't get me wrong, this book slayed me. I was in a depressed stupor for a few days. But Snow's death by drowning in his own laughter and blood? perfect. Being numb to Prim's death? I think it was meant to be like that...the reader is feeling what Katniss feels, as she feels it. Death and war are senseless. Prim's death was just senseless--but it served a purpose, which was to shoot Coin down. Her death led to Katniss' decision. Katniss and Peeta being partially burned? yep. They are scarred, through and through. perfect. gruelling and horrible that Collins broke her characters, but it was so necessary for the story. the end.

  2. Ooo..."(close to) perfect." Hmmm...well, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. ;)

  3. NY Times just posted their review: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/books/review/Roiphe-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=books

  4. For what it's worth, I felt the same way as you did about a lot of things (I was numb to Prim's death, I felt the writing didn't live up to books 1 and 2, I thought the physical scarring was unnecessary) AND YET, like Sarah, I still thought the book was (close to) perfect. I think Collins pulled off her intentions perfectly, even if I wanted the story to take some slightly different paths. And I learned so, SO much her as a writer and master storyteller.