I devoured the first two books in the Hunger Games series in one sitting and have been counting down the days to the release of Mockingjay this week. I was one of the first to purchase it Tuesday morning and I carried it around with me all day like a security blanket. Then I read it. All night I read it. And it was over.
Like all good things that come to an end, it left me feeling a bit deflated. Now what? I often feel that way when I finish a good book, movie, or TV series. The characters have become my friends and I just don’t want to say goodbye. My sadness at the end of Mockingjay was a little different though.
The three book jackets tell a vivid story. Book one shows the Mockingjay small, almost timid, with its head down, clutching the arrow as though picking it up for the first time. Book two shows the bird as robust, surrounded by the color of flame, ready to take on the world. The cover of book three is pale blue and shows the Mockingjay with its wings spread out, surrounded by light. The book jacket radiates hope and rebirth. Then you open the first page.
Keep reading at your own risk. Highly opinionated commentary and spoilers abound.
With The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I was consumed by them, recommending them universally to nearly everyone I knew. Do you like excellent prose? Read these books! Suspense? Depth of character? Adventure with a moral message and great social commentary? READ THESE BOOKS!!
With this book I’m sort of rethinking my universal recommendation. Do you like a well-crafted but mostly bleak and hopeless message book about how war destroys everything? This bad boy’s for you!
The message is sound. War is abominable. It kills people and breaks and destroys those who are left behind. These are truths. After what Katniss has been through, it’s likely she would be left drooling in the corner of a psych ward while nearly everyone she’s ever loved either dies gruesomely or abandons her. Real, or not real? Real.
Enjoyable or not enjoyable to read? I’m leaning towards not enjoyable. It’s a must read and a compelling read but rather than leaving you cheering and begging for more, it will likely leave you saying, “Hmmmm. War is bad. I need some time to process.” And you will process. It’s not a book that will easily leave your mind. The feeling of this book reminds me of the feeling I get when I read books by one of my favorite authors, Thomas Hardy.
The first two books were built on a solid foundation of Plot, Character and Message with excellent writing to pull us into a vivid and imaginative world.
Book three seems to have a hierarchy of MESSAGE, then plot, with a smidge of character sprinkled in. Where I can name several “moments” from each of the first two books, moments that were poignant and beautiful and left me cheering, even in the deepest sadness, I had a hard time coming up with more than one in Mockingjay.
The first two books had a building sense of hope, rebellion, and impending butt-kicking triumph. The third one slaps the first two down. There is no winner in war. There is no triumphant rebellion. All is lost.
It got me thinking about the Cuban revolution, young people fighting for a brighter future, only to find that their new leader is Fidel Castro with all the implications we now know that brings.
There’s a glimmer of hope at the end of the book but it’s just that, a glimmer, with the overshadowing message that at any moment it could be shattered again. No one is safe because at their core, people cannot be trusted to be good.
And the last several pages, which should be the payoff for reading 3 intense novels, are written like a laundry list.
-We are broken.
-Peeta and I found love. Remember that fantastic moment that was described in such lush detail in book 2 around page 351? Yeah. That happened again.
-Our lives still suck.
-Gale, who we’ve all cared deeply about, leaves with no fanfare or even so much as a spot of dialogue but it’s probably for the best.
-Greasy Sae, a semi-inconsequential supporting character, remains with me and makes me soup because my mom is AWOL helping other people.
-Life goes on but what’s the point?
Now I like to give truly gifted writers the benefit of the doubt. Katniss is the narrator. Maybe Suzanne Collins shuts off her lush evocative descriptive flair at the close of the book to show that Katniss has shut off, that she has nothing left to give to the narrative. I want to believe that it is a conscious choice to show that Katniss’s voice has become sparse, hopeless and unemotional, that even when talking about the small bits of healing she’s experienced, she can’t bear to talk about them in a compelling way because she’s just not compelled by anything left in this world.
But there’s part of me that thinks it was unintentional, like Collins gets her message across about war and devastation and then quickly ties up the loose ends in the lives of the characters we’ve come to adore throughout these 3 novels.
If her writing truly becomes so sparse and perfunctory at the end of the book to symbolize Katniss’s broken soul, then it should have gone that route many other times throughout the series, especially in book 3. Katniss spends much of book 3 feeling broken, helpless and not acting because she just doesn’t have it in her to go on.
Reading a book from the perspective of a broken hero is exhausting. It doesn’t help that she has little real meaningful interaction with other people. Maybe she can’t. Maybe war really kills all relationships. In the first 2 books it felt like it made them stronger, made reunions sweeter. Book 3 says, “Nope.”
I’m currently working on a novel. It’s nothing deep or world-changing. It’s fun to write and hopefully fun to read. I read Collins’s work with a student’s eye, trying to figure out how she does what she does so masterfully. I would be unbelievably grateful if I had her talent for suspense, character development and narrative brilliance. Even on the third book, I found it hard to analyze her writing because I was so absorbed in it most of the time.
Some good moments were Katniss’s speech into the camera after the hospital attack and I absolutely love the last sentence before the epilogue. It is beautiful. I wish it were enough for me.
One friend asked me what I would change and I keep asking myself that same question. Would I wanted it to end in flowers and rainbows and Katniss standing in Peeta’s embrace atop a parade float? No. Resoundingly no. I think the characters needed to suffer real consequences for what they’d been through. However, I feel like the first two books set you up for one thing in tone, character and momentum and the third book pulls the rug out from under you.
I can’t say I didn’t like Mockingjay but I can’t say that I enjoyed it either. Suzanne Collins is a gifted writer and she kept me glued to the pages of her novel from beginning to end. She didn’t take the easy, appeal-to-the-masses cop-out and tie everything up in a nice neat package. However I think she chose message over character and that’s a bit disappointing.
Now discuss. I’d love someone to prove me wrong, make me want to re-read it to find what I missed the first time.