Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
Just finished the third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy. In this final installment, Katniss is with the rebels and they are in a war to defeat the Capitol. The stakes are high as she fights along with the other rebels in a winner-take-all war. There’s not much I can say beyond that without giving out some serious spoilers. So here they come. Skip if you don’t want to know anything.
I have a lot of criticism for this book.
First off, people drop like flies. Previous victors are killed off in rapid-fire succession like red-shirts on a Star Trek episode and very little is given to these losses other than passing sentiment. Peeta is brutally brainwashed by Snow into wanting to kill Katniss. This powerful story element was mostly flubbed by Collins and it quickly reverts to the tired love triangle theme that just continues to go nowhere for 90% of even this book. Finally, the killing of her sister Prim has to be one of the most pointless, even sadistic, story elements from a writer I’ve run across in years. The very fact Prim was where she was *ahead* of the front lines, and that the whole point of the death was to take Gale out of the love-triangle equation by means of some of the most feeble logic I’ve ever heard made me throw my hands up in frustration at Collins.
As a core theme, the love triangle, just gets completely flubbed with cheap moves. I’d hoped something good would come of it and see our characters bloom into something rich and heartwarming despite the surrounding destruction. Mostly I just wanted to smack the three of them and Collins’ poor handling. Despite each of their flaws, I wanted to hear Peeta or Gale have an epiphany and confess their love for her in some heartfelt and real expression of their inner self. Katniss could have done likewise or actually *chose* one of them. But instead of this, Collins merely makes Gale out to be a monster (on trumped up charges none-the-less) and Katniss ends up with Peeta kind of by default even though Peeta sees clearly that Katniss never really loved him. Even this ‘resolution’ you don’t find out until the tacked-on epilogue. And the reason she’s with Peeta? The best answer you get is because she ‘owes’ him more as he did more for her earlier. Really? That’s why you marry someone? And that’s what you do with a story element going on for 3 books?
For those that at least enjoyed Haymitch’s presence: this staple, interesting and ever-working in the background character in the first books is barely even present in this one. Felt he was completely under-utilized.
Turning the Capitol into deathtraps, and having custom-bred dogs that whisper Katniss name felt like overdone and feeble attempts to recapture the interesting Hunger Games theme – but mostly didn’t work and it was too little, too late.
The storytelling itself was disjointed and spotty. Big gaps of time with hard landings left some of the story hard to follow and further exaserbated the feelings of disconnectedness with the characters.
Finally, Katniss. She suffers badly from PTSD effects through most of the book, several times getting drugged into oblivion so she can just hang on. She does take on the role of the Mockingjay – but that role never really goes anywhere and Collins absolutely blows a great opportunity to make that a much more powerful symbol. Instead, all it turns into is a propaganda piece that Katniss herself isn’t very interested in. But the big failing in my opinion is that Katniss doesn’t seem to grow as a person. There are a few attempts to protest morally questionable activities like the bombing of the nut in district 2, but that doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, she shows quite the opposite of character and growth when she votes to throw the children of the Capitol’s leaders into one last Hunger Games (run by the rebels of all things) with no real discussion of the morality given. It gets like 3 pages – bang – she votes to throw these innocent kids into the arena and nothing more is said. Then, about 10 pages later, she coolly assassinates Coin without much of a second thought. Overall, we’re left with a burned-out, war-scarred character that hasn’t shown any particular growth or hope. I was left caring very little for her when I could have been there with her all along if she’d shown even one tenth the character, struggle, or growth you’d see with Frodo or other person in a titanic struggle like this. It could maybe have been made a bit better with her at least started to find some sort of healing or hope at the end – but even that we don’t get. I don’t need a fairytale ending – but there should be some sign of hope, change, or healing.
I don’t know if I would qualify this book as a teen book. It’s got some pretty rough story lines and themes: PTSD, mental and physical abuse, drugged states to get through personal crises, many morally questionable activities (that don’t get questioned) and plenty of death and destruction. While these topics can be appropriate for teens if consequences and characters struggle to make right choices, but you get little of that. I didn’t find the way they were handled to be very productive or geared towards helping teen readers understand these topics.
There are some good points. There is an interesting and clever bit about the power struggle between President Coin, President Snow and Katniss, but it just doesn’t make up for the other problems.
So, I had a lot more criticism of this book than good things to say and would even hesitate to call it teen-appropriate. While it was a decent attempt to bring the elements to a close – the writing and story just fell apart in too many ways. I was hoping for a lot out of this book – but it left me disappointed. If you saw the story cracks in book 2, then those cracks are absolute canyons in this book. You should probably read it to finish the trilogy since it’s only 10 audio discs (600 minutes); but don’t go into it expecting a very good story. You just aren’t left feeling very connected or concerned about Katniss or most of the other characters (that manage to still be alive) by the end. I was just glad this train-ride was over. Sadly, the journey started so well in book 1 has turned into a destination to which I never want to go back. Even as I sit here writing this I am thinking of ways in which this book could have been better. Sigh.
I give this book a D+ rating. It finished everything up; but left numerous problems with the morality of their choices, the plot, and the largely unsatisfying ending to the characters.