Friday, August 27, 2010

Sci Fi Friday Book Thoughts: Mockingjay

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, years of excitement and anticipation were finally quenched as Mockingjay made it into the hands of readers. I'm sure everyone that read and loved the original Hunger Games has been waiting anxiously for this book, desperate to know how Katniss' story would conclude.

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Mockingjay is such a big event book that I don't think a traditional review is necessary. If you've read Hunger Games and Catching Fire, you're going to read this one. So I decided I would follow the format for my previous two Hunger Games posts and do more of a reflection on the book.

Obviously, that means that from here on out we're entering major spoiler territory. If you're like my two best friends and haven't gotten your copy of Mockingjay yet, clearly you need to turn around and come back later.

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Okay, we ready now for some serious Mockingjay discussion?

I'm going to be honest with you guys, because I feel like we're friends here: I was a sobbing mess after I finished my first read of the book on Tuesday morning. The tears started when Buttercup came back. I'm a sucker for animals in the first place, but it was Katniss' description of him in the middle of the night, of him guarding her, that just sent me over the edge. And I never quite pulled myself back together.

I wasn't just distraught over Prim and Buttercup and Katniss, however. I was distraught because...I didn't like the book that much. I felt that throughout the book, the romance that had been content to stay in the background of the first two books had risen to a place of prominence that outshone the story I thought Collins had been trying to tell. I've been fighting proudly for Team Katniss since I first realized people were siding with one boy or the other. And to see so much attention paid to Katniss' romantic choices in the text of the final book was disorienting to say the least. I expected that some sort of tacit choice would be made (and it would be Peeta because we spent two books closely observing their relationship in action and ending up with Gale would have seemed like the romance of the first two books was pointless), but it showed up way more often than I was comfortable with.

What story did I think Hunger Games was about? Survival. Corruption. Identity. Katniss is constantly fighting against a corrupt state, hunting in the forest because of poverty and stepping into the Games for her little sister because it's unfair to ask an innocent 12 year old to participate in their horrors before taking on a more overtly rebellious role, culminating in becoming the face of the rebellion in Mockingjay. She's been a survivor since she figured out how to keep her family alive after her father's death. And like many teenagers, she's constantly struggling with her identity - especially as she must adapt to the many faces that are pressed upon her by adults. Her relationships, familial, friendly and romantic, play a role in each of those themes, but I was expecting them to stay in the background again.

Another major disappointment was just how out of it Katniss is for large chunks of the book. Katniss is no stranger to catastrophic injuries, even injuries that knock her out for days at a time, but the recurring theme of Katniss waking up in a hospital bed after a major revelation got real old, real fast. I'm a fan of unstable narrators, but wasn't there a better way to underscore a dramatic event than having Katniss sent to the hospital? For those of you who've read the conclusion of the Chaos Walking series (Monsters of Men), I felt like Ness and Collins had graduated from the same school of dramatic tension.

Okay, I've gotten my major beefs out of the way. Is there anything redeeming about this book? Of course there is - Collins is too good of a writer to churn out complete crap.

Collins' background in television has definitely played a role in these books since day one, but Mockingjay is when it becomes most obvious, and I thought it was really interesting. Cameras have been ever present, but I know after The Hunger Games there were a lot of questions about how the cameras in the arena operated, since they were never described. Were they embedded in the scenery? Made invisible? In Mockingjay, Katniss has her own dedicated camera crew, and I think Collins is definitely using them and Plutarch to comment on just how much of our news can be easily staged - or at least enhanced to make for better television.

I've seen people saying both Peeta and Gale got the shaft in terms of character development - that hijacking Peeta was lazy and Gale did a 180 to become the bad guy, but I actually really liked both of their characters for once. Peeta's love for Katniss always felt somewhat immature - he was in love with the idea of Katniss, but never had a chance to fall in love with her as the young woman she was growing into. She was constantly on edge and unable to truly process whatever feelings she did have for him, because projecting the image of happy lovers was necessary for their survival. Hijacking Peeta was cruel and blunt, but it wiped the slate clean, and I believe that they did grow to have a deep and true love for each other. If they'd ended up together without some way of starting at square one, in the back of my head I'd always be wondering if they could truly have a healthy relationship. As for Gale, he's always had an edge to him that Katniss lacked at first. He was the first to suggest running away into the woods, and had a habit of railing against the Capitol when they were outside the fence of District 12. He worked in the horrors known as the mines, while Katniss had a relatively carefree six months between the end of her first Hunger Games and the start of her Victory Tour. And of course, he was there when the Capitol destroyed his home. The hardened, cynical, bitter man we met in Mockingjay seemed to be a natural evolution of what little we'd seen of Gale's character.

Most horrifying moment for me: Finnick's revelation that he'd been a sex slave after winning his Games. That just blew my mind and forced me to put the book down for a minute to collect myself. It seemed to come out of nowhere, yet made so much sense, in a terrible and terrifying way. I just wanted to bundle Finnick into a hug then and never let him go.

And then there were the deaths. This book had to be a blood bath. After reading Catching Fire I was sure lots of people were going to die, and when it became obvious this book was to be set in the heart of the war for Panem I knew that no one was safe. Hell, since the books are written in present tense it was possible that even Katniss could die. However, that doesn't mean I think all of the deaths were handled well. Boggs and Messalla each got lengthy descriptions of their demise, but dear Finnick only got a line or two. And Prim's death I absolutely wasn't expecting. In some ways, that's the death that bothers me the most. This whole story was set in motion when Katniss volunteered to save Prim at the reaping. What was the point of all that pain and struggling, the destruction of everything she ever knew, if Prim wasn't there at the end of it all?

I thought District 13 was interesting. I always figured they were going to be less-than warm and fuzzy when we met them. Remember, I thought we were going to discover Katniss' father among the citizens of District 13, and the place would have to be run by assholes if they wouldn't let him contact his family (oh sure, I can think of lots of logical reasons why they'd be kept apart, such as protecting the rebellion in case Katniss couldn't be rescued from the Quell, but whatever). However, it's very good that Katniss killed Coin, because it's clear that she was just going to be another Snow. Need proof? The crazy woman suggested they hold another Hunger Games. Another Hunger Games! And I'll admit, at first I had no idea what was going on when Katniss agreed, because no matter how distraught she was over Prim I didn't see how she could agree to such a travesty. It wasn't until Amy brought it up on the Maw Books spoiler discussion post and I re-read the book at a slower pace that I realized she was playing along with Coin to be in the perfect position to assassinate her.

I was also left with some larger world building questions, though I can see how they couldn't necessarily be addressed in the context of Katniss' story. The biggest one for me perhaps is what is going on in the rest of the world? Does Panem represent the last of humanity? Is Panem the most powerful nation of Earth, inheriting the US's position as a super power? Or alternatively, is Panem so poor and backwards that the rest of the world doesn't care what's going on? Because what is the rest of the world like if no one cares that there's a country out there murdering its children for entertainment?

Another blog asked us to sum up our feelings about Mockingjay in one word. After my first read I said it would be "disappointed." I went back and re-read the book on Wednesday and Thursday (I couldn't handle reading it again immediately on Tuesday) before writing this, determined to come back with a more rational answer. I think I'm still going to go with "disappointed," but not necessarily because it's a bad book - it's just clear that I wasn't on the same page as Suzanne Collins as to what story she was telling. Whose fault is that? I'm not sure. The Hunger Games trilogy has been quite a ride, but perhaps has taught me not to get quite so invested in defending a position (Team Katniss vs. the romance teams) before I know the final outcome.

If you haven't had your fill of Mockingjay talk yet, please chime in in the comments! I love hearing from people with all sorts of opinions, and in fact would love to hear some commentary from people who loved it!


Annie the Superfast Reader said...

Great post--you put it really well.

For me, I got tired of Kat being the Mockingjay, if that makes sense. I missed the structure imposed by the Hunger Games, where she could be more of renegade.

BTW, I see you are in Rego Park? I'm in Sunnyside :)

Angela Craft said...

Taking away the arena aspect definitely sets this book apart structurally from the other two. Yes, the capitol itself is set up to be like the arena, but it's nothing like the other books. While the Quarter Quell twist was absolutely devastating in Catching Fire, perhaps Katniss never should have gone back there in order to make all three books structurally distinct.

And what a small world! Welcome fellow Queens dweller :-D

Ms. Yingling said...

There was a whiny quality to Katniss that I hadn't picked up before. Just had trouble getting in to it.

Patti said...

I was enthralled the entire time, in fact I think that in terms of writing this might have been the strongest book in the series.

I hated the team peeta/gale thing because it seemed so beside the point of the series. So I too was a bit dismayed to see it pop up more frequently in this, but then Katniss has more downtime in this book. She's recovering. Probably PTSD, hiding in closets, with more time to think than ever before. It makes sense.

I think that Collins wrapped all the plots and themes that she set into motion in the first two books and then drove home the point that war is senseless and that just because you're fighting evil it doesn't automatically give you the moral high ground (read Gale's creative weapons and Coin's ruthless employ of them). If you don't treat your enemies as humans you lose your humanity.

Anyhow, great post! Love to hear what other people are thinking about the book.

Anna Rhoswen said...

Having finished it yesterday and given myself a day to mull over it, I really only have this to say: I abhor the way Finnick died, and that she felt he had to die at all. Hasn't the poor boy been through enough? He was the most hopeful out of every character in the book and he wasn't even given a fighting chance. Blargh.

Patti said...

And see, that is one of the things I loved most about the series. I think we're conditioned to want a hopeful ending and Collins gave us a series where there is unbearable loss - just like real life. Senseless, unbearable loss - just like a real war.

I think people want characters to be unbelievably resilient because it is easier to read and instead this series gave us unpleasant realities. Damaged people in extraordinary circumstances doing what they have to do, but still coming out the other side worse off than they were before. Who wouldn't be effed up after all that?

I think it speaks well of the series that characters we loved died. It was a very "true" series. At the end we have characters that are barely holding on. Instead of cuing the heartwarming music at the end we get moments, glimpses, small windows of happiness. And again, I think that is the reason this series is so wonderful.

Angela Craft said...

Patti - a downer ending is part of why I would have preferred no epilogue. The final chapter was perfect, showing that the people of District 12 had been shattered, but were resilient enough to begin rebuilding, slowly but surely. My favorite endings are the ones that give us a resolution, but make it clear that these characters will go on to live their lives. The epilogue makes that *too* clear, giving us only one way to see Katniss' future.

Also, I'm not upset that people died (well, maybe a little bit about Prim, just because her death kind of invalidates everything that Katniss fought for from page 1 of Hunger Games), but it's more the manner/description of different deaths. I am all for pointless deaths to show that war really isn't noble, but more time should have been spent with characters we cultivated a relationship with - like Finnick. In a book like this, I expect lots of people to die, especially people that weren't introduced until this book (I call them canon fodder. Also see red shirts in Star Trek).

As I wrote at Maw Books I expected to see a slightly more resilient Katniss because of the extensive comparisons between her and mockingjays in the books and in interviews with Suzanne Collins. What do we know about mockingjays? They sing beautifully (like Katniss). The Capitol never intended for them to exist but they have a strong survival instinct (like Katniss). They're dangerous when their nest is threatened (Katniss only springs into action when those she loves are threatened). Considering the destruction of District 12 and the continued threat of President Snow and the Capitol, I don't think it was unreasonable to see Katniss mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore. Still room to show off the horrors of war (through Gale, through people's reactions to Katniss [would Peeta have liked avenging angel Katniss?], through Katniss' eventual realization of just what she was doing), but with a more active protagonist.

Rachel said...

I just finished. And I'm competely distraught. Over...everything.

As a major Peeta fan, finding out he was being tortured alone broke me. And Finnick...

I'm sorry, I just got distracted because I'm reading the comments over at the spoiler thread and saw some person wishing there had been a final Hunger Games. What. The. Fuck?! Did they not read this book?

I think even more than the previous books, this is the black-and-grey morality. Before, District 12 was innocent -- now there's no innocent side. No one to root for. They got trapped in -- hell, they got trapped in Vietnam, or Iraq, or the Andalites and Yeerks...sorry, I might need to sleep now. But there was so much time focusing on how horrible war is, and how insidious the effects are...

I have to say, just as Gale creating those bombs was the last straw for Katniss -- and I really wish that it wasn't him killing her sister that made Katniss realize she couldn't love him, I wish it had been the fact that anyone who is that lacking in basic empathy cannot love right -- I thought that Katniss voting for the Hunger Games should have been the final straw for Peeta loving Katniss. I didn't get she was faking until reading your ideas. So, while I wouldn't say I was *happy* with how Katniss and Peeta ended up together in the end, I was glad that Peeta didn't compromise too much to stay with someone morally repugnant to him. (Personally, I think that Gale idealized Katniss just as much as Peeta did, if not more. I don't think Katniss was all that focused on the love triangle -- *Gale* was. And he wouldn't get over it. And he wouldn't stop bringing it up. And shut up, already, you jealous brat!)

Anyway. As to having children -- I think that authors, who tend to be mothers, think that having children is a happy ending, or as close to being happy as can be. We teens/young adults don't think it is, because that's still unimaginable to us. I think whenever an author of a young adult series ends with them having kids, that's such an interpolation. It's a happy ending for the writers, not for the characters. I am happy that Katniss is an ambivalent mother, if that's the best phrasing. Well, not happy for her kids, but thinking it's very true to her character -- she isn't maternal, not really, doesn't want kids, even now that it's safe, and is too damaged to want them. That felt true to the character.

Honestly, my biggest problem is the number of times Katniss got knocked out and needed someone to explain what was going on. From the first chapter, I thought "too much exposition" -- there was way too much here. (It's bugged me in previous books, too.)

Anyway. Sleep now, more thoughts later, but feel free to chat me tomorrow!

Patti said...

You know, I was surprised the epilogue didn't bother me, I'm also not a fan (Harry Potter: ack! Revolver: double ack!), but for some reason I liked this one. I definitely see your point about it only leaving one way to see her future. And Rachel you have a good point. The fact that I'm a mother may have influenced my thoughts on the epilogue.

Tanya Melendez said...

I read all three books back to back, which I think may have increased my dissapointment with Mockingjay, since it made clear how much the death of Prim was completely not necessary. I assume that Collins thought that it would be the right motivator for Katniss to assisinate Coin, but there were a million reasons for that to happen, and as you and others have said, it ruins the continual sacrifice of Katniss throughout all three books.

Kristin said...


I agree with you on many points here. The love triangle was always a moot point for me as well. And yep, Buttercup's return got me bawling big time, too.

Regarding Prim's death, I don't see it could have happened any other way. Don't get me wrong, I was saddened by it; coupled with the loss of all those children, I had to put the book down and collect myself. Still, I think your question, "What was the point of all that pain and struggling, the destruction of everything she ever knew, if Prim wasn't there at the end of it all?" IS the point. That's the question every reader has to ask w/Prim's death. Yes, Prim is the original catalyst for Katniss, but one interpretation here is that any reason for fighting is ultimately in vain, no matter how pure. (And, as a character, Prim was just a little too perfect to keep living...)

Also, while I'm not a big fan of the epilogue either, I do think her having children speaks to the hope she has for the future. I always read her not wanting children as not wanting to have children who would be subjected to tyranny. Here, even though she is still a mess years down the road, it let's the reader know that things have gotten much better, to the point where the world isn't so bad anymore. Whether the author needs to spell it out for us by having an epilogue... well, maybe that's another discussion. ;)

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