In a new approach, Gabs debates the pros and cons of the highly controversial final book in the Hunger Games trilogy against herself. Warning: there are a lot of spoilers to follow (and we know some people don’t like those).
Mockingjay is not the book you expect, or maybe even want, at the end of a trilogy, but trust me, it’s the book you need. Taking a sharp turn from all the other hero epics we hear ad nauseum, Suzanne Collins had enough steel to break her hero utterly. Instead of dashing into danger and bringing down the Capitol, Katniss spends most of the book hiding in closets and under the influence of morphling.
And I’m all for it. I love the psychological reality of this book. After having to fight in the Hunger Games twice and learning that her hometown has been bombed to smithereens, Katniss is, understandably, dealing with a bad case of PTSD. While it might be more stirring to read about someone who handles the weight of life’s problems and continues to kick ass, I appreciate that Katniss acts like any of us would act in her situation. It’s unexpected and completely frustrating for a reader, but that’s what happens when people go to war. They get screwed up. And I appreciate that Collins wanted to make that statement.
This does cause some issues. The pacing of the book is all over the place. We get long stretches of nothing followed by sudden bursts of action that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. While this is not convenient for the reader, it’s a fairly good representation of war. Sometimes everything happens all at once and sometimes you just sit around and do nothing. Is it possible that Collins was trying to create that same on-edge feeling for her readers, simultaneously wishing something would happen and that nothing would happen and nobody dies? I think it’s possible, and at least defensible.
The darkness in the book isn’t just because Collins is trying to be as edgy as GRRM in torturing and killing off all her characters. Peeta’s capture and torture finally washes away his adulation of Katniss and makes him see her on a real level. In a screwed-up way, his torture is what finally puts him and Katniss on equal ground in their relationship.
Prim dying is possibly the biggest gut punch of the book and can feel the most pointless. Katniss has spent three books trying to protect her sister, and she ultimately fails. We face the cold truth that no matter how hard we fight, we might lose the things we care about the most. But it also raises important questions: how far do you go in war? Do the ends justify the means? I, for one, am happy it makes Katniss realize that Gale operates from a very different philosophy. Because I hate Gale. Good riddance, buddy.
Katniss’s slow rebuilding and ability to finally embrace life are made all the more powerful for just how utterly destroyed she is. Mockingjay isn’t a dark slog, but a commentary on the triumph of hope when things have become almost entirely hopeless. There’s a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to love and trust each other to move into that light and maybe start to heal. I think that’s a beautiful sentiment and a true one. Who cares if it’s what you wanted to read.
There’s a reason authors of most fantasy and science fiction epics stay away from the psychologically real aspect of PTSD. It doesn’t make for very exciting reading. Yes, Katniss would definitely be screwed up by the events of the Hunger Games and the fire bombing of District Twelve, but does she have to be this screwed up?
One of the reasons we read is to get lost in a story. Heroes are heroic because they do what most of us can’t. Yes, they can be flawed and have hangups, but in the end they get to do what we really want to read about: getting massive amounts of butt.
Katniss kicks no butt in Mockingjay. She’s barely functional. The smart, savvy, practical girl we saw outmaneuver the Capitol in the first two books disappears. Maybe that’s what war does to people, but it makes for crappy reading. I don’t really care if the pacing is supposed to reflect war or if the disjointed narrative at the end is a good representation of Katniss losing her mind. I just want to read a well-plotted book that makes sense. Most of the last part of this book doesn’t make sense, and no artistic value in the world will convince me it couldn’t at least be a little more cohesive.
When Katniss does get to what we all love her for, she gets cut short. Even her journey into the Capitol comes to nothing. In fact, her entire mission comes to nothing. She spends the whole book hell bent on killing Snow and then never actually does it. I can forgive a lot of things, but I can’t forgive Suzanne Collins killing off Finnick so that Katniss can ultimately hide in the cellar of a clothing shop and accomplish exactly nothing else. She couldn’t even kill Gale when he was getting taken by Peacekeepers. And despite the fact that I would have loved for her to kill Gale because I’m a mean and petty person, he did ask her to do it. Like, what if he had been taken and horribly tortured for months on end before his painful death? Come on, Katniss. Help a friend out.
Finally, the end of the book is a mess. I appreciate on some level that Katniss’s terrible mental state after the death of her sister is reflected in the narration, but it should be followable. The first time I read Mockingjay, I was also lost in a sea of morphling. Katniss votes for a new Hunger Games but then kills President Coin? What the eff is going on here? Of all parts of the book, I would love to see a touch more subtlety in that council meeting. To get a hint that Katniss is voting for more death and Haymitch votes with her because they’re using their unspoken communication for plotting. As it stands, the only reason that scene makes sense to me is thanks to the interpretation of other people on the internet.
Ultimately, Mockingjay is nothing more than one long drawn-out story that somehow has too much happening and not enough at the same time. It’s just not that interesting to read. So no matter what layers it contains that make it significant, it can never overcome that ultimate sin. A tweak here or there could have reached a better balance that allowed for the PTSD but also the butt kicking. And maybe a slightly more cohesive ending would be nice, too.