BOOK REVIEW - Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

on Tuesday, September 14, 2010

By Suzanne Collins (Official Page)

Blurb Review

While the previous two books were exceptionally strong, Mockingjay fails to provide a satisfying conclusion to Katness' world, war, or love triangle. More a critique of war rather than a third book in a trilogy, Mockingjay will undoubtedly fail to satisfy fans of the first two (excellent) books.

Full Review

*Might have very minor spoilers.*

It's hard to write a review of this book, because no matter what you say you'll find a bunch of people who agree with you, and a bunch that don't. Specifically, I've seen that people are divided into three group.

1. The people who say they like the book because it was just another Hunger Games book. They don't really back up their reasons except that it was the conclusion to two fantastic previous novels. Usually these are the kind of people that just read what is popular (ie Twilight, etc.) and are probably afraid to trash-talk the book because their writing group will hate them. There are lots of these people on Amazon.

2. The next step, where you have people who hate the book. They have a variety of reasons, most of them because the main character is just a pawn in a wargame, effectively destroying all character development she had in the past two books. They also tend to dislike the rather forced and boring ending. They often have lots of very valid reasons and are usually very smart (unlike group #1. Group #1 is sheep, in my completely unbiased opinion).

3. Then you have the people who like to argue for the sake of arguing. Often these are people from #1 who have taken a few English or Philosophy courses, and felt they are the expert on this. These people point out the book is perfect, because it shows how war is such a terrible, pointless thing, and Katness being just a boring pawn throughout the book is an example of the life of a soldier. She's a kid in an adult's world, and she is treated like one. They also like to point out how stupid #2 is, for not getting the "deeper meaning" of the book.

I firmly plant myself in #2.5. I didn't like the book, but the reason I didn't like the book was because it was a terrible book. If it had been written by itself, I probably would have thought it was at least half-way decent.

No, the reason I really didn't enjoy Mockingjay was the fact that it was the third book in a series, a series that had strong characters, character development, clear conflict, and even an interesting love triangle. The problem is that, while Mockingjay resolves a lot of these issues, it is resolved in the most passive, bland way, with most of the major leering choices Katness has been facing happened to her, not by her.

This problem permeates the entire book. It starts by basically infodumping what was one of the biggest mysteries fans were anticipating: what was in District 13. Collins hinted at this a bit in Hunger Games, frequently in Catching Fire, and then starts Mockingjay with Kat on a hovercraft to District 13, explaining exactly what sort of rebellion was there and how they operate. On the way there Kat (obviously) thinks about it in a way that one only would if she was explaining it in great detail to a reader, basically allowing Collins to destroy whatever anticipation fans had about this reveal.

It doesn't set a good stage, but it only gets worse from there.

Kat quickly falls into the category of "passive protagonist." Ask any author, and they'll tell you this is a common mistake among new authors, to have a protagonist on the sidelines throughout an entire book. This is exactly what happens to Kat. Minus a few scenes where she pushes a few things through, Kat is shuffled throughout the book, making no choices of her own. One could argue the other books did this and they'd be correct, but the difference is in Mockingjay Kat doesn't seem to care she's being shoved around. In the previous books, she had an air of defiance around her, a desire to survive. Plus, she was trying to work their system throughout, manipulating it with Peeta as the pair of them tried to make sense of their dystopian world. She doesn't really seem to care much this time. She was wounded in the last book, and many of her friends were killed, and this fact seems to eat away at her so much she just slumps into a depressed mess anytime something hard comes up.

This isn't the Kat that was developed from the previous books. Someone get her some Prozac.

This issue permeates every facet of the novel, along with misconstrued logic about guilt and responsibility. When no-name characters die (off screen and even off book) because of indirect means that might have been related to Katness, she had a huge mental breakdown that encompasses all her throughts. But later, when *spoiler, but you knew this was going to happen* main characters die, including a rather key one *end spoiler*, Kat hardly even thinks about it. She just goes with what everyone tells her to do again, following the flow.

Again, one could argue this book is making a statement about war. But if that's what Collins want to do with this series, she really could have hinted at it better. Or maybe written a different book showing how dehumanizing war is. The first two books were dark and gritty but entertaining. We love watching people suffer and endure through, which is what these two books are. We don't like watching someone endure things begrudgingly, not wanting to follow orders but not resisting at all in either case. It's boring, and it wasn't what this series was about.

The whole concept of "stumbling through the third book" continues to the ending. Now, remember what I've said countless times: I love open endings. I even love endings that are bleak, that are dark, and that came at a cost I am not sure I was willing to make. The problem is, Mockingjay tries for this type of ending, but falls flat on its face. The ending segment, like the rest of the book, is Kat simply complying. Even who she eventually hooks up with (finally picking between Gale and Peeta) is based solely on who is there at the time. She continues through life with said person, even having kids, but never stating she loves him or cares about him; it's more like she did it because he was the only one available.

I addressed character development slightly, and how Katness has been growing up throughout the last few books, but in this one doesn't go anywhere. In fact, she digresses from a girl dealing with both being in the phase of life where she does "grow up," and being forced to be more of an adult due to her circumstances. However, in Mockingjay, she spends most of the book either lying in a hospital bed from some injury, or conforming unwillingly (though she doesn't put up much of a fight) to the wants of District 13. Where is the girl who was so headstrong, so rebellious, so determined? It was her determination that caused her to survive not one but two hunger games. Did it all just completely die? And don't give me the "all the horrible things that happened killed her motivation," because that's garbage. Terrible things happened in the first and second books, and the way her character grew and reacted indicated that she is the type of person to push back, harder. That was how she was developed. Maybe yes, in this situation, someone would fall back into depression, but there was no transition to this change. It just happened at the start of Mockingjay. This wasn't the Katness I knew and followed in the first two books, it was some new, passive person with her name.

I'd also like to point out a comment my wife made, and that was that the female characters in this book don't really feel like female characters. Kat is, throughout the series, an embodiment of traites usually associated with the "masculine" side of the gender spectrum. She's independent, goal-oriented, and rarely emotional. In Mockingjay it's almost as if Collins was like, "Oh crap, Kat's a girl and she doesn't act like one," and did a complete 180, making her the embodiment of the general novel stereotype of women: passive, compliant, and emotional. Note I'm not saying girls in real life are like this, but these are often traites in literature that tend to tie with each gender, specifically. Kat is ever extremely masculine or stereotypically feminine. I was fine with her being a tomboy, if it had been consistant. Since it wasn't, it just made Kat look like an experiment where Collins tried to figure out how to write a girl character in her last book and failed.

Perhaps the biggest crime this book commits is that it falls into routine. The previous two books have all had a very similar formula: Kat has to make a life-altering decision. She chooses to follow it, much to the dismay of everybody including herself. She gets prettied up by superficial bimbos and made a movie-star. She then gets thrown into a huge battleground, one that usually lasts the rest of the book, which will then end with a lot of main characters dying and a startling reveal. Mockingjay doesn't differentiate from this. The only difference between its system and the one of Hunger Games or Catching Fire is that in those two books the main battleground was the titular Hunger Games, while this one she is sent on a mission to...well, I'm avoiding spoilers, but basically she and a group of friends from across both books have to fight a bunch of people. ]

It's the same formula.

One could argue, "But Nathan you twit, you loved The Dresden Files. Aren't those books the same thing over and over?" Well, it is true that each Dresden books follows a similar pattern of plateau, climax, plateau, climax, plateau, huge climax. However, the formula isn't as ridged, and Butcher is smart enough to know to completely change the nature of the conflict in each novel. Sometimes it's earth-shattering. Sometimes it involves Dresden directly, other times it involves his friends or just a random person he met. It mixes it up, while adding large chunks to the overall, underlying plot, which makes the books both familiar and new at the same time. It's like watching a TV show, where you know that (because it's almost time for a commercial) a conflict will come. But we still enjoy it because 1. We know the formula and 2. We know the writer knows, so it will try to be unique and hook us every time. Mockingjay doesn't do this. I literally knew what was going to happen the minute Kat decided (minor spoiler) to become the Mockingjay, their war hero. Everything past that was just me re-reading the first two books in a new setting. Even the twists at the end were foreseeable (with maybe one or two minor exceptions), because you knew which characters were "safe" to die, and which were "untouchable." It was really unfortunate.

Overall? As stated, I didn't despise the book (despite my long comments above). The reason I nitpicked so much was because I loved the first two books to death. I made the dumb mistake both times of picking each book up at about 11:00 pm, and then couldn't stop until it was done at 3-4am. Mockingjay wasn't like this at all; I spent most of the time trying to force myself to keep reading it, mostly because I knew my wife wanted to. I had this same issue with the seventh Harry Potter book; in an attempt to create a conclusion that tied up all the ends, the book lost its purpose and became exceptionally dull.

If you are a Hunger Games fan, you actually might be best off skipping this one. Just make up your own ending, pick who you want Katness hooking up with and roll with it. If you must read it...well, I don't know what advice to give. The cover is pretty, and amazon took forever to ship it to me.

I still recommend this trilogy, however, because the first two books are exceptionally good. It's sad, though, because reading Mockingjay has forever tainted the appeal of Hunger Games and Catching Fire, because knowing that all that character development is for naught kind of ruins large chunks of the first two books.


Anonymous said...

I'm not going to lie, I really, REALLY, disliked this book. I didn't like the last one and this one was painful. The ending was awful and the pacing was forced. Anyway, I have a long list of problems I had with book 2 and 3. However, Hunger Games is still one of my favorite books.

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