In the hugely anticipated final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss finds herself at the center of the growing rebellion. But even in isolated District 13 there are politics she must navigate and dangers she must guard against – not to mention Peeta is still a prisoner of the Capitol. Can Katniss be the rebels’ Mockingjay without becoming a pawn in someone else’s game? And what will the cost of independence be?
Warning: there will be CRAZY spoilers after the cut.
Jess: Well, I’ll say this right off the bat: it’s a brilliantly written book. I got it at a midnight event, went home to sleep, then woke up and didn’t move from my bed until I had finished it. I don’t think I even took a bathroom break. It’s incredibly gripping and exciting; even when you’re devastated by what’s happening on the page, you can’t put it down.
Becky: Ditto. I made the mistake of reading the first few chapters before sleeping, and tossed and turned all night because my brain wouldn’t turn off. Taken as a whole, I love this trilogy. And that’s why it pains me to say that when push comes to shove, I didn’t like the ending. The book had me for at least 3/4 of the way through, even up through the climax — in fact, the climax of the team making its way through the Capitol was one of my favorite sections of the book. But then you hit Prim’s death, and bam. I’m done.
Jess: Agreed. In part that’s because I kept waiting for Katniss to do something, to have any idea of the bigger picture, to make choices about the future of her world. But she never really does. It was a problem in the second book, too, but I thought at least it might be remedied by the end of the third…but no. Katniss is played all the way through, and all she gets to do in both Catching Fire and Mockingjay is fire an Arrow of Significance without really understanding the consequences or dealing with the fallout.
Becky: There are actually a bunch of facets there that didn’t work for me. Like the fact that as soon as Katniss sees Prim die, she goes comatose… actually, she spends a lot of the book that way. I absolutely understand why; the story is about war and Katniss is a victim of war. It would’ve been extremely cheap for Collins not to show the consequences. But in a first person narrative, if your narrator is unconscious or otherwise taken out of the picture, so is your reader. I had been less than thrilled when Katniss broke down over Peeta earlier in the book and so he was rescued by other people, entirely off-page, but moved past it because the story is so compelling. But having Katniss go completely comatose at the book’s climax? I couldn’t pass that one over. She didn’t do anything at that point, except eventually get the Arrow of Significance, and after that she didn’t even know she was on trial, let alone participate or do anything to deal with rebuilding Panem. So a) that’s disappointing when you have a character who has (in most ways) been so active for two-and-a-half-ish books; and b) that’s not great storytelling, which is disappointing from Collins, who is usually an amazing storyteller.
Jess: Though I’m loath to ascribe motives to writers – how the hell do I know what they’re thinking, right? – I can’t help feeling like Collins was so intent on showing us the horrors of war that her storytelling suffered for it. Your mileage may vary, of course, but Becky and I are both structure nuts, and I think the structure of the book fell apart with Prim’s death. From a storytelling perspective, Prim’s death was completely redundant – we already saw Prim die when Rue died, since Rue was always essentially a Prim stand-in.
Furthermore, Katniss’s primary motivation from the very beginning of the first book was to save Prim. She ultimately failed to do this, obviously, since Prim died – but by voting in favor of having a Hunger Games with Capitol children, she’s failed all Prims everywhere. And yes, in war, children and loved ones die, and there’s nothing you can do, and it’s senseless and horrible and there’s no narrative cohesion. But in terms of a story…the protagonist failed at her primary goal in every sense, hooray?
Becky: I also feel like the book couldn’t quite pick a moral and that was part of the problem. You have a great scene of Katniss talking an enemy soldier out of being an enemy, and talk about forgiveness and rebuilding as the way forward and the way to prevent future tragedies. But you also have the moral of “war is hell, and destroys everything and everyone.” Which is a fine message, if depressing, but the two are pretty direct opposites. And because Katniss herself is too traumatized to be part of the rebuilding at the end, all you end up with is the idea that everything is hell, and there’s nothing you can do to fix it, because there’s nothing Katniss can do. I don’t know if that’s what Collins intended (though I hope not), and again, it certainly isn’t wrong to write a moral I happen to disagree with… but as a reader, I just found it too upsettingly horrible.
Jess: Exactly. If the books are supposed to be about breaking the cycle of violence and hatred, they need to show the cycle broken, and we have no faith that it will be. The only major character who seems to be in favor of that is Peeta, and he was never part of that cycle to begin with. Instead we’re left with broken Katniss, broken Haymitch, and some incredibly minor character we have a vaguely positive feeling about left in charge of the government.
Becky: So yes: the ending had its issues. But it also had bright spots. Like Peeta! As I’ve said about a billion times on this site, I’m not a particularly shippy reader, and I was never even remotely interested in the romance — it seemed very much Not The Point. But as a character, in and of himself, Peeta was wonderful through the whole series, and shone in the third book. His arc was wonderful and sad. When he was rescued and everything went all to hell, I was genuinely upset. I was worried about him! Like he was a real person I could somehow rescue and cuddle! Because he needs all the cuddles. Except for those reserved for Finnick, of course.
Jess: Oh, absolutely. In general, the characters were brilliantly drawn. Peeta and Finnick broke my heart, Haymitch was wonderful, and though I didn’t like the fact that Prim died, I liked that she was allowed to become more of a person in this book instead of a delicate flower Katniss had to protect. I also thought Gale was very well done. I pretty much can’t stand Gale (and I hated the love triangle), but his character arc works so well.
Becky: And newcomer Boggs was great, too. There were so few genuinely good people in the series that it was nice to see someone new who just wanted to do the right thing. And Cinna, while he obviously never appeared, was still a great (and very felt) presence. I actually missed him terribly as a person, if only because, looking back, he was one of the only characters who didn’t manipulate Katniss — he went out of his way to make sure she’d be the one who made the choice to be the Mockingjay, even though that was what he wanted for her. What a classy guy. Um, character.
Jess: There was so much about this book that was so great, and yet there were some really disappointing aspects to it as well. As much as it pains us, Mockingjay only gets four cupcakes (the only non-perfect score Suzanne Collins has ever gotten on this site!), bringing the series down to four and a half cupcakes overall. Still a respectable showing, though, and if these books don’t go down in history as classics of the genre, well, we’re sad.