After I finished Catching Fire, I tried to read something that wasn't a YA dystopian novel... for about five seconds. Then I finally gave in to my obsession and started Mockingjay.
I knew going into Mockingjay that a lot people on the bookternet were disappointed by it, but I didn't know why or wheretofore. If only I could go back to that time of blissful ignorance. Now I understand completely, though there is no comfort in it. And I didn't even spend a year waiting for this book to come out, imagining way better scenarios than what actually happened!
Going into Mockingjay, here's what I was expecting would happen:
- Katniss rescues Peeta from the Capitol.
- She gets close enough to President Snow to kill him, but probably doesn't end up assassinating him. Maybe someone else (Peeta, the Unexpectedly Badass Baker?) does that for her.
- Katniss and Peeta take on leadership roles in the new government, get married, and live more or less happily ever after.
Here's what actually happened: NONE OF THOSE THINGS.
Oh, and I guess I should say there's going to be spoilers out the wazoo in this review, although the book's been out four freaking years. If you haven't read it yet, and you were planning to read it, um... maybe you should get to doing that.
Okay kids, put on your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Mockingjay starts out okay. Katniss has been "rescued" (or more like recruited?) by District 13, which also took in Katniss' and Gale's families after the Capitol burned District 12 to the ground (OR DID THEY? It would have been more interesting if they hadn't). Peeta is being held hostage by the Capitol and is begging for peace, which 13 interprets as a Benedict Arnold-type betrayal. So, to save Peeta from execution, Katniss agrees to be 13's poster child as long as Peeta is given immunity by the rebellion.
Okay, fine. I enjoyed the James Bond atmosphere of Katniss and Gale receiving fancy new weaponry and outfits, and I liked how Collins set up District 13 as being just as bad as the Capitol, or possibly even worse.
It was when Peeta is rescued from the Capitol that I started feeling little niggles of discontent. Here's how it went down: about halfway through the book, Katniss realizes the Capitol is punishing her by torturing Peeta. It takes her that long to come to this realization? Anyway, she freaks the hell out and 13's like, "If we want to keep using her on TV it looks like we're going to have to rescue Peeta." So they drug her into a stupor and Gale and some other people traipse on over the Capitol to get Peeta and the other Hunger Games contestants who were left behind at the end of Catching Fire. Then they traipse on back and plop him down in the middle of 13.
So just to sum up: They could have rescued Peeta AT ANY TIME, if Katniss had demanded it. But she conveniently didn't, so now Peeta's been brainwashed to kill her. And the whole rescue happened completely off-page while Katniss was unconscious. HOW FREAKING EXCITING.
There is no happy reunion between Katniss and Peeta. She can't deal with him calling her "a piece of work," so after taking more drugs (13 is very free and happy with the benzodiazepines–I found it hard to believe either Katniss or her family would be hunky dory with this considering her mother's refusal to give Gale morphine after he'd been whipped in Catching Fire, but apparently they are. And hey, why expect consistency?) she's off to do more war/TV stuff with Gale.
Time and preachy scenes about "panem et circenses" pass. Finally the rebels are set to take over the Capitol, and Katniss is determined to be part of the fighting. So there's a long section about training and she finally gets put on a unit with Gale and Finnick and some other people. Peeta is also part of Katniss' unit, because that's a great idea. Naturally things take a turn for the FUBAR and Katniss decides to lead the team into the heart of the Capitol to kill Snow. Pretty much everyone dies or is captured along the way, but Katniss manages to make it just outside the Capitol building where, presumably, President Snow lives. That's when her sister and a bunch of kids are killed by IEDs.
LAME, so lame. First of all, the fighting scenes read like Collins was describing one of those single-shooter video games. There was no sense of reality. Secondly, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock's comments on his movie, Sabotage, DO NOT BLOW UP THE INNOCENT LITTLE KID. The audience will never forgive you because you've crossed the line from narrative suspense into base shock value. I feel like that's what Collins did in Mockingjay by killing Prim. IT WAS TOTALLY POINTLESS.
Katniss goes into major freak out mode again (side note: I am so sick to death of female protagonists who start off really awesome and then collapse into emo can't-deal-with-it mode as soon as shit starts affecting them personally. coughOliviaPopecough). Katniss never makes it into the Capitol building to kill Snow, and the rebellion is won completely off page. AGAIN. Meanwhile, she wanders around crying and drugged up. When Katniss does find an opportunity to see Snow, he's like, "Hey, 13 arranged that entire thing with the bombs that killed your sister to expedite the end of the war," and Katniss is like, OH YEAH I forgot I didn't trust that bitch with the perfect hair. So she kills the president of 13 instead of Snow.
Okay, fine (again). But here's where I started getting really pissed off: Katniss is tried for the murder of 13's president, but we never see a single second of the trial, nor do we ever receive an explanation as to how or why she wasn't convicted. Was the defense temporary insanity? Justifiable homicide? Did anyone mention the whole thing with the bombs that killed the kids? I don't know! After the trial, she's shipped back to 12 with a "There, there now, little lady," pat on the head–metaphorically speaking, of course–which she accepts with nary a whimper of protest. In 12, she lives in the Victor's Village all by herself, wallowing in depression, until Peeta shows up. They have a bunch of kids and never leave 12 again. The end.
Seriously, what the freaking fuck????
- So basically at the conclusion of this nonsense, everyone is in more or less the exact same place they were in at the start of Catching Fire, except for Prim (who's dead) and Gale (who was the architect of the bombing that killed Prim). That doesn't make me feel like I wasted my time at all!
- Congrats, Collins, you just completely removed any agency from the main character of your novel who's supposed to be a "kick-ass heroine." You know what would be great? A book where the main character actually does stuff instead of wallowing in drugs and self-pity, or acting out emotionally instead of using her intelligence, or following that up by just doing whatever other people tell her to do. What a great message, keep this shit up.
- There was no emotional closure whatsoever. Sorry, I don't consider pushing babies out of your vagina closure. Katniss never acts proactively for her own happiness or fights for justice for Prim, and her confrontation with Gale over the bombing was lame. He was just like, "Did I have something to do with that? IDK. *shrug* So... this is going to be an issue between us now, right?" YA THINK. She also never confronts either Gale or Peeta for the numerous hurtful things they said about her during the course of the novel, for instance, "Katniss will pick whoever she can't survive without." What in the name of beejesus is that supposed to mean? I would have thrown a crowbar at both their heads.
- And speaking of Katniss choosing between Peeta and Gale, she never actually does! Gale gets some fancy-ass job in District 2 and never visits–which admittedly is understandable, since he killed her sister with his bloodthirsty warmongering, the asshat–and Peeta just kinda shows up. So the conclusion to their story is essentially: Hey, you're here, I've given up on life, let's have babies together.
The ending of Mockingjay was THE ACTUAL WORST. I'm not even being hyperbolic. I was so upset when I first finished it I couldn't sleep, and I was depressed for DAYS afterward. I have no idea what the hell Collins was thinking with this novel, but I feel like it betrayed every fiber of trust and time I invested in the series. I want to burn the shit out of it. I want to forget I ever read it. I want to rewrite the whole book into something that's actually decent.
After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that reason I had such a strong negative reaction to the end of Mockingjay was that, despite the supposedly "happy" ending, the novel is actually a tragedy, and a cynical one at that. On the micro level, it's the story of a woman who is systematically beaten down, used until she's completely empty and has lost everything: her friends, family, home; but even worse than that, her sense of self-identity, strength, and authority. In the technical sense Katniss survives The Hunger Games: Game On with a Vengeance, but in terms of her personality I feel like Katniss was completely erased, and no one noticed or cared.
On the macro level, the people who act without conscience or morals during the course of the novel, like Gale and Plutarch, are rewarded, while those who try to save lives or demonstrate caring for other people either die or are rendered completely powerless and irrelevant.
THE ACTUAL WORST.
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