I have finally finished The Hunger Games series. Despite my opinion of the first book, the second and third installments were better. Between Catching Fire and Mockingjay, I liked Mockingjay marginally better, for reasons I shall discuss further along the review!
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins takes place following the events of Catching Fire; following the Quarter Quell, Katniss finds herself caught in the trappings of a revolution ignited by District 13 where she is its symbol. As the Mockingjay, Katniss agrees to unify the districts against the Capitol to ensure the safety of those whom she loves, though can she trust those from District 13?
The reason why I liked Mockingjay, compared to its previous installments, was that I felt like the overarching purpose and themes of The Hunger Games series become apparent in Mockingjay — the purpose of revolution and rebellion, the importance of symbolism and the construction of ideology, the antagonization of the Other, and so on. Furthermore, Mockingjay raises some questions that are challenging (for the target audience), and are relevant in today’s context, where war is something we continue to justify with rhetoric.
Though I liked Mockingjay better than the others, I have many qualms with it. To start, let’s tackle the most controversial issue: the ending. As far as the endings go, I liked the ending of Mockingjay, for the simple reason that it made sense. The ending aligned with Katniss’s characterization and her choices, it aligned with the direction of the rebellion and the overall plot, and it was ultimately the only foreseeable way (for Katniss) to end the war and the cycle of violence. For Katniss to live a humble, supposedly quiet life following the events of the Hunger Games with palpable scars and traumas that remain even after so many years — it makes sense. Was it rushed? Fairly, but when leaders die in a rebellion, I would imagine that everything would just collapse like a knife’s edge. So to be fair, I was satisfied with the ending (though to be brutally honest, I would prefer a quick ending over 100+ pages of Katniss moaning about how she did X and Y).
And now to actually talk about my issues with Mockingjay. The issues I had with this series predominantly fall under one common reason: Collins is not a very good writer. Although there is a marginal improvement from Catching Fire, Mockingjay – no, the entire series – would have better if Collins had faith that her audience was capable of higher cognition.
When developing her characters, I feel like Collins attached an adjective to everyone, which would ultimately dictate their character development. Katniss is suffering from PTSD. Peeta is confused. Gale is angry (more on Gale later). Coin is cold and quiet. Plutarch is your friendly utilitarian. Finnick is confused. Primrose is wise beyond her years (more on Prim later). Anyone who has read the books will know this because Collins takes every opportunity to remind the readers that her characters bear these characteristics. All her characters feel one-dimensional (except for a small few; e.g. Johanna) and the relationships were also pathetic and contrived (the only exception is between Haymitch and Katniss).
(I could go further about how Katniss’s PTSD is not ‘character development’, or how Katniss allowed herself to be manipulated by President Coin, but many others have already talked about it. All I’ll say is that the fact that teenagers/young adults idolize Katniss and place her on the ‘strong female character’ pedestal continues to confuse me.)
While I’m in the midst of discussing characters, I liked a few characters in the book, namely Gale and Johanna. Aside from Gale’s strange, enduring infatuation with Katniss, Gale interested me because he challenges Katniss. Whilst Katniss is (somewhat) trying to maintain a balanced sense of morality, Gale’s anger at the Capitol have led him to embody a caricature of what is ‘extreme’. Though I do not condone Gale’s thoughts, I feel like the fact that he is incredibly driven in this rebellion raises questions of what is right/wrong and whether any means to attain freedom are justified, even if freedom means the death of innocents, and to what end? With regards to Johanna, she is infinitely more interesting than Katniss (and most of the other victors are too, for that matter) and she feels more developed than every other character too.
On Primrose, (major spoilers hidden; highlight to read) it was so incredibly obvious from the get-go of this book that she was going to die. Primrose, in the previous books, was never, ever developed. She was just this omnipresent force in Katniss’s life that drove her to survive. What struck me as strange was that Collins began to develop Prim’s character, and Katniss thinks about how Prim has grown and matured beyond her years. What happens when there seems to be an urgency to develop a character that was previously neglected development-wise? That character is going to die. And that is what happened. (Major spoilers end.)
Other evidence that suggests Collins thinks her target audience isn’t very intelligent: The fact that Collins explains to the readers the meaning of the Hanging Tree.
Being older, I began to understand the lyrics. At the beginning, it sounds like a guy is trying to get his girlfriend to secretly meet up with him at midnight. But it’s an odd place for a tryst, a hanging tree, where a man was hung for murder. The murderer’s lover must have had something to do with the killing, or maybe they were just going to punish her anyway, because his corpse called out for her to flee. That’s weird obviously, the talking-corpse bit, but it’s not until the third verse that “The Hanging Tree” begins to get unnerving. You realize the singer of the song is the dead murderer. He’s still in the hanging tree. And even though he told his lover to flee, he keeps asking if she’s coming to meet him. The phrase ‘Where I told you to run, so we’d both be free’ is the most troubling because at first you think he’s talking about when he told her to flee, presumably to safety. But then you wonder if he meant for her to run to him. To death. In the final stanza, it’s clear that that’s what he’s waiting for. His lover, with her rope necklace, hanging dead next to him in the tree.
She explains the metaphor. Really, I felt insulted. I couldn’t believe that for numerous pages (on my Kobo reader) Collins explains the lyrics and underlying meaning in excessive detail. It was unnecessary, and it astounds me that neither Collins or her editor thought it would be a bad idea to include such an incessantly long explanation. It’s just — what?
Before any of you question me what I did like about Mockingjay, without elaborating on it because many others would have done so already: Johanna Mason(!), poor attempt but an attempt nonetheless to engage teenagers in thinking about serious topics, and humanization of some characters which juxtaposed Gale’s attempts to dehumanize and disidentify with the Capitol rebels.
In evaluating this whole series, its biggest limitation is its poor writing. The nonsensical rhythm of sentences, awful phrasing, abuse of telling instead of showing, and the simplification of language to an extent that Katniss is painted as an idiot — Collins has some worthwhile ideas and themes that are important to explore, but if she was a better writer (or had a better editor; who knows), perhaps I would have enjoyed the series a bit more. Overall, The Hunger Games series – Mockingjay included, may be entertaining and a ‘page-turner’ (though that is arguable for Mockingjay) but it’s ultimately disappointing, fails to make any sort of meaningful or original social commentary and, really, just trashy-just-for-fun reading. Kids, if you want a good book, pick up Harry Potter for the umpteenth time instead, or something.
Book Name: Mockingjay
Book Series: The Hunger Games #3
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2010