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Author: Suzanne Collins
The end of a series is supposed to settle the readers' minds, even if it's not a happy ending. We want to see our heroes reach a resting place to nurse their wounds and work their way toward happiness after the battle is over.
But for a hyperactive, ADD plot like Mockingjay's, concluding is synonymous with death. Had Suzanne Collins not committed to a trilogy, she would have probably drawn out Katniss's story for another two books or so, and if it would have helped to pace this novel better, she would have been right to do so. As it stands, Mockingjay reads like twenty climaxes smashed together to make a jarring, heaving, ponderous plot laced with gratuitous gore and little meaning. The only thing that keeps us going is an attachment to the central characters.
At the beginning, we find Hunger Games victor Katniss Everdeen broken, bruised, and confused after her dramatic rescue from the arena and removal to the mythical District Thirteen, which resembles some kind of industrial distopia. Katniss chafes at the rigorous rules of her new home and at the expectations placed upon her to become the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion now seizing Panem. For the past two years, Katniss's presence on national TV has been sparking these seeds of discontent, and now the rebels see her as an icon of hope, of defiance. All she wants to do is go back to District Twelve with Gale Hawthorne and her family, but her home has burned to the ground, her friends either dead or refugees, and Peeta Mellark in captivity in the Capitol.
Katniss, besides being faced with the decision to be the face of the revolution or not, is also faced with that omnipresent question of romance: her best friend Gale, or her fellow victor Peeta. As the violence spins more and more out of her control and she begins to question her own dedication to the cause, the world exerts more pressure on her and on her fellow soldiers, driving their war to the bitter end.
The most interesting thing that Collins does with the idea of revolution is the PR face. Katniss is by no means the great general that the rebels need to command them; she is merely the symbol that they all recognize to keep fighting, and the hard-hearted president of District Thirteen is set on using her as propaganda to propagate her war. The executives of the movement tape clip after clip of Katniss and her team to indoctrinate the people, constantly considering her behavior and how it will affect mass opinion of the war. Katniss knows this and feels ill-used, which is the most complicated emotion in all the books that Collins puts forth: are the deaths of all the people she encourages Katniss's fault?
When it comes to sheer surface entertainment, the Hunger Games series is unrivaled. Loaded with suspense and danger, Mockingjay keeps readers on the edges of their seats and guessing until the end, the plot careening down a wildly twisting path until the conclusion. And it is twisting: any sense of restraint that Collins felt about her violence is suddenly stripped away in her third installment. The first two books were graphic, but there was always a subtle hint of reluctance to kill characters that we had grown attached to. Not so here. Just like her characters, Collins seems to have driven herself to the edge and held her ground strongly enough to kill off rebels that she had written extensively about. This lends the story a feeling of reality-- revolutions are horrifyingly bloody, and many beloved people die every time. It would have been laughable had all of Katniss's allies made it through unharmed.
Oh, do the parallels of the evils of socialism continue. District Thirteen is an eerie shell of Soviet Russia, with toe-trampling rules and over-the-top punishments for tiny crimes. Freedoms are restricted to the bare minimum, and the people don't seem to mind. Only Katniss and Gale, the brave champions of freedoms, are willing to defy the rules of the overbearing society, braving the anger of the ruling powers for the general good.
However, that's the only real parallel. The surface entertainment is about all the value available in Mockingjay; Collins awkwardly skirts around any pithy topics, even if she has set up a perfect situation for them to be explored. One theme that appears over and over again is the question of what it truly means to kill another person. She repeatedly mentions this struggle in Katniss's thoughts throughout all three books, and yet after roughly 1100 pages, we still don't know what it really means. Death after death goes by, and the only one that really comes close to touching that question is Rue's death in the arena in the first book.
(On a side note, does Collins really think she's being clever with her Latin? Maybe for a monolingual society she is, but seriously, I saw the Rome parallel before I even read the book. She didn't need her whole Panem et Circenses bit. Plus, Avox is a really pathetic attempt. When the characters think 'hijack' is an archaic word, how on Earth do they know enough Latin to name various things?)
The most disappointing part of Mockingjay is the ending. With all this colorful, thrilling writing under her belt, one would think that Collins could piece together a conclusion worthy of the characters that she has spent so much time developing, but we're left with a twenty-five page slop that is like staring at grey wallpaper with grey patterns on it. Sure, she's trying to portray a fog of grief, but the writing should induce tears of sympathy, not boredom. Even the epilogue is arbitrary and pointless. The bare facts of how the story ends are sort of bittersweet and touching, but change in pace drops us like a stone into the cold water of the book being over. Something tells me that her publisher was pushing her toward a deadline and she had to crank out an ending.
Altogether, the Hunger Games tells a beautiful, terrible story, filled with characters we can believe in images we won't forget. Perhaps the meaning is meant to come from us as we read. Collins has provided us with a beautiful wilderness of story; it's up to us to make it mean something.
Mockingjay is available on the Kindle for $5.99, or in hardback from Amazon for $9.86. Because the Hunger Games is such a book of our times, it's worth a read, but don't go in expecting deep thoughts. Consider the series a light weekend thing, but definitely don't read it to your kids. It's a little graphic even for adults.