Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mockingjays on the Fence

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)
I want to premise this review with a few things. First, Hunger Games is one of my favorite books. Catching Fire was just as good, if not better! Finally, Suzanne Collins must have made some kind of Faustian deal to be such an amazing writer, or at least have some special powers. When the third and final installment was released on Tuesday, I was thrilled! I have been waiting for this book for over a year! But when it came to actually reading the book, I knew something was wrong. Earlier in the week I had reread the first two books and found them just as captivating and engrossing as the first time I had read them. But Mockingjay? I kept putting it down! I had no problem setting it aside to do something else... This didn't bode well.

Mockingjay picks up shortly after Catching Fire left off with the rebels from District 13 saving Katniss, Finnick, and Beetee from the arena in the 75th Hunger Games. Her family and Gale and his family have gotten out of District 12 with a handful of other refugees, but most of the people and all of the district (except Victor's Village) has been bombed and burned to the ground. Now Katniss is living with the other refugees and District 13 in their underground facilities that are basically a subterranean city. But Katniss isn't really "living" in the the realest sense. Mostly she hides, shirks her duties, and avoids all contact with people if possible.

When President Coin, the leader of District 13, wants Katniss to agree to be the Mockingjay, a symbol of freedom and courage for the rebel movement against the Capitol, Katniss refuses at first. When she sees Peeta, who was captured by the Capitol, on TV and he has clearly been beaten and tortured, she agrees to be the Mockingjay with a few conditions- one being the immunity of all Hunger Games victors, including Peeta. District 13 then primps and preens Katniss into the Mockingjay and parades her through multiple propaganda videos (called propos) to keep the war effort motivated. Of course, this involves keeping her mostly out of danger, with the exception of a few surprise attacks by the Capitol.

*Spoiler Alert*
Once the Districts have been won over by the rebels, however, the Capitol is the final battle to be won. Coin creates a group of "Celebrity" soldiers that includes Katniss, Finnick, Gale, and Peeta, among others, and she sends them off to the Capitol. The carefully planned mission, however, goes horribly awry when the "pods" (easily triggered defensive weapons that carry everything from black tar waves, to shrapnel bombs, to tracker jackers) are too numerous to avoid. As the Capitol bombs their previous hiding place and assumes they are all dead, the group makes its way to President Snow's mansion on an assassination mission. It doesn't go as planned, however, and Katniss's greatest fears are quickly becoming realities.

I wanted to love this book so much. In fact, it wouldn't have taken much for me to absolutely love it as much as the first two books in the series, but for some reason it fell short for me. It wasn't a huge disappointment, just not as amazing as the first two books were. I would love to hear how others felt about it, because I am worried maybe my own expectations negatively affected my opinion. The truth is I hated Katniss in this book. She was weak and damaged. Ok, I can accept that. But she was also whiny, petulant, and refused to take responsibility for the revolution she played a part in. I wanted so much more out of this older, more mature, and wiser Katniss. I didn't want her to hide in laundry rooms and broom closets for naps throughout the whole book. Even when she gets Peeta back (in bad shape, but away from the Capitol at least), she is still moping about. She does go on about killing Snow, but it almost seems like an afterthought.

Another complaint was the rushed feeling of the deaths of major characters. I will admit, I was reading quickly at some points, but I would read a paragraph and a character would be gone with very little explanation or time to process. Just GONE! Now, I read quite a few apocalyptic stories and dystopias, and I am not surprised when important characters are killed. That is, after all, the nature of the genre. But why wouldn't you give those characters the respect they are due?

I did like the guilt Katniss displayed at how many lives were at stake because of the revolution she was involved in. Every rebel life, every innocent civilian life, and every district that was affected by the war is like one more thing peeling away at Katniss's sanity. I know she was a reluctant face of this war, but is important to see her pain for each and every death her involvement is even loosely responsible for. This humility was one of the most endearing qualities in Katniss, from her first time in the arena with the loss of Rue and even Thresh, all the way to the loss of her friends, like Cinna, and the people of her district. Unfortunately, this guilt seemed to overwhelm the determined Katniss we saw in the first two books- the Katniss who grieved for those losses but it didn't make her stop surviving the most hopeless of situations.

On a whole, this was a decent ending to the series. It isn't what I expected, but that is a good quality in a book. There were some things I didn't like, but they didn't ruin the whole thing for me. I loved this series as a whole, and can't wait to give it to my new students this school year. I am interested to hear what others though, though!

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