Sunday, April 8, 2012

#13 (2012-cbriv) "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

So, the final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay (2010) by Suzanne Collins... I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to write this review, but it's probably a safe assumption that I'll be throwing out spoilers for all three books.

I had some issues with the first book of this trilogy, but the excitement and drama of the Games kept me interested and excited. The second novel still had the excitement and drama of a very exciting Games, but it wasn't quite as tense, because I'd seen it all before in the first book. And now there's the third book, and I've got some mixed feelings about it. Although I appreciate what I think Collins was trying to do with this book and this series, I don't think it really worked. And without the structure and drama of the Games, the third book felt a little flat and aimless to me.

I'll start with what I appreciated: Suzanne Collins did not fall into the expected, rote formula where Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant hero, kills the President, saves her world, and ends up with Gale, the young man she's been half in love with since she was twelve years old. Instead, what I think Collins was trying to show, was that war is ugly and complicated. No matter how much Katniss tries to define her life and protect her family, she is merely a pawn in the game--used by both sides with no real concern for her feelings or welfare.

It's hard to place my finger on exactly what I felt was wrong with this series and with this last book in particular. The main issue was that Collins's world was a mix between teenage fantasy and war-torn apocalyptic nightmare, and it was never really believable or developed enough. With tributes coming in as pairs from their districts and allowed and encouraged to train together and form alliances, it is unrealistic that they would all be willing to kill each other. There would have been more people over the 75 years of the games besides Katniss who refused to kill their partner at the end of the Games. And I don't think Collins can or should rely on other tributes killing off the friends, partners, and alliances as a way to get out of it. A more realistic way to have done it would be to have just one tribute from each district. Then you don't potentially have friends, families, and lovers trying to kill each other at the same games. But Collins needed the pairs from each district to form her love triangle. It would have been a much darker and starker book if Katniss had truly been all alone at the games.

Another problem I had with Katniss's world, was that I didn't really understand either the rebels at District 13 or the Capitol. Again, I appreciate that Collins was trying not to make the rebels "all that is good" and the Capitol "all that is bad." However, the arm scanning, the treatment of Katniss's beauty team, and the threats initially leveled against the other tributes felt out of place and inconsistent. I understand that food would have to have been highly regulated, but the rest didn't really fit and felt like a calculated attempt by Collins to just make District 13 more dangerous and controlling. Yet Katniss has no problems ignoring her daily to-do list, and the recently returned tribute has no problem stealing drugs for herself. After the first couple of examples of controlling fascism at Katniss's arrival in District 13, there wasn't much else to it.

I also felt disconnected from the rebellion and the fighting. It all happened so quickly, and there were very few characters that I was actually aware of that were involved. I got especially frustrated with the fighting in the Capitol. Let's throw in five more or so characters with Katniss that I can barely keep straight (so there can be a higher body count?) and then go running through the streets of the Capitol that is set up like another Hunger Games. But why would a city set up such unrealistic and expensive defenses? Why not set up some machine guns, unmanned if necessary, to keep the rebels out? Who decided that a better option was to create a giant cloud of black tar that would coat several blocks of the city, dismantle the cameras that are critical for following rebel movement and erase footprints, but not kill any rebels? Or who thought it was a good idea to make a city street that opened up in the middle over a vast pit of something very poisonous? Guns are cheaper.

I also think the tragic death of Primrose--when Katniss's sole motivation throughout the books was to protect her sister--reinforced the point that Katniss was just a pawn in other people's games. And again, I appreciate what Collins was trying to do, but she didn't sell me on it. It all happened so quickly and randomly. What is a 13-year-old girl doing in the middle of the largest battle of the rebellion? She isn't even fully trained yet, and her mother would never have let her go. And how did they get medics there so fast anyway? Rebel soldiers had just made it in by that point.

Finally, the fact that Katniss voted to do another Hunger Games with the children from the Capitol made me hate her. After saving her sister from one and living through two herself, she knows what kind of horror she's forcing on some innocent children. Prim wouldn't have wanted that to happen--even if she had been killed by Capitol soldiers. Katniss was never without sympathy for the people in the Capitol. And I never bought the excuse that if they have a Hunger Games, then they won't need to execute everyone in the Capitol. That's ridiculous. How you stop further bloodshed is the leadership needs to be a strong example for good, and not allow the killing of innocent children. People can forgive and move on in the most horrible and incredible of circumstances. Revenge does not help and is not necessary.

These books felt like a mix between an exciting young-adult, romantic adventure and a dark tome on the nature of fighting and war. I know that some young-adult books have managed to address war and children in a realistic and sobering way (see The Book Thief), but I don't think Collins quite hit it. The book is too popular and pleasing with its dress-up games and romantic triangle to be a realistic war novel, but it's too dark with everyone working against Katniss and her inability to make a difference in the end to be just an exciting young-adult adventure book.

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