Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

(Some of you may be wondering how it is that I got to read this book after all. The answer is that when we got to Idaho, my sister-in-law Sarah lent all three books to me, may her name be blessed forever.)

I promise I won't give any overt spoilers in this review. But I understand if you choose to wait to read this post until after you've read the book.

Upon finishing Mockingjay, I was left with a feeling of overwhelming sadness. Not (necessarily) sadness at the events of the book, but sadness that the book itself is over. That's how I know how much I loved not only this book, but this series. Now the only thing left in life to look forward to is a second reading, I suppose.

I take back what I said in my review of Catching Fire about this being a two-book series split into three just for the sake of it. I still think Book 2 has a stretched, unresolved feel about it but there is way more going on in Book 3 than I would have anticipated. So I forgive Ms. Collins for abandoning us where she did in Catching Fire.

I also applaud her for somehow resolving the story, via Mockingjay, in a way that did not make me want to tear my hair out. I'm not quite sure how she managed it. Going into the book, I was sure there was no possible way it could end well. A third of the way through the book, I was even more sure. Two-thirds in: there was just. no. WAY. a reader could emerged satisfied on the other side.

And yet. Here I am, on the other side, feeling OK with how everything went down. More or less. Of course there were things that I wish wouldn't have happened. Things that were hard to read. Things that made me avert my eyes from the page, take a deep breath, and then try again. Above all, there were things that were sad. And friends, I have to tell you that Mockingjay has earned itself the coveted 12th spot on the list of books that made me cry.

(But only a little bit, and only because it did that thing where it evoked sentimental images and events from the past during emotionally charged and/or physically dangerous moments, leading to a heartbreaking connection between two or more major characters, and how does Suzanne Collins even know that that gets me every time?)

Mockingjay is more complex, more imaginative, and more violent than its predecessors. Its heroine is more driven, less conflicted, and a little more grown-up than she was before. I love what Collins did with Gale. I think what she did with Peeta was brilliant. And every time I thought the plot, tension, conflict, etc. were as high as they could go, she kicked everything up a notch. Every time.

Now, because I can't resist, here are some SPOILER review points (highlight to reveal):

I have to say, I loved that Katniss finally realized that the Games hadn't clouded her perception of reality - they WERE her new reality, whether she liked it or not. Similarly, the Games and Peeta didn't push aside or derail what she had with Gale, they destroyed it. There was no way to get back on track. It is true that I kind of wish Gale were dead somehow instead of living on with his sweet job in District 2, but the more I think about it, the more I think Collins took the high, hard road on that issue. For once, a heroine was allowed to make her own decision instead of having one foisted upon her solely through tragedy, or the decisions of others.

That said, I think there were a couple of weaknesses in the story. One, I always felt like the plot point of Katniss having to marry Peeta was a little forced (in Mockingjay's defense, that mostly took place in Catching Fire.) It seemed like Collins had to work a little too hard to make us swallow that one. Second, I think the assassination of President Coin was underexploited. I could have used a little more justification there to convince me that Katniss really wasn't reduced to some ranting lunatic acting randomly.


I have no comment for now on what The Hunger Games series is supposed to be teaching us about war, or excess consumerism, or media. I just know that each book provides great food for thought on all of the above.

However, sentimental sucker that I am, The Hunger Games (Book 1) is hands-down my favorite of the three. I know Catching Fire was ingenious, and obviously Mockingjay was exhilarating, but for me, there's just no getting over that initial thrill of diving into the Games with Katniss for the first time. The wonder of seeing her life change along with everyone else's. The horror of the concept of the Games. And the repulsion of realizing you're just as drawn into the story and glued to the book as the fictional viewers in the Capitol are to their television screens. So delicious.

All right, once you've read it, tell me what you thought!


Liz Johnson said...

Aaaaand I still haven't read any of them. They're on the list, though. :)

Carrie G said...

Did not like: One of the reasons these books are so great is that Katniss, the main character, is so likeable. She's strong and smart and capable...except in this book where she spends a good part of it incapacitated by grief and guilt. It's pretty bleak, and I felt like the author kept clobbering me over the head making terrible things happen. It kinda took some of the fun out of it. One review I read said that you like these characters so much, you wish they got more happiness allotted to them. That sounds about right.

Liked: This wasn't just a retread of the same plot from the first two books, but the characters still felt familiar and real. It kept my attention just like the first two did. It was very ambitious- I liked that she tackled power and government and forgiveness and compassion and war and stuff. Although maybe I wanted some more fireworks with the resolution of the romance, she actually managed to make it believable, which I didn't think was possible. Also, I spent a lot of my time trying to picture how the different scenes could be turned into cakes:

I totally agree with you about liking Hunger Games best, cause there's nothing like that first delicious descent into this crazy, totally somehow believable other world.

Carrie G said...

here's a cake link that works:

Bridget said...

Those cakes are amazing, Carrie G!

Not only was Katniss incapacitated by grief and guilt a lot of the time, she was incapacitated by injury and induced comas. I thought a few too many really important events happened while she was conveniently out of the running on a morphling drip. A necessary narrative device, perhaps, but still.

Kelli said...

The 3rd book ended up being least satisfying of the 3 for me too. And the first is still my favorite.
Miss you Bridget.

Melissa said...

Hi Bridget:
I'm a friend of Liz Johnson's. Liz kindly referred me to your blog since we are both avid readers and both just read Mockingjay. I am not usually prone to stalking strangers' blogs, but I hope you don't mind me chipping into your Mockingjay commentary!

I'm afraid I did not like it. At least it wasn’t a rehashing of the same plot that we’ve been through twice now. But there didn’t seem to be much of a plot at all in Mockingjay since Katniss was conveniently injured or hurt or mentally ill for so many of the key events (I can't believe we didn't get to be a part of Katniss' trial, for example.) I felt like Katniss' character, and the series as a whole, regressed. When I finished it, I felt snubbed of a potentially great finale. It's not so much that I wanted a happier story, it's that I wanted an story with hope instead of just depression and despair.

Two redeeming features:
1) I loved that Katniss shoots the president of 13 instead of Snow at the end. FINALLY some gusto.
2) I felt like Katniss should have been with Gale, and would have been with Gale if she hadn't gone to the hunger games and then been a part of the war. The fact that she wasn't with him in the end just illuminated the fact that some aftereffects of war are irreversible. Thought provoking and sad. (But I didn't think she should have been with Peeta either.)

STILL, even with those two redeeming features, I thought the book as a whole was just so unsatisfying. I still love Hunger Games. I just can't stomach the next two books in the series. I think I need a re-reading of Harry Potter to regain my faith in fiction.

Okay, I'll stop now. Sorry for eating your comments section.

Bridget said...

Melissa, you are welcome anytime.

I definitely agree that Katniss was physically or mentally AWOL for too many key parts of the book. Maybe someday we'll get a companion book of Gale's perspective of the books. I think that would be a great read.

I also agree with your two points, above, except that I DO think Peeta was the right choice. I'm actually quite shocked that it happened, though.

Have you read The Time Travelers, or The Thief? Those are pretty good YA series, too.

chubby hubby (Jeremy) said...

Ms. Collins is brilliant.


Gloom and sadness are a part of the only possible outcome in this story. And yet, there remain some penetrating rays of hope.

There are some events in our lives that can damage our ability to rationally think and live as we did in earlier times. Violence, fear, anxiety, depression, loss. If you have had the misfortune to experience such, life may never return to ‘normal.’ Perhaps it is cathartic for someone like Katniss to know that they are beyond complete repair. For Katniss is most absolutely and irrevocably damaged because of her past. A past she didn’t deserve. And yet she ultimately finds life worth living. What a lesson.

It was also heart wrenching to experience Peeta’s personality and character ripped from his very being. And yet, he recovers. But never completely. In my opinion, Peeta was the correct and only choice for Katniss. Together, Peeta and Katniss can survive (with moments of happiness?) until their deaths, though I doubt they will ever really thrive as they could have in a different place at a different time. And yet – again – they find life worth living.

President Snow, indeed, had the last laugh. He provided the impetus for Katniss to murder Coin. Yes, Coin was probably corrupt to some degree, but the situation possibly dictated such a need. There had to be many others in Capitol like Snow. It would have been interesting to read more about the corrupt governing body in Capitol.

Peeta was my favorite. I really enjoyed his banter in Book 2.

My only complaint about this trilogy is that it seems to have been written for a generation of readers that watch too much television. Some of the twists in the plot were very similar to what I believe was the overarching modus operandi in popular television shows such as LOST, which is, “What would the audience last expect?” There seems to be a new strain of literature that is made for television watchers who do not have the patience for the narrative of older literature. That and the principle of ‘shock value’ seem to rule today’s media. We can only blame ourselves for this, I suppose.

And yet, Ms. Collins is a brilliant storyteller. The descriptions of nature, survival, and human nature in survival situations were riveting and disheartening all at once. The story was, overall, well crafted and captivating. Ms. Collins has a wonderful and vibrant imagination. (My own dreams were replete with nightmarish tragedy as I read this series - all 3 in less than a week). I am having a hard time coming back to reality.

I congratulate Ms. Collins on this excellent trilogy and remarkable story. Let us learn from the lessons included therein.

Bridget said...

Oh Jeremy, I love you. Those are the deeper thoughts I had that I couldn't really put into words, so thanks for doing it for me.

Lark said...

Well I'm not nearly as well-written as you Bridget, or your husband. But, I just wanted to say that I loved the whole series, including this last one. I love that Katniss was literally "the girl on fire" and because of that, she never even made it to Pres. Snow's mansion. Just goes to show that war is complete chaos, and no matter what your plan is, it may or may not ever happen - there are too many people involved. I'm not really sure how else to say it, but hopefully that makes sense.
I have always been team Peeta and even though he went crazy for a bit during the book, I still was voting for them. I love in the end that he was just there...planting roses. He was always there for her, quietly serving and loving her. And the last line about loving him "real or not real" was sweet.
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished it last weekend. I want to talk about it with everyone that read it. And I talk to them multiple times about it. I keep thinking of things I loved about it and how brilliant Collins was.
Anyway, just catching up on your blog after a summer blog-reading-writing hiatus (I seem to do those a lot. Oh well). I've enjoyed reading ALL of your posts and thought of things I wanted to say on each post, but I will spare you a gazillion worthless comments from me ;) As always, thanks for writing such a great blog!

EmmySue said...

Just finished it this morning. I think I startled my husband when I read the part where she takes out Coin... I love how Katniss always thought she was alone, when in fact many others knew exactly what she was up to and were always there to support her to the death. Loyalty indeed.
So good. Not the predictable ending like in so many books today. One minute you think the "game" is over, only for it to twist in a new direction.
I'm ready to start over again...

sarah said...

It made me cry when Buttercup snuggled up to Katniss near the end of the book. That's why I love cats so much, they seem to know when one is in need of comfort :) If only you could understand that, Jeremy. :) I enjoyed both of your reviews, you both express your ideas so well with words.

Melody said...

I just finished reading it this morning. I was number 26 on the hold list at the library. I guess that's one perk of having a baby that wakes up in the middle of the night, since the very next day the hold list was well over one hundred. I do wish that I had reread the others first. Oh well.

Since book one I've felt that Katniss should end up with Peeta. I was very happy that they did end up together, and that it was sort of a happy ending. Overall I loved the book but at the same time there were many things that I wish didn't happen. I was heartbroken when Peeta wasn't Peeta anymore. I think I might have missed him more than Katniss did. I didn't like that Katniss voted to have one last Hunger Game. It seemed like, from what she was thinking at the time, that she was against it but then... I guess she did put a stop to it by killing Coin. Even that seemed like it needed a little more fleshing out. Not the killing part, just the reason for it.

I was a little annoyed at many of the chapter endings. Kind of like what Jeremy was saying about, "What would the audience least expect?" For example "He stepped back, and then his legs exploded!" End of chapter. "His hands were up for an embrace and then he started strangling me!" Etc.

I liked the first book the best, but I'm sure I'll reread them all.

Cait said...

First, I just want to tell you the first thing I thought about when I finished Mockingjay last night was: "I HAVE to read Bridget's blogpost in the morning!" I was so desperate for some resolution, or something. I'm not sure what. I, like Jeremy, had nightmares all night about being chased and murdered and blown away. I can't decide if I liked the book itself though, I'm still processing it. I wish we had more commentary from Katniss about voting for the Hunger Games at the end - was the assassination of Coin the commentary? Was she voting just to throw Coin off? Or did she really feel like it was justified.

The saddest moment for me was Finnick dying. I was so attached to him and after all the Annie/Finnick relationship and wedding, it tore me apart because I just imagined Tim being eaten by lizard-mutts. Sometimes I feel a little crazy like Annie, and it takes a little Tim power to bring me back to sanity.

I went to bed after reading and snuggled extra close with my baby and husband. If any good came out of reading such a grotesque and depressing book, it was my being grateful I do not live where my life (and the lives of those I love) is constantly threatened.

Kristen said...

The first book was also my favorite, but the series as a whole was wonderful. Thanks for a thoughtful review.

Jen said...

Alright, Bridget. I just NOW finished Mockingjay.

I thought it was, by far, the weakest of the three books in the trilogy.

Major Frustrations:
1. Finnick's death. It seemed far-too quick, contrived, weird, then forgotten.
2. Katniss and Prim's mother not returning to 12 to live with Katniss. Really? Come on.
3. Prim's death. Seriously? I knew a "major" character probably needed to happen in the third book, but the death of a major character deserves more than a paragraph of detail.
4. It was like the author gave us a bunch of new characters simply so she could have a roster of people to kill off throughout the book.

Also? I'll admit to being in the camp of people who wanted Katniss to end up with Gale. (I was also hoping for some more redemption for Haymitch. The fact that he went right back to the alcohol was such a let-down.)

It's so funny to me that the same book can elicit one review from me and nearly an opposite review from you. That's the beauty of books, I guess. (Have you seen the movie yet?)

Bridget said...

Jen, WHY are you not on Goodreads?

I read Mockingjay again in Feb 2011 and had this to add to my original review (on Goodreads):

"Edited to add review of second reading: Read on its own, removed from the energy and continuity of the other two books, Mockingjay suffers a little. There were too many decisive, exciting scenes that took place while our heroine was unconscious so we don't see them happen. And the ending is devastatingly bleak. I would probably give this book four stars on its own but I stick to my five-star rating when Mockingjay is read with the series as a whole."

So we don't disagree as much as you think. The things you mentioned all made me sad, too. But it HAD to be sad, don't you think?


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