Monday, February 20, 2012

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. NY: Scholastic Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-439-02351-1. $17.99. 14 & up.

The Hunger Games series has become extremely popular in the last few years. Its books have been stationed at the top of various bestseller lists for months on end, and the first two books in the series have been nominated for, and won, a number of awards and honors (including the California Young Reader Medal Award for Young Adult Fiction and the Publisher’s Weekly Best Book Award for 2009). And if that weren’t enough, the trailer was just released for the first Hunger Games movie, which will be in theaters Spring of 2012. And yet, in spite of all of the excitement and anticipation surrounding this series, author Suzanne Collins’ presented fans with a rather lackluster final book to tie up her trilogy.

Unlike the first two books in the series that establish rich character development and interaction, Mockingjay deals almost exclusively with the social and political issues that wreck havoc on Katniss’ world.

After Katniss is rescued from the arena of the 75th Hunger Games, a full-on war begins between the districts and the Capitol. She learns that her home, District 12, has been incinerated, and that her mother, sister, and best friend Gale have made it safety to the rebellion’s headquarters, located in District 13. District 13 is a militant, yet thriving, underground community, which is virtually unknown to the Capitol because it was presumably destroyed during the last uprising-attempt. While she is essentially jailed in District 13, Katniss learns that her time in the arena was completely planned, without her acknowledgement or consent. She was to distract the Capitol, while the rebels worked to make a strong first stand against President Snow. Katniss was to be protected in the arena at all costs because she is so important to the rebellion, while others, including Peeta, were to be sacrificed. Unable to return to District 12, Katniss is forced to take on the role of the Mockingjay (the face of the rebellion), participate in various propaganda videos, and take orders from the president of District 13, Alma Coin, who Katniss believes to be just as power-hungry as the evil President Snow.

Throughout the text, Collins continually illustrates the harrowing effects of war, goes into lengthy descriptions of different battles and, overall, completely drags out the rebel’s attempt at taking the Capitol and capturing President Snow.

It is as though, all at once, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the rest of Collins’ characters lose their depth, complexities, and even emotions. Their personalities become thin, weak, unrealistic, and unrecognizable shadows of their former selves. Perhaps this is an intentional decision on the author’s part, to show the numbing effects of war. But what is far more likely is that Collins’ characters suddenly become stiff and artificial simply because they are neglected throughout the majority of the novel, while the author rants about the dystopian world’s political problems.

Of course, had the trilogy ended seamlessly, critics would have been just as displeased. Katniss’ world was far too damaged and convoluted to present a convincing ending in which everything is resolved. However, Collins’ flagrant disregard for her characters, literally tying up their loose ends in a one-page epilogue, cannot be excused. It is as though the author got so caught up in the descriptions of war and the social and political flaws of Katniss’ world, that she reached her page limit and went, “Oh, I forgot, I have to wrap this up.”

After establishing such richly complex yet relatable characters in her first two books, Collins fails to do those characters any justice in her final text. Throughout The Hunger Games, and even Catching Fire, Collins writes about her characters so descriptively and intentionally that readers cannot help but form strong attachments to them. Having built a relationship with these characters, it is heartbreaking for readers to finish Mockingjay with the sense that their fictional friends were not treated with the respect they deserved. Readers finish the trilogy without answers, without closure, and with the haunting feeling that their favorite characters’ stories were not really given the ending they were worthy of. These characters deserved better.

Interestingly enough, most readers do not disagree with how Collins tied up her loose ends but rather the vague, pithy way in which she did so. For the final twenty-five pages, though Katniss is still narrating the text, readers are not given any insight to what she is really thinking, or feeling, about the big events that are transpiring around her.

By the end of Mockingjay, Katniss and the rest of Collins’ characters have become a shadow of what they once were in the first two books of the Hunger Games series. However, this is not the result of a harrowing war, or due to a damaged dystopian society, but rather, the characters are weak and artificial simply because of poor writing.

Caitlin Kennedy

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