Mockingjay Hangover: My Review (Spoiler Alert)

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]**SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!**

MockingjayGood morning (er… make that afternoon), readers! Like many of you who stayed up all night to finish one of the most anticipated YA trilogy conclusions in history, I am just waking up to face a new day. A day where the Hunger Games no longer exist, and where the bright Colorado sun seems completely unreal after so many hours in the dark dystopia of Panem. Coffee? Yeah. Today’s gonna be a 3-cup kinda day!

Here’s what I have to say about Mockingjay. And there are tons of spoilers here, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know what happens!

Let’s start with the good:

Collins did an incredible job conveying the post traumatic stress of the characters who’d endured not only the brutality of the Games, but the brutality of war and revolution — primarily, Katniss and Peeta. The nightmares, the anguish, the never quite finding their place or fitting in with their friends and family again. The sometimes inconsistent behavior and feelings. The self-doubt and suicidal thoughts. If Haymitch from the earlier books was any indication of how victors live post-games, I knew they’d be in for a rocky ride, regardless of the outcome of the story.

I also liked how each of the characters dealt with the justifications of war in different ways. Katniss was always conflicted. Gale was vengeful, but still retained his love for Katniss, which was to me one of the only things preventing him from becoming a total killing machine. Peeta was so far gone from the torture he’d endured at the hands of Snow that I doubted he’d ever come back. Prim found her footing as she matured far beyond her years, taking on the trade of heeler with energy, compassion, and skill. Haymitch and Katniss learned to really respect and care for one another, and their relationship was one of the most interesting in the trilogy.

The parallels between district 13 and the Capitol — that was another great element. As Coin’s motivations became more clear, as the rules in district 13 tightened, I was turning the pages with anticipation as to how this would play out. This part of the storyline had more potential than almost any other subplot… until it just didn’t. And here’s where the momentum of the story started to break down for me.

All the whispers, the hints at conspiracy, the foreshadowing and potential plot twists… it fizzled out, as if “the girl who was on fire” just kinda laid down in the rain. Instead of playing out these awesome political and mind-bendy plot lines, Collins overcompensated with shock value. She over-described some of the violence and gore and spent a lot of time telling us through Katniss about what war does to the mind, but she underdeveloped other parts of the story — important parts. Parts that held the series together and drove the action forward.

Katniss never fully came into her own in Mockingjay. In Hunger Games, she was a floundering yet passionate girl desperate to protect her family and stay alive. While she made a lot of mistakes, we loved her even more for them, because we saw her struggle, we believed her desperation and her motives, and we wanted her to succeed. We saw her near-double-suicide not as the easy way out, but the final spit in the face of the Capitol that had pulled the strings for so long.

In Catching Fire, the story was fast-paced and intense, Katniss still struggling but really maturing as a fighter and a person. She really could be the spark of the revolution, the girl from District 12 who could save the country from final, utter ruin. Like the rebels in Panem, I believed in her. I wanted her to take charge and lead. I get that she was damaged and confused. Grieving and afraid. Unsure of the role forced on her and how to move forward. But still, she seemed poised to fight the fight, in any way that she could. When she sent that message to Snow — YOU WILL BURN WITH US! — I thought, here we go. It’s on!

But after that brief spark, the fire in her seemed to die out. She spent most of the story hiding or running away, or simply following orders (despite her reminding us on several occasions about her inability to follow orders). She talked about some of the parallels between 13 and the Capitol, but this never went anywhere until near the end when Coin — who inexplicably had Prim killed but left Katniss alive, despite having tried to assassinate her with Peeta earlier — asked them to vote on whether to have another Hunger Games. And Katniss, despite the utter defeat of “things will never change,” her ongoing terrible struggles with the aftermath of killing humans for her own survival, and her sympathy for even armed members of the Capitol’s goon squad, votes yes? YES?! I was outraged, but then I thought she must have something up her sleeve.

But when she finally killed Coin, leaving Snow to die on his own, I was utterly let down. Not because of her choice, but because it wasn’t really a choice at all. It seemed random, because Coin happened to be in the line of fire (which also made no sense. If Coin was so afraid of Katniss, why would she arm the girl and then stand in the line of execution?), and Snow coughed and it reminded her of what he said about Coin manipulating them for her own gain, so she raised her bow and let the arrow fly. Yes, Coin had to die, and all the more awesome that it happen at Katniss’ hand, but… how much more powerful could this scene have been if Katniss actually made a choice? Instead, she kills Coin kind of on a whim, then tries for days to kill herself in the aftermath. Coin is dead, Snow is dead, someone else becomes president, and then — just like with the storm on the president’s mansion — Katniss is told about it after the fact. The storm on the mansion was supposed to be one of the most powerful parts of the book, but again, we’re told about it with Katniss after a bizarre dream/near-death sequence. I felt so disconnected from Katniss in this book.

In this kind of a story, a happy ending would seem a mockery. Even a sad ending with too much hope wouldn’t have worked. Children murdering children? Fighting an evil government for the survival of the human race? Not much room for bluebirds and rainbows after that. I liked that she went back to 12, that Haymitch was with her, that they made the book of the dead, that the districts were slowly rebuilding. But overall, I felt the ending was really weak. Yes, Katniss realized that Gale wasn’t right for her, but again, she didn’t have to make any choices. All of the struggles we’d predicted after the intensity and twists in the first two books simply fell apart in Mockingjay. Gale left with little fanfare — in fact, she seemed relieved that he was out of her life so that she didn’t have to chose, and she wasn’t the least upset by the fact that her best and oldest friend (and more) left without a goodbye (or even another word for the rest of her life). Peeta just showed up and kind of waited around until she finally took him in. Her mother basically vanished from her life. Katniss didn’t really grow or change. She just… fizzled. That’s the best word I can think of.

Have you read it? What do you think? Am I being to hard on Katniss? Too hard on Collins? Are you Team Peeta fans happy with the outcome?