Putting the book cover here to blot out any unwanted spoilery things....I give most of it away, so if you don't want to know, STOP READING NOW. blindfold your tender eyes.
So I read Mockingjay in its entirety today, and I'm still a little shell-shocked. There was an awful lot I didn't expect - there's an awful lot that needed wrapping up, so Collins had her work cut out for her.
I had - and still have, five hours later - a sort of sickish, empty feeling as I reached the end of the novel. Not because I was unhappy with what Collins does with her characters and her plot, but because it's that kind of a book - that kind of a series.
One of the things that came up in class discussions about The Hunger Games - which the students always initiated - is the sheer violence of it. And how that violence is never gratuitous, and is necessary and profoundly affecting.
Collins seriously ups the ante on the violence in Mockingjay. This is a novel about war, about living in the heart of war; by the novel's final section, it's all ground-level guerrilla warfare, which makes me think that Collins is (intentionally or otherwise) referencing our everlasting and grim street battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of the main points that I especially moved/disturbed/interested me:
Finnick, and Finnick and Katniss's relationship.
The decimation, by novel's end, of the corps of Hunger Games Victors.
The death that tips Katniss past the point of endurance. It's ghastly. Some of those final scenes reminded me, in a terrible, terrible way, of Schindler's List, of the scene when Schindler sees the little girl in the red coat in the liquidation of the ghetto.
The terrible and relentless way that virtually everyone is revealed as untrustworthy, or as having ulterior (or at least more complex) motivations.
The hijacking of Peeta.
The many, many children and young people (like early 20s and under) who die or are grievously injured.
This last item is of particular interest to me. Back in my youthfully ignorant early days of studying children's literature, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire came out. I read it voraciously, having been sucked into the HP machine. And at the end I was shocked. I remember saying, repeatedly; "Kids DON'T die in children's book. they just don't."
Well, actually - they do. And they seem to be doing it more and more frequently. I know Death is a common one for YA fiction, but the deaths seem to be growing more frequent, and more intense. It's not just an elderly great-aunt dying, or a sister with leukemia in hospice (hi, Lurleen McDaniel!) - it's protagonists. Or it's protagonist's closest friends/family/allies, dying brutally in front of the protagonist's eyes.
I wonder about this, a lot.
I am very unhappy about the turn that Gale takes, and unhappier at Katniss's reaction to it.
Katniss is selfish; this book made that abundantly clear, although it's not exactly a secret throughout the other two books. But it made me uncomfortable this time, especially in regards to Gale. Every decision Katniss makes, every action she takes, is done because it will protect or help her family and loved ones. She protects Gale and Peeta, her mother and Prim, the other victors, herself (sometimes, but only sometimes; she is willing to sacrifice herself for them). Katniss is resolutely not political. She doesn't care about the revolution, the uprising; she wants revenge for herself and those she cares about, and that drives her against President Snow. The compassion and loss and grief and anger she feels when the people she cares about suffer, or are killed, are real and deep and meaningful, but the fact remains: Katniss is simply not engaged in the larger political struggles. She is fortunate (?) in that her decisions and actions usually result in something positive for the many and not just for the few, but that's a secondary benefit, not her primary motivation.
Contrast this with Gale, who seems to grow more resolute, grimmer, harder, as each chapter passed. Gale is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the Capitol. Even if it means killing everyone inside a mountain. Even if innocent people are hurt. He is not acting out of personal revenge (though he does also experience personal rage about the way he and his have suffered because of the Capitol) - Gale IS political, unlike Katniss. And while it's hard to feel good about some of Gale's choices, it's also hard to feel good about many of Katniss's. Gale is, essentially, utilitarian about the war, brilliantly so. You may kill 100 people, many of whom may be innocent, to save a country. It's the logic of the Bomb, of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. It's a cold, calculating, horrific logic, but if you can step outside your personal emotions, it's a logic that makes sense. And can even be a good thing.
The epilogue was, in the way of many epilogues, unsatisfying to me. I suppose it's better than ending on a "we looked into the clear bright future, my Love at my side." but.
the nightmares never go away. ever.
and the trick of evaporating time to age the protagonists, and give them children (you might as well just print HOPE in giant glittery letters, or perhaps REPRODUCTIVE FUTURITY!), is one that irks me. I am never sure why, except that suddenly, our protagonist/narrator is someone 10 or 20 or more years older. And that jump is unforgivable. What we lose in that jump is unforgivable.
This is a book about war - it's Hunger Games played large-scale, across a country. Katniss and Finnick realize this, when they see the obstacles and traps laid around the Capitol; they see it as just a huge games arena, though with higher stakes and more people. It's about survival, and death, and horror, and power - it is so much about power. The ways of hurting people that appear throughout this trilogy are mind-boggling. Collins doesn't back away from the fact that war - in any level, whether it is the annual Hunger Games or the Quarter Quell or full-on rebellion - was is a terrible thing that rips everyone and everything apart. No one is safe. No on comes out unscathed. The bright and shiny future never materializes. It is brutal and it is easy, this kind of battling and war.
This is not a happy book, and for this I applaud Suzanne Collins (loudly, and long). No one clasps hands and faces into the cold, clear light of a new day. No one faces the future bravely, with Love by their side, certain that the new world they've created will be a shiny happy gleaming tomorrowland. Collins make it plain that even "winning" is brutal - Haymitch is an alcoholic from start to finish. Annie is broken and disoriented and mad. The dead stay dead, the broken remain broken. There is no recovery, there is no "getting over" the Hunger Games and their aftermath. This is not a book about glorious happiness arising from the ashes of difficult struggle. We're not left on a happy note, at all - we're left with the Hunger Games, with the reminder of the terrible possibilities in the world. We're left with the fact that terrible things happen, and scar us for life. That sometimes, the nightmares never, ever end.