If My Mockingjay Don’t Sing

Finished Mockingjay.

Loved Mockingjay.

But wondering: why all the middling reactions toward Mockingjay? I wouldn’t call it “hate,” exactly — but I was warned repeatedly that the third book was essentially a big disappointment from the high of the previous two. Lots of “ehh,” “mehhh,” “pbbbt” reactions.

To which my jaw drops, my eyes launch out on springs, my tongue rolls, and the floor drops out from under me. Dang, I did not find that to be the case.

Your job, then, is to explain your disappointment (if you desire) in the comments.

I will not fling aspersions toward your general character. The question is not subject to any wrong answers. I mean, sure, I’ll throw flaming bags of poo at your head. I kid! I kid. They won’t be on fire. Sheesh.

My thoughts (and this will contain some very light spoilers):

The book was unflinching. Unflinching. This is not a shiny happy book. It is a book about children and war. It is a book where lots of characters you care about die. It is a book that again puzzles me and haunts me with the question: “How the hell are they going to make this into a PG-13 movie?” Seriously. Blood. Gore. Children dying. Nightmarish images. Murder. War. It’s not splatterpunk, but it’s not Harry Potter, either. Any effort to water this down to an acceptable family-friendly rating potentially does harm to the story’s message, a message carried on purpose by such grim, unceasing nastiness.

The book felt to me as the natural conclusion to the series — it carries the “game” motif back into play, this time on the battlefield. It pays off on things to which it was building. Nothing out of left field. For the most part the characters we care about are… concluded properly, I suppose you could say. Only one sticks out (Finnick) as feeling narratively inconclusive (and actually a little strange).

And yet, the book remained surprising, too. At no point did it feel rote.

The ending was pitch perfect, for me: like a shot of espresso, the book was super dark with a very bittersweet finish. I’ll say it again: not a happy book. And it does exactly what I was exhorting the other day — the storyteller is an emotional manipulator and the best and most memorable stories are the ones that truly made us feel something. Collins doesn’t fuck around. She’s constantly kicking you in the spleen, punching you in the kidneys, wrapping her hands around your throat. The woman knows how to hurt her audience. And the ending doesn’t do much to salve the wounds — a little. But not much.

So, chime in.

You read it?

You like it?

You find it disappointing?

Color me curious (which is actually a robin’s egg blue!).

21 comments

  • SPOILER ALERT (’cause I’m nice enough to warn you)

    It’s my understanding that a lot of the disappoint with Mockingjay has to do with one of two things – the deaths at the end (particularly those of Finnick and Prim) or the handling of the love triangle.

    The first one I can kind of see. I was particularly attached to Finnick (his admission in the woods outside the ruins of District 12? Holy hell!) and would have liked to see a bit more than “oh, and he’s dead.” But not a major complaint. Word on the ‘nets is that killing Prim essentially makes all of Katniss’ endeavors null and void. This did not bother me. I felt like Prim’s death was a powerful move that solidified a lot of what came before.

    As far as the love triangle goes – feh. That was never supposed to be the focus of the book. I think it was clever how Katniss and Gale sort of reject each other. As far as Peeta goes? Your guess is as good as mine. I wasn’t in it for the “romance”.

    End (Major) Spoilers

    My main disappointment with the book was the lack of action. We got a taste of kick ass action girl Katniss in District 8. Then she spends most of the rest of the book sitting around in the hospital. As a reader I wanted to experience all of the great stuff we were hearing about secondhand – like Peeta’s rescue. I got so used to seeing Katniss being decisive, or at least reacting with action. I wanted more and only got a little bit of it.

    But I can see why Collins took the path she did. I understand and I can’t fault her for it. It is a brilliant ending when taken in the context of the entire arc.

  • Eeeh. I built up the first two books in my head far too much.

    Finnick’s death – like you said.

    Katniss was basically mad, drugged, recuperating or asleep for large parts of the book – considering she’s the reader’s eyes and ears, I wasn’t digging this at ALL. This was my biggest problem.

    As an author, I would have killed Peeta, Gale or Katniss, or, god, all three(!), before I killed Prim. As a ‘small light in the darkness’ hope for the future, Prim would have worked so much better than Katniss’s kids, who we barely knew at all. I just wasn’t buying Katniss agreeing to kids, either.

    There were things I dug, massively. These are all minor. It just wasn’t the experience I was expecting!

  • SPOILERS AHEAD!

    I still don’t really know how I feel about Mockingjay. I feel like it was rushed and that with another draft or two it could have been better.

    I look at my Goodreads review and it’s full of vitriol. I had a very visceral reaction to this book. I didn’t like the way that Katniss’ characterization went in this book. I thought that it was kind of weird that so much of the interesting stuff happened off-camera (like Finnick’s senseless death! WTF?), and our hero sat out a lot of the really exciting stuff.

    However, with some distance I like the way the overall arcs came back together. There’s a great story in Mockingjay, but I think that Katniss may have been the wrong POV character for it. Great trilogy on the whole, though.

  • I loved the entire series and had the good fortune to read it all in one go (started reading it about a week before Mockingjay was released). The only part I felt was a little off was the beginning, where I was a little TOO disoriented after having read Catching Fire with that phenomenal (and horrible) ending and then jumping into Mockingjay. Other than that, I felt that the book was spot on, terrible, and wonderful. All this sort of “meh” response really confuses me. I understand on some level that that feeling comes from the series actually WRAPPING UP. You know, ending. Not just being left open-ended like other stories are, to the point where you have no idea what the hell happened, but with an honest-to-God conclusion. Some people yearn for a resolution but don’t appreciate it when it shows up.

    On the other hand, my personal response to the ending was a gaping, seemingly endless depression. Yeah, the couple I wanted got together. Yeah, there was a definitive resolution, I wasn’t left hanging. And yeah, I know a little about life after all of this… but it made me feel so DEPRESSED. I had to go read Meg Cabot’s the Princess Diaries (my comfort read) just to keep from slitting my wrists. It was brilliantly done, that ending. Kudos to Collins. But GOD, she was too good because I couldn’t stomach even the thought of rereading the series – it was too powerful. I had a similar reaction when I finished reading “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire.

    That and much as I didn’t like Prim (I didn’t feel she had much of a personality), her ending was just sort of… salt on the wounds. And the conclusion to Finnick and Annie’s storyline (the kid) reminded me a lot of the last Harry Potter book when Teddy Lupin just ends up completing the circle of repeating history that Harry’s life is founded on – i.e. parents sacrificed for the child to survive, essentially scarred from birth because of what happened to the parents.

  • I read it, and I did love it. Could not put the book down. But there was a part when I was clutching the book close that I had to put it down (literally) and asked myself why we were going through all this. Kat doesn’t even get close to the president, and but the time we see the “packets” fall, I felt like we were in some alternate reality and that this couldn’t have been happening.

    In my head, I understand why. War is senseless. People lose lives and don’t accomplish their goals. Plus the whole experience breaks Katniss. But as a reader, I was left unsatisfied. It was like having a character wake up and announce that everything you’d just read was a dream (or a nightmare). I made it seem like the whole draining experience was added in to bulk up the book. Which then made it seem like the entire ending was also manufactured because they realized people might not be satisfied with the ending the way it was.

    How I see this story as a writer is so different from how I see it as a reader.

  • I have to start by saying I really enjoyed the trilogy overall. The *story* was great, the thematic elements spot on…. but I do agree with most of what’s been said above, especially with regard to Katniss not being part of the action for a lot of it.

    More specifically, from a writer’s craft point of view, Katniss is mostly a passive protagonist — she’s always *reacting* to what happens, being pulled from place to place with hardly any of her own initiative. And the entire quest to kill Snow at the end ends up being completely irrelevant. Her actions accomplished nothing but the (SPOILER!) death of her friends.

    I actually wrote a couple posts examining the writer’s craft aspects of the trilogy, at http://lucasjwjohnson.com/2011/01/26/workshopping-the-hunger-games/ and http://lucasjwjohnson.com/2011/01/28/world-building-in-the-hunger-games/.

    I loved the trilogy, but I loved the first book more.

    • I don’t know that I agree re: Katniss as a passive protagonist. Sure, some of her character traits and plotlines are reactive — but no character consists purely of proactivity.

      (spoilers)

      At the beginning of Hunger Games, she chooses the games and is not herself chosen — switch-out for Prim.

      In Catching Fire, it’s her choice to fire an arrow through the force field hole that gets them out of the arena.

      In Mockingjay, she’s the one who steps up and makes demands with Coin, who keeps wanting to get into the action, who rushes into combat in (uhh, District 8? Forget which — one where the Capitol blows up the wounded), who goes off the reservation at the end and lies about the plot, who has the plot in the first place, who chooses the assassination target at the very end, etc.

      She’s given a great deal of character agency, IMHO. Sure, a few places that’s not true — the Peeta rescue. But I understand why that’s valuable, narratively — we don’t know what’s happening, for one (amps suspense), and two, the logic of her going along just doesn’t hold up.

      Anywho.

      Finnick’s death bothered me if only because it was so brutish and short — not necessarily out-of-theme, but Collins had previously given good attention to the deaths of characters about whom we care deeply. Finnick’s death isn’t “off-camera” if I recall, but simply given short shrift.

      – c.

  • BE WARNED HERE BE SPOILERS!

    What I didn’t like about the series was that Hunger Games was a book with a great pace and immediacy, with a kick-ass protagonist who does everything she can to survive.

    In Catching Fire it’s not the fighter we see, but a defeated girl who wants to protect someone else. For me the immediacy was gone. It wasn’t Katniss’s life at stake anymore, because she’d given up on it already anyway.

    By the time Mockinjay comes around, I feel Katniss just can’t care anymore. She goes through the paces to protect her family, but not herself or anyone else. She’s just a shell, pushed around and meek.

    I’m sure this was the way Collins intended it, but it bothers me. It’s not what I had hoped for after the first book.

    I’m not a fan of the later books, but I’ll happily re-read the first. :)

    And by the way, I think Prim’s fate was an excellent move by Collins, but slightly predictable as soon as the kids’ fate becomes clear.

  • I was sadder about Finnick then about Prim. Is that bad?

    I loved Mockingjay. I thought it was a brilliant wrap-up, and that Prim’s death, and the uncertainty about who was responsible was kind of necessary to the idea of “becoming the monster to fight the monster” that I saw throughout the book.

  • I just finished the series, too, and I’m not sure about the Mockingjay hate, either. I think it is a much stronger book than Catching Fire is. My main complaint about it, though, is that the ending felt rushed. If the author had dedicated maybe 50-100 more pages to making sure every plot point got the time it deserved, I would be happier with it. I thought it was a great ending, and appropriate, but I feel as though the second-half of the book was just us going from point to point to point as Collins wrapped things up so the series could end. I wish she had slowed down and taken her time.

    That gripe aside, however, I can’t say I didn’t love the series and the way it ended. I wrote up my own review of the trilogy here: http://www.professorbeej.com/2011/02/book-review-the-hunger-games-trilogy-by-suzanne-collins.html

  • SPOILERS ahead

    I read the whole trilogy in about two weeks time a few months ago. I agree with Chuck. I had heard a lot of disappointment about the third book, but I just didn’t see it. I freaking loved the end.

    The complaints about Katniss being depressed and not as active in this book actually ticked me off a lot at first. Like, to the point of not being able to properly converse with those people :p How was she supposed to be after what she has gone through? She is in a war, as a very young teenage girl, and is traumatized. To think that she should just pop right up from that would be illogical.

    I felt that she took charge quite a bit in this book, but I loved that she COULDN’T be the one in charge the whole time. She said herself that she was basically a pawn. She was a pawn in the games and she was a pawn of District 13, of the rebellion. I had a growing sense of dread the whole time I read the book, because I had little doubt that Coin would kill Katniss if she needed to.

    I think the themes of the books were brilliant. One government was evil, yes. But was the other one that was going to be run by Coin going to be much better? The lesser of two evils, and Katniss finding out how much and how little power she had was nothing short of astounding for me.

    Finnick’s death was the thing that made me feel like I’d been punched in the stomach, though. I didn’t understand it. It was unfair, it wasn’t right, and….deaths never are. Especially in war, which are senseless in and of themselves. It doesn’t make his death any easier, and if I had been writing it, I wouldn’t have killed him. I felt like we didn’t get any closure with his death. And it hurt.

    The love triangle “teams” thing was stupid in my opinion. Katniss has never even been able to date like a normal girl. I didn’t want her to end up with either one. In fact, at one point in the third when Gale and Peeta were talking about Katniss together, I wanted them both to simultaneously explode. If people were mad about the “triangle” I’m not sure what to say.

    All in all, I thought they were some of the best books I’ve ever read that I’m not sure I’ll ever be prepared to read again. They take a lot out of you.

  • I read all three books a couple of months ago, and I honestly don’t remember what happened to Finnick. Most of the first and second book are vivid in my mind, but the third is muddled in my head.

    I think I empathize too much with the protagonist, and the more drugged-out and traumatized Katniss got, the more I slipped away and disconnected from the story. (This might just be my own experience with reading in general.)

    Or maybe I rushed it, in my eagerness to reach the end. I have a friend who reads the endings of books first so she can enjoy the read without rushing.

  • I can understand the issues people had with it. It’s bleak, depressing, brutal. It doesn’t play into the just world fallacy. People get really upset when it doesn’t wrap itself up in the ribbon of a happy ending.

    But I honestly don’t see how the series could have progressed any differently. It’s like toppling dominoes. Once you kick one over the rest are going whether you want them to or not. Katniss becomes a symbol, then an icon, then a figurehead.

    Considering Collins didn’t shy away from brutality and horror in the first book I would have been sorely disappointed if she had blinked in the third. This is not a book that pulls its punches and I love it for that.

    I look at the negative reactions people are having to the book and what I see isn’t, “This is a bad book,” it’s “I hate what happened to these people, the choices they made, the things they did.”

    That’s not a weakness, that’s a strength. How invested do you have to be in a book to be that upset about it?

  • I might not be the best one to respond, but what Stephen said was exactly my complaint.

    ‘How invested do you have to be in a book to be that upset about it.’

    I wasn’t upset. I didn’t care enough!

    I don’t think Katniss is passive. She does everything she needs to do. But that’s just it. She is put through her paces by circumstance, not by a driving passion.

    If you have a book with a distant or abstract antagonist like in this book, you need a protagonist who propels the story or else you’re left with a book full of circumstances. And this is especially true for a book written in the first person.

    Because the later books had such an unmotivated first person, I didn’t care anymore either. I lost interest. A definite ‘meh’.

  • SPOILERS

    My big problem with Mockingjay was that the end felt rushed to me. I would have liked more pages devoted to the resolution. The ending wasn’t satisfying to me, not because of the sadness of it, but because I don’t feel that the conclusion was explored enough (if that makes sense).

    I also didn’t feel like we were walked through Katniss’s thinking as much as we were in all the other books. Look at how Rue’s death was handled compared to Prim’s. Prim dies and if you blinked you missed it. No real thoughts from Katniss on the subject. Same with Finnick. One minute he’s there and then you blink and he’s gone. No real thoughts or feelings on the subject. (Or at least not enough to make me feel anything about their deaths.)

    Then we hear Katniss’s thought process on doing one last Hunger Games which leans towards not doing it but then she opens her mouth and votes yes, no real explanation other than it being for Prim, because that is totally what sweet little Prim would have wanted.

    I also didn’t buy that Gale just disappears from her life. And it seemed weird that when Peeta finally comes back he doesn’t say hi or talk to Katniss, instead he starts landscaping. That was just weird. Nice sentiment, but weird to just start planting rosebushes in someone’s yard without saying hi first.

    And finally, I didn’t like that Katniss didn’t make a choice between Gale and Peeta. It was more like, now I’m ugly and screwed up and your ugly and screwed up and Gale hasn’t even called me, so I guess I’ll be screwed up with you Peeta. I would have liked to have seen Katniss make a choice.

    I didn’t hate Mockingjay, but I didn’t like it as much as the others. I didn’t feel as engaged as I did with the others. Overall I liked what happened, I would not have liked a happy sunshine-y ending, but I think it could have been better.

  • I’ve actually already forgotten much of Mockingjay, whereas I can remember details from The Hunger Games. To me, the brilliance of The Hunger Games lay in the fact that Collins so beautifully placed such well-crafted, developed characters into a futuristic, unlikely setting and made it all ring so perfectly true. The most interesting aspects of the story were the relationships and the characters, which is why it resonated.

    In Mockingjay, I found that instead of it being a character-driven adventure (as in the first two), it was suddenly plot-heavy and character-thin. And while I appreciated the unflinching nature of the action, I also felt so much less invested in the characters and their relationships, that by the end, I was just relieved it was over. Worse, the characters I loved so much in the earlier books, came off in book three as dislikable enough that I no longer much cared what happened to them.

    That said, I loved the first two books so much, they more than make up for my disappointment in the third.

  • I read Mockingjay, but as I hadn’t read the other two books, I had absolutely NO IDEA what was going on. (The other two were unavailable at the time, in case anyone’s wondering).

    I thought each book in a series should be a self-contained story in its own right.
    This sure wasn’t.

    When I have time, maybe I might read Hunger Games.

  • SPOILER AHOY!

    I read the whole series in one shot over Christmas and was blown away. I thought Mockingjay was a really satisfying conclusion, and I just want to say one thing about it. I honestly don’t know why people are a) pissed or b) surprised about Prim’s death. Obviously I was shocked in the moment (it was a brilliant left turn from Suzanne Collins; I’m not saying it was predictable at all), but in hindsight I felt like it was the logical conclusion to the trilogy.

    It was a bit like Dumbledore dying at the end of Half-Blood Prince – he kind of had to, in a way, for everything to click into place for Harry and for the ending to have more meaning and impact. I feel like Prim’s death was a great poetic moment, because all the crazy shit that went down from that first chapter of The Hunger Games was all sparked by Katniss wanting to protect Prim and save her life. After all of that, after all the sacrifices that were made to protect her, to have her die anyway, and to have the death simultaneously out of Katniss’ control completely, and the result of all of Katniss’ actions, was just… a beautiful twist.

  • *SPOILERS*

    I just finished reading Mockingjay. I read the trilogy through the whole weekend (a book a day) and all I’ve gotta say right now is… Wow. Like someone above me mentioned, I feel so depressed after finishing Mockingjay. I actually feel bleak and my mind is reeling. I have no idea why but this is my reaction to the book. In all honesty, I hated Mockingjay. I was so excited after reading the first two, which were amazing, and then to read Mockingjay was like a slap in the face. I’m pretty torn up over Finnick’s death. Like a lot of the other commenters, I question Collins decision to kill him off, especially after the wedding to Annie. Another thing was Prim’s death. The point where the parachutes drop was so jumbled and confusing that the event was lost in the chaos. I loved Prim and I think she deserved more attention to her death.
    Like a lot of the others, I hated the love triangle. The romance was never a huge part of the plot and Katniss was so against everything, and all of sudden she ends up with Peeta… with CHILDREN!?!? Ummm, ok. I was heartbroken that she doesn’t talk to Gale, I mean yes she messed up but he was her best friend and that made no sense that he would abandon her for a fancy job. Of course the book did have some good points, but all in all I hated Mockingjay.

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