In this last installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, Collins seems to have run out of steam. Perhaps it’s because I read the three novels in quick succession, but Mockingjay seems to lack cohesion.
I thought The Hunger Games was a good start to the series, and Catching Fire improved on what the first book lacked, but I have to admit Mockingjay is a bit of a disappointment. Rumor has it, Collins was busy churning out the script for the first film while finishing up Mockingjay, so I supposed the rushed nature of the writing and plotting in this book was to be expected.
Still, there is plenty to talk about regarding the final book, though more plot translates to more plot holes.
The first book introduced the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, as she went through the trials and tribulations of the fight-to-the-death Hunger Games. The second book showcased Katniss as she deals with the repercussions of rebelling against the totalitarian state and has to fight her way through another Hunger Games. The third book revolves solely around the rebellion against the government, and Katniss’s place as the titular Mockingjay, a symbol for those fighting aginst the “Capitol.”
Some of the messages are a bit heavy-handed, but Collins is writing for teens. Katniss repeatedly comments on the similarities between the rebel encampment (District 13) and the ruling powers. Both enforce violations harshly and impose strict rules for their citizens.
Most importantly, both see Katniss as a symbol. During the Hunger Games, Katniss’s image was manipulated a hundred times to serve one purpose or another. In District 13, Katnisss likeness is again used to influence people. She is again dressed in finery, made up, cleaned up, and paraded around on film to prove a point.
Collins spends too much time on creating the admittedly very detailed world of District 13. The first third of the book does little to move the story forward. The final act is also not particularly interesting, in that Collins basically recreates the Hunger Games of previous books by making the Capitol booby-trapped in increasingly creative manners. I feel like Collins missed her calling as a horror film writer. She apparently loves to create intricately deadly traps for characters and new “muttations” (like nails on chalkboard) for the protagonists to fight.
Katniss spends much of the book in a “morphling” daze. While the girl was unquestionably a bold, independent fighter in the first two books, Katniss becomes a passive character in the third. She only gains control of the situation and, naturally, of herself and her own power, in the final climactic moments.
Throughout the novel, Katniss grows increasingly weary of all the people who push her to prove their own points. She loses trust in even her closest friends-cum-love-interests, Gale and Peeta. Her final act of rebellion comes only after everything is taken from her, because only then is Katniss able to shake off the shackles of childhood’s implicit trust in authority.
The trilogy is a dystopian thriller, yes, but it is also, like most young adult fiction, a coming of age story. Katniss begins The Hunger Games as a responsible girl who thinks in black and white terms about morality, and views herself as much more mature than her age. By the end of Mockingjay, Katniss has learned to doubt everything and everyone around her. She learns that morals are questionable and possible subjective. She realizes that things are never what they seem. In a word, she grows up.
Near the very end of the novel, our plucky heroine finally understands that war and the abuse of power are not unique to the Capitol or its current rulers, but rather, are simply inherent in the state of mankind in general. A depressing moral for a YA novel, but particularly poignant given the ongoing struggles in the Middle East and all around the world.