Mockingjay, Too Much of a Good Thing?

The much anticipated conclusion to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is a another page-turner but lacks the innovative flare that I found so captivating in its predecessors.  This is not to imply that Mockingjay is a bad book by any means, but now that the characters are out of the arena the plot becomes a more standardized, action-based affair.

With district rebellions in full swing and the true fate of District 13 revealed, the politics of Panem come to the forefront of the novel with the Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle close on its heels.  For the first time in the series, we see all the characters living in the same place, save for President Snow: District 13, Rebel Headquarters.  As plans to bring down the Capitol are being made, Katniss struggles to come to terms with her experiences in the arena, the destruction of her home, her feelings for Gale and Peeta, and the knowledge that she is supposed to be the face of the rebellion; she is to be the Mockingjay.

Collins clearly began this series with a complete vision of of how it would end.  She does not leave us with loose ends and she aptly laid the groundwork for Mockingjay in her earlier books, whether in the form of character talents and histories or by turning the Capitol into an arena, forcing it to become a participant in its own game.  Collins also has an excellent grasp of plot progression, adding some twist, shock, or burst of excitement whenever the narrative begins to slow.  Even so, there were times I found my attention wandering.  Mostly this occurred during battle scenes or discussions of weaponry.  I had a similar experience while reading Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy, getting drawn in by the newness of the idea behind the first book and losing interest as an epic war becomes the focal point, which leads me to believe that I just don’t enjoy reading action-based novels; I’m a character girl.

The characters of Mockingjay are layered and complex but they are not what drives the plot.  They take a supporting role to the cruelty and inhumanity of which people are capable, particularly when power and politics are in play.  Collins is careful, however, to plant seeds of hope  and love in this cautionary tale. I can’t deny that it is an important message, especially to readers living in this age of technology and reality t.v., but I get more caught up in the humanizing of such a sterile, vacuous society rather than in the guns and gadgetry used to bring it down.

It is not surprising then that the moments that stand out to me most are quieter in nature–Katniss singing “The Hanging Tree” for instance, a haunting Apalacian folk song imbued with memories of her father; Panem et Circenses (Bread and Circuses) being the idea around which the Capitol structured its nation and created the Hunger Games.  Details such as these resonated with me more than the larger story told in Mockingjay.

Ultimately, I wish that The Hunger Games existed as a stand-alone book.  I feel it conveys the same basic critique of a violence-hungry culture feasting on the suffering of others, even if it doesn’t offer as neat and precise an ending as Mockingjay.  All the answers don’t always need to be given; often just offering food for thought is food enough.

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