Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3)

Mockingjay - Collins Suzanne I loved Hunger Games, the first book in this trilogy, and thought the heroine, Katniss Everdeen and the imagination amazing and gave that book five stars. I did really like the sequel, Catching Fire, even if I didn’t think it compared well with the first story, I still thought it a great ride and gave it four stars. If I had a major complaint with Catching Fire, it was that Katniss takes a back seat--her choices and actions didn’t drive the plot. At first I thought Mockingjay was back on track. I certainly was kept turning the pages to the end. Collins knows how to pace a book and keep a reader hooked. It was entertaining and involving and it’s because of my recognition of that I’m giving it three stars--but I still left it feeling as if something in the book and series is wanting. I think after three books, some of the holes in Collin’s world-building is more apparent to me. For one, there’s not much distance between dystopias and utopias. There isn’t a totalitarian or authoritarian society in history that wasn’t built on and sustained on ideals--even if twisted ones: building a classless society, creating a master race, a civilizing mission of empire, God’s will, Liberté, égalité, fraternité. And yes, you do find that underlining all the classic dystopia novels, Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale. Damned if I can find a trace of that in the Hunger Games Trilogy--her fictional country seems based on Ancient Rome (with some suggestions we're supposed to see our own contemporary society). We’re told outright “Panem” means bread--one half of “bread and circuses” that supposedly pacified the mob. All is “propo” or propaganda--there doesn’t seem much of substance undergirding her societies or ideals behind her rebellion, so for me the fight comes across as empty--which may be Collin’s purpose given some events in the book, and I did appreciate the shades of gray. (Well, if they were gray--really we just have black on black.) But so often how these societies and their leaders act made no sense to me, and a rationale and some context might have helped. Then there’s the personal side of things that still leaves me feeling unsatisfied. One of the major subplots is the love triangle between Katniss and Gale and Peeta. A friend of mine hates love triangles--she feels they’re an artificial way of creating conflict. They don’t have to be. One of the classic love triangles is that of Scarlet and Ashley and Rhett in Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. Many have pointed out that Ashley represents the Old South and Rhett the New--and this is one of the key themes of the book. Collins does in the end have Katniss claim that Gale and Peeta do represent different things to her, but that I thought appeared rather out of the blue--it’s not integrated into plot and themes in ways that we can feel her pull between them. For most of the series, and the book, it’s almost as if the choice could be made by the toss of a coin. Ultimately how that dilemma was resolved felt forced. Romance, or at least love stories, don’t have to be empty. Part of what I love about Jane Austen’s novels is that they’re not just about who winds up with who, but about how by learning about others we learn about ourselves, and in trying to sift between fool’s and real gold, we grow up. And maybe that’s what I miss most in what as a Young Adult series should be a coming of age book. I don’t see Katniss really growing and stretching much, or except for a few instances in this book really much more than react to events. Part of growing up is learning the difference between illusion and reality, and the premise of Hunger Games should be perfect for that. Maybe the reason why I don't feel this works is that Katniss never has any illusions. She never trusted in anyone, never was idealistic about either society, so there's no room for life-changing revelations here. In fact, in this book I thought she was largely whiny and at her most unlikeable. She's young, and she has gone through a lot--but I spent a lot of the book wishing I could slap her. This is an entertaining book--I guess I just hoped for more. I feel like I just stuffed myself in this huge feast, and thirty minutes later I'm hungry again.