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the mockingjay effect

August 30th, 2010

I’m a little obsessed with Suzanne Collins’s MOCKINGJAY right now. Not obsessed in the way people were before it came out–all that hyped-up anticipation. I was looking forward to it but not drawing Xs on my calendar or anything.

Now, now that I’ve finished it, I am obsessed—and this post is meant to be a meta discussion, so it will avoid spoilers, but if you want  a totally virginal reading experience (is that even possible now?) maybe give this post a miss.

In a way, Mockingjay has become the Mockingjay of YA books–by which I mean the symbol that stands for us all (though we don’t have to kill anyone or foment a rebellion, thank goodness). It seems to have made the adult publishing world wake up to the no-frigging-duh fact that YA is great and being read by all ages. But what a good symbol Mockingjay has turned out to be. It may have happened by accident— like Katniss stepping up for Prim in the reaping—simply because there was so much buildup. But with this final installment, I don’t think the YA community could’ve asked for a better example of the heights to which our genre can reach.

The more I think about this book, the more impressed I am. I already reviewed it so I won’t go into detail but what I really appreciate is that Collins didn’t just take the same formula and rework it, adding a few bells and whistles. She led  with authenticity. How would characters change and react given what they’ve been through in the last year? Her answer to that is surprising, rang totally true, and for me, was incredibly haunting. This is a book about war and violence and stark moral choices. It also happens to be a ripping good yarn. Nobody, but nobody, paces a book like Suzanne Collins.

But what most haunted me were the characters, how changed they were, how distorted by the events. I have heard and read that some readers found the book crazy readable but not the transcendent climactic reading experience they were hoping for. I can understand that, even if I disagree. I keep comparing MOCKINGJAY to HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, which is like comparing well, a round of the Hunger Games and a spot of Quiddich, except insofar as they are the much-anticipated final installments to beloved series. I think people did get the transcendent experience from HP, and I think part of that reason has to do with the tenor of the stories. HP certainly got dark as Voldemort’s forces strengthened but it was still set in a mostly happy place: Hogwarts. And Harry was never alone. He always had Ron and Hermione (and then Ginny) and they stayed tied together until the very end.

Katniss, on the other hand—conflicts about Peeta or Gale aside—has always been  a lone wolf. Always had to rely on herself. And nowhere is that more true than in Mockingjay. So no matter how it ends—unless it was going to be something contrived and horrible, which Collins wouldn’t do—there is no way to escape the taint and horror of what she’d been through, the loneliness and isolation. Her burden was hers. It’s hard to find a happy ending around that no matter what happens. It’s hard to achieve transcendence through that. And boy do I admire Collins for not taking the easy way out. For not giving a fairytale ending or a bullshit contrived “fable” ending (like The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, a book I liked okay until the end, and then I wanted to kill it).

So, yes, Mockingjay is dark. In case you hadn’t noticed, the world Katniss has been inhabiting is pretty dark. But it being YA, I can promise you a glimmer of hope. And the book raises such big questions in such a real, true-to-the-characters ways and leaves you a little changed by the reading expereince. If that’s not transcendent—to the story, to the series, for YA in general—I don’t know what is.

  1. I completely agree regarding the ending. I’ve read a lot of reviews and heard a lot of critics carping about how the book and the ending were so bleak, the characters so depressing. However, if Collins didn’t confront the atrocities of war in the real way that she did, I would have been disappointed. She has said all along that she was exploring the effects of war on society and children, and that’s what she did. I couldn’t have been more happy with Mockingjay.

    And I totally agree about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Arrggh.

  2. I utterly agree with this post. MOCKINGJAY was amazing. One of the greatest things about it was that it is real. That maybe the reason some people may not like it, because they are totally expecting something kick-a** and happy.

    Nonetheless, I’m obsessed with this book. I finished it on Wednesday and I still cannot stop thinking about it. Suzanne Collins did the rare thing — each book of the series just gets better and better. Utterly phenomenal!

  3. I agree completely. I adored Mockingjay and cannot stop thinking about it. There was no way Katniss could have gone through what she did, and not end up the way she did. She was 17 years old at the end. So young and so damaged. But, for me, it was a fitting and satisfying conclusion. One that will haunt me for a long time.

  4. I’ve been suffering from this same obsession! I was looking forward to the book but had no idea how much I was going to be impacted by it.

    I seriously doubt another book will impact me as much as this one did this year and maybe even next. It maybe didn’t give me a transcendent experience but it really gave me so much to think about.

  5. I have also been obsessing since I finished reading Mockingjay.

    I agree with everything you said here, I was completely blown away by Mockingjay. Suzanne Collins is brilliant.

  6. OMG, we can form a support group!

  7. I wanna join the support group! I was blown away. And when I looked on goodreads and saw the number of people who were disappointed, I was shocked and saddened. This book is so much more important than Team Peeta vs Team Gale. I hadn’t known that Collins is the daughter of a career military man — that makes this book even more meaningful. She understands the costs of war. To me this was such an ETHICAL book, and I see her as a profoundly ethical writer for being willing to piss off readers who only wanted excitement and game-show-like victories and love triangles and makeovers. It was very upsetting. So is war.

    Plus as I said she writes like a bat out of hell. The pacing! To be so readable, powerful and moral all at the same time? That’s a gift.

  8. Hello, my name is Georgia and I am obsessed with Mockingjay…

  9. I personally think that the most satisfying thing about the ending was that it was unsatisfying. The ending was completely realistic, and Katniss ended up how I think any 17 year old who went through what she did would. All of the characters became real to me in a way that they weren’t in the previous books.

  10. I just started reading The Hunger Games a few days ago and got through all three books in as many days. I too am now OBSESSED with this series, it has had such a profound effect on me. I’m still thinking about days later. What a fantastic YA series and I can’t wait for the movie to come out (as long as they do it justice). I thought Mockingjay was spot on and felt real, like you said. I was happy with the ending :)

  11. I want to agree with this a hundred times, Gayle. I could never have said it in such an articulate way. But YES.

  12. Totally agree, I’m so obessed with Mockingjay, and the series as a whole. I get upset when I hear people who are upset with the ending because it wasn’t happy enough, or because it wasn’t romantic enough. The ending was perfect in it’s simple reality. And add my name to the support group list!

    @nkhptwihard

  13. I felt the ending was satisfying and uplifting because despite the trauma, life continued and there was hope for the future. The characters were damaged by their experience and I appreciate the author letting the characters be affected by events in the story. After harrowing events, “all was well” is a little limp. I was a little dismayed by the Gale vs Peeta hype – that was never really the focus of the story – and happily relieved when it didn’t materialize as a huge factor in the last book. Although the pacing says “high action adventure” the underlying story was a psychological study on the effects of violence, war, torture, etc. It really is haunting. Poor Peeta and Katniss – so broken; I’m glad they had each other to lean on in the end.

  14. Can I join the support group? Because I too am completely obsessed with this book after reading it this weekend. I can’t stop thinking about Katniss and Peeta! And I was so distraught over the death of Finnick!! That broke my heart.

    I loved the authentic way in which Collins dealt with war in this book. It should be dark, it should be painful, it’s war. And as sad as it made me that Katniss and Peeta had to deal with all of the aftereffects of their ordeals, I’m glad they had each other.

    I think the most chilling part of the whole story for me was the very last line of the book. Holy cow!! That sent shivers up my spine and made me want to go back and read “The Hunger Games” again. LOVE this series!!!

  15. Thank You! A standard happy-ending would have ruined the series in my opinion, it would have lessened it. Mockingjay left you with the same feelings after real conflict. No one really wins in a war, it hurts everyone, it stains everyone, both sides commit horrifying actions and everyone left alive is traumatized and shellshocked. The thing with Prim really completed the circle from the beginning and worked for that 1 image for Katniss that broke everything…and the effect it had for her with Gale. That Peeta was broken and that Katniss broke and no matter how they glued themselves together, they wouldn’t be the same. I was thrilled with this book, Collins stuck to her guns and didn’t wimp out and shiny it up.

  16. I totally agree! And I also kept thinking back to HP#7 (especially the whole Finnick/Annie thing compared with the Lupin/Tonks thing…can we please have a little more heartbreak? I don’t think my book is fully ruined by my tears yet) as well.

    I was also disappointed in the number of people who found MOCKINGJAY lacking, since I was so impressed and haunted by it I’m still having dreams about the hunger games. I felt like people were going into this book expecting to see Katniss be like Robin Hood, and instead it was more like watching The Hurt Locker. (That’s sort of a mixed-up analogy, but I’m going with it.)

    The other book ending this made me think of was the finale of LORD OF THE RINGS. I think, in the end, Frodo and Katniss have more similarities than Harry and Katniss. They’re both given a great task that they’re not sure they can handle, and while successful, the task ruins them in a way.

  17. Yes, yes I’ll join the support group! I think it’s interesting that people found the ending either too happy or not happy enough. Probably means it was just right.

  18. Sra KD–you’re so right about the Katniss/Frodo vs Katniss/HP comparisons. When you add in that neither really wants the task they’re given and are in no way equipped to deal with it–it got thrust upon them and they’re doing the best they can to deal with the situation and they’re ALONE. For all the people around them, it’s made very clear that it’s their burden and it’s only chance that made it theirs. Their companions aren’t so much as supporting them as the cause each represents. HP had friends–backing him–he had destiny and the assurance that this was his path from birth. HP also has a LOT more time to prepare, while Katniss/Frodo are just tossed in and left to find their own way and their own definitions of what’s acceptable. Also, neither had a huge reason to believe/accept. HP was always driven, destiny/revenge/life/-who his enemies were was pretty clear. Katniss stepped up to save her sister, Frodo found a ring; in turn they became symbols of a cause–but they always come across (at least to me), as pawns wearing crowns, instead of the actual Queen. HP most definitely was steering his own game more, he had to take the journey to win. Both Katniss/Frodo are worth just as much, if not more, dead than alive, once they’ve put events into motion.

    I think if Collins had tied it up with a big pretty bow, the ending would end up being as disapointing as the last Star Wars movie (*ducking head as tomatoes are thrown*). I liked that Saga so much better when Darth was just the big bad super-evil, it felt like Lucas whimped out at the last minute in order to give him motivation…What never made sense about that to me was…Anakin gets all pissy when they have him join that Jedi council thing but don’t give him full voting rights (even though simply being allowed to serve tea there was apparently a huge deal), but he’s perfectly cool playing second banana for eternity with the Sith lord, lol, just IMHO.

  19. I think Suzanne Collins is one of the most brilliant writers around. I felt shell-shocked after I finished reading Mockingjay, as haunted as the survivors. It’s been a long time since a book has moved me in that way. Whether people like the ending or hate it, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it was an amazing piece of writing and an incredible conclusion to an highly influential series.

  20. It’s difficult to end a beloved series and make everyone happy. Look how many people are still ticked off with how Lost ended. There was no way Collins could make everyone happy with an ending, so she did the ending she wanted to do. And for that, I am thankful. It is a dark book, much more than the two before it.

    Personally, I didn’t like how the love triangle was resolved. I thought the decision was essentially made for her; she never had to make that choice. And while it was never the love triangle of Twilight, it was a clear part of what made the books popular and relatable. Even though her world was vastly different from our daily life, she still had a heck of a time choosing between two guys who showed interest.

    Out of the three, the first was still my favorite, but Mockingjay surpasses Catching Fire. I thought the first book did a very good job of exposing reality television and showcasing how unreal this stuff we eat up is. In this final one, she essentially does the same thing with the news media. It’s a good message. Don’t accept things at face value. At times, I thought this one went a bit over the top in trying to trigger a reaction from the readers (the blood splattering on the fallen camera for example), but I can forgive.

    In today’s world, we are being bombarded with the notion that our world is going to hell in a handbag. That the way of life we have grown accustomed to is disappearing and will be gone for generations, or may never come back at all. Katriss’s world is very much the same. And yet the message is one of hope. Things suck, they might get worse, but we’ll survive. We’ll manage. I can only see that as a positive ending.

    My only real question left is what is Collins writing next and what’s the release date?

  21. Thank you for your words. I think Mockingjay rings with perfect truth–not only about the characters and their world, but about us in our world. It is a flawless ending to an impeccable series.

    –jaime

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