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.