Monday, April 11, 2011

Why Mockingjay Was the Best Way For "The Hunger Games" To End...

I always have a hard time answering when people ask me if I liked Mockingjay, the third book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

Does anyone 'like' brain surgery? You might be glad that you had it, but you don't enjoy it. Does anyone 'like' having their emotions put through a meat grinder? Can I really 'like' something that brought me (and so many characters that I love) so much pain?

And yet, I can't tell people I didn't like it, either. If you have read the first two books in the series, it is absolutely imperative that you read the third as well. I feel like if I tell people I didn't like it, they will not want to read it. And that is the opposite reaction I want them to have.

And that's why I was so happy this week, when I finally found a word to describe how Mockingjay made me feel.


Mockingjay is a book of raw emotions (and that is only compounded if you go without sleep to read it, as I did). I have heard lots of complaints people have made, and I'd like to address a few of them here.

First of all, people have complained that Katniss, the main character, spends too much time hiding, or is too compliant, or is too emotionally unstable. But I would ask them one thing. Who wouldn't be?

Sure, it's nice to read books about characters rising up against all odds and becoming the leader that their people need. But that is, in some form, wish fulfillment. We would like to believe that we could do the same. That when life has knocked us down time and time again, we would still be able to rise up and lead.

But this is the truth. Katniss was a 17 year old girl who had gone through more trials and witnessed more atrocities than almost anyone could possibly understand. She was never a person who could stand in front of a crowd and inspire people with her words. Could Ms. Collins have made The Hunger Games the story of how Katniss became that person? Sure. But she didn't. She made it the story of how Katniss led, not by changing who she was, but by holding on to who she was. The way Katniss behaved was how almost any sane person would in her position. And, in my opinion, Suzanne Collins did an excellent job of making us feel just how unstable and damaged Katniss was by the events of the past year.

Another complaint I have heard is that the book was too depressing. Or that Ms. Collins kills characters unnecessarily and lazily. In part, I would agree with these people. Mockingjay was, in large part, a depressing book. And several beloved characters died for, it would seem at first glance, no apparent purpose.

I certainly didn't expect it, but I was just one more person who sometimes forgot just what story Ms. Collins was trying to tell. And in part, I don't think anyone really knew what story she was trying to tell until Mockingjay came out. The love-triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta is certainly one of my favorite parts of the books, and in the waiting between Catching Fire and Mockingjay, it was easy to blow that part of the story out of proportion. The focus of Mockingjay was where it should have been. On war. On how we, as humans, deal with pain and terror. On how there is hope even in the darkest night.

The Hunger Games, overall, is a story of war. And in war, there are tragic losses. It breaks my heart to sound so cold about that fact, but it is one of the things I really loved most about Mockingjay. In the final climax, I could feel the booby-traps around me, ready to activate at any moment. I felt transported to the Capitol. Like I was running through the streets with these characters whom I loved so dearly, knowing that at any moment, any one of us might be dead.

It's a feeling I truly cannot say I've gotten from any other book, ever. And Ms. Collins did that by doing a few very unpopular things. Killing one character in particular. If you blink, you'll miss it. One minute (character's name) is there, and the next (character's name) isn't. People who've read it know who I mean. Thinking about (character's name), and seeing certain quotes from the final chapter of Mockingjay still cause a reaction of almost physical pain, from me. I would give a lot to have one more scene with said character. A chance to say goodbye. But the truth is, war isn't Hollywood. Real life doesn't feel obligated to give someone a good 'death scene' or be sure that their sacrifice was necessarily 'meaningful'. And Suzanne Collins captures this perfectly.

That is the story of Mockingjay. Life isn't fair. Pain, and fear, and loss strike at all of us. War takes life indiscriminately. Anyone can make a difference.

And in the end, when war, and bloodshed, and revolution finally cease, those who are left can pick up the pieces. In the end, life, love, and happiness still survive. Mockingjay takes us to dark places, some of which upset fans greatly. But without those moments of painful realism, and pure raw emotion, the conclusion would have fallen flat. Only the depth of pain and tragedy that we went through, could allow us to experience the true triumph of the characters who survived so much.


  1. Wow! Madi, that is an awesome post. Almost makes me want to read the books. Seriously! Great post!

  2. Well-written, Madi. You brought up a good point when you said,

    "But the truth is, war isn't Hollywood. Real life doesn't feel obligated to give someone a good 'death scene' or be sure that their sacrifice was necessarily 'meaningful'. And Suzanne Collins captures this perfectly."

    I hadn't thought about it that way before.