Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Book 3, The Hunger Games)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins book cover
Mockingjay (2010) is the final book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. Having escaped her second Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is cared for, with her family, in district 13; stronghold of the rebels. As she recovers her strength Katniss is persuaded to be the symbol of the rebel’s revolution, providing a focal point for supporters as the rebels make one final push to overthrow the Capitol and its leader, President Snow. As Katniss grows into her role as the ‘Mockingjay’, the line between good and evil is blurred, as the rebel’s leader, Coin, employs many of the tactics used by the capitol, both in propaganda and the instruments of war. With Peeta in the hands of Snow, Katniss relies on Gale increasingly and, when they finally recover Peeta, he is a hollow shell of his former self, following the torture he has suffered at the Capitol’s hands. The novel builds towards a final show down between the Capitol and the rebels, with Katniss struggling to balance her affection for both Peeta and Gale, with her role as the Mockingjay, and her need to rebel against authority in its many forms.

The politics of the novel are relayed by Katniss who, caring little for the political landscape that surrounds her, does a less than compelling job. Even through Katniss’s eyes however, the politics are insultingly simplistic and the themes are written without any subtlety. Potentially interesting ideas of media manipulation, inherited guilt, and abject poverty, all lack development and fall flat. With the manipulative Coin introduced, and Haymitch becoming significantly nastier, Collins opts to contrive a situation for Katniss to rebel against, rather than let the story takes its natural course and develop into a really interesting social commentary. There is teenage angst, but the ideas, what should be the meat of the novel, are so scatter-gun, and illogically forced into the plot that the overall effect is a real mess. Added to this, the rebellion is so easily and neatly achieved as to be wholly unrealistic, and the climax is jumbled, confused, and bares little relation to real life war.

Collins’s writing has always been fairly pedestrian, even for YA level but, as the pacing and the plot deteriorate, the inadequacies of the writing become increasingly glaring. The characters are wildly inconsistent both within Mockingjay, and across the context of the previous books. Collins doesn’t write complex and psychologically coherent characters, she simply forces plot-developing dialogue into the mouth of whichever character she has to hand; one minute Katniss is generous and compassionate, another she is spiteful; in one moment she’s gormless, in another she is more perceptive than even the most intelligent and experienced characters around her. This inconsistency runs through all the characters, and renders them hollow shells, in no way autonomous. Though Collins’s writing is consistently poor, perhaps the most notable problem is that, in contrast to the gripping style of The Hunger Games, here Collins commits the almost inexcusable sin of being dull throughout. So many of the ideas are rehashed from the previous books, and as the series moves towards its conclusion Collins seems increasingly incapable of writing powerful dramatic scenes to resolve the tensions she has built through the trilogy.

In fact, one of the biggest problems is the ending, which is rushed, illogical, unsatisfying, and an abysmal way to conclude a series that so many readers have invested in. The love triangle that has always been an unwelcome element is resolved in the most half-hearted, nonsensical, and dramatically unsatisfying way possible. That Collins chose to tie it up in this manner only makes its presence all the more aggravating. There is little to be said for the rest of the garbled final chapters; there are elements that leave one incredulous, and others that are a cursory nod to what might have been a satisfying ending.

It has been reported that Collins originally wrote The Hunger Games as a standalone novel, and was asked by her publishers to extend it to a trilogy. The upcoming film adaptations of the trilogy will, it is rumoured, be stretched over four films. These two points sum up the series: a half-decent idea, stretched so thin as to accentuate all its flaws, in pursuit of profit ahead of art. This is a great shame as Katniss had the potential to be a strong and positive female protagonist, in an involving and intelligent commentary on teenage life and society in the modern day. Instead, Collins’s good work at the start of the series is quickly undone; leaving readers with a host of inconsistent and poorly drawn characters, and a jumbled and poorly-realised plot.

A really poor end to the series. Almost mystifyingly bad, and a really unsatisfactory way to draw the trilogy to a close. In the light of this, the whole series loses something and, knowing where the series is going, I really wouldn't recommend picking up the first book.

Useful Links
Reviews of Mockingjay on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of Mockingjay on Amazon (US)

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Claire said...

Don't worry I'm not here to disagree ;), but I think I can see were you are coming from in regards to the ending. For me the last Harry Potter film was ruined by the ending, but I just felt like Mockingjay had so much more meaning behind it. Although I can definitely see why you would say it seemed rushed, great review! :).

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

Haha, that's a pity - I like a good argument ;P

It's funny, I've heard a lot of people reference the end of the Harry Potter series in relation to The Hunger Games. Maybe it's because I read it when I was younger, but I didn't have any problems with Harry Potter - in fact I loved it!

I think there were a lot of themes that Suzanne Collins was working with, which could have been interesting, but that she just didn't develop them and they fell flat for me.

Ah well, horses for courses. Cheers for stopping by :)

Robert said...

I actually liked the third novel because it was so messy. If you accept Collins' conceit that she was trying to write a YA novel about the emotional and psychological toll of war, this approach makes more sense. It's a first person narrative of a young person serving multiple tours on the front line. It can't all be tied up because there's no way Katniss will ever know everything that was going on.

Could she have done more with the story and themes? Absolutely. Mockingjay, in particular, repeats the same points over and over in the second half of the book. I think she was aiming for conflicting narratives of war propaganda and couldn't dig herself out. I liked it for the numbing effect when there was no longer a cutaway from the violence. Katniss actually caring about people not named Peeta again certainly helped.

I do think that Collins was forced to add on the other two books. The first one works as a stand alone story. That ending would have been more fulfilling than Mockingjay's.

whoopeeyoo said...

Thanks for dropping by my site! Wow, your review was incredible! Compared to my blabbering review, this is just nice. I couldn't say it myself but I just agree on everything you said. I felt empty while reading and after reading Mockingjay. And yes, everything was just rushed and forced. I initially gave Mockingjay a 3/5 but I think I got guilty since I loved Catching Fire so much and elevated that to a 4. But I think it's really a 3.5. It just didn't deliver. A really great review you got here, one I can only dream of writing. Haha! Will now explore your blog and read more reviews. :D

Cathy said...

Great review! Can't say I agree with it all, but you make some good points as well :-)

I'm with you that it felt a bit rushed, and that there could have been a bit more development on certain points. And it didn't have that "can't put it down" aspect that the first two books had.

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ Robert

When I was writing the review I thought how sensible Collins's approach sounded on paper. However, I found the whole war more than messy, just unbelievable. I agree that a disjointed style should suit the trauma that some of the characters have undergone, but it didn't ring true for me.

I think there were a lot of good ideas in the trilogy, my main problem was in the execution - there was just so much more that could have been done with the themes.

As you say, the original book works ok as a standalone read, and I'd probably recommend people treat it as such given how the series develops.

Thanks for stopping by and for the well-reasoned comment. :)

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ Robert

Incidentally, I've just started re-reading The Amber Spyglass - I'm so glad that I've chosen now to pick it up again. If I doubted my own opinion of Collins's writing, it's great to be reminded about how intelligently big issues can be written for a young audience.

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ whoopeeyoo

Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. I really like your reviewing style - so much more informal and passionate - full of opinions. Not like my dusty old brain farts ;)

I've been doubting my own opinion a bit, but whenever I sit down and really think about it, I'm comfortable with my first impressions (at least until I get round to reading the book again!)

It's always harder to write a bad review, than a good one. Still, if you believe in it, stick to it I think :)

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ Cathy

It's a strange thing - I can't quite see why it felt so rushed. I'm sure Collins had deadlines from her publishers, but you'd have thought she plotted the book out with a fair amount of forewarning, so I suppose we can only conclude she intended it to read as it does. Either that, or she is one of those authors that take a really long time to churn out a book, and even with a fair amount of warning, didn't have the time to get the book just as she wanted it.

Kristilyn (Reading in Winter) said...

Yes! The ending sucked.

However, now that I've watched the movie, the ending is growing on me. I really think that the movie for Mockingjay will change my opinion of the book. Though, I still maintain the opinion that it's the weakest of the trilogy.

That's funny about the comparison to Harry Potter. I finished reading HP in my 20s and loved the ending! I thought it was a perfect end to a great series. Some people think that Rowling wrapped it all up a little too neatly, but there is always room for growth if she were to expand on the series (which she won't, I know, but now Harry has kids, so who KNOWS what could happen there!).

With the Hunger games series, I really liked how the first two books could stand on their own. The third book was just a bit of a mess and even though I knew what Collins was doing and what she wanted to portray, it just didn't have the same excitement or drive as the first two books.

Great review! (and thanks for visiting mine!)

Jason Dietz said...

Good thoughts. I thought Mockingjay was the least satisfying book of the trilogy, and your analysis here seems to highlight pretty well the reasons why that was so... Thanks!

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ Kristilyn (Reading in Winter)

I haven't seen the first movie yet, but I have high hopes. I really think all the books will translate well to screen and hopefully the director(s) will provide a slightly more coherent ending.

Yes, it's funny. I thought Harry Potter was wrapped up perfectly (I suppose it was always a little more optimistic in tone than HG) but I wonder how I would feel about it if I went back and read the series now. (I'm pretty sure I'd still love it, but it's interesting).

Thanks for dropping by :)

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

@ Jason Dietz

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. It's often harder to express why you don't like a book than why it is you love one, so I'm glad if the review makes sense :)

Anonymous said...

This book was my my least favorite in the trilogy. It didn't have that page turner effect. It was easy to put down. Also, I agree it was rushed. I don't like how katniss turns put mentally at the end and Peeta gets on my nerves. Something I'm confused about is how gale never is mentioned enough at the end. I just don't like how it went together. The first book would have been great without the next two books.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

pdbkwm said...

Hunger Games was good, so I would still recommend that. It did seem that with each book after that got worse.

Even though the ending was bad, I think Harry Potter beat it in that category.

Good review!

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