Note on SPOILERS: This review is for the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy. It’s impossible to discuss without giving spoilers for both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
The Mockingjay is an unsatisfying finish and the weakest of the three books, but the reason is hard to pinpoint. Whatever criticism can be heaped upon The Mockingjay can be applied to the other books: the frenetic pacing, the crummy love triangle, an unlikable protagonist, etc. In The Mockingjay, however, these flaws are amped up and harder to overlook. It lacks the spare moments of warmth and hope that were always found in the others. I don’t think it’s solid to write off a book as “too dark,” but the moments of darkness in The Mockingjay come at the expense of everything that has been previously established. Characters act out of sorts, seemingly for the express purpose of sinking the book faster. (In critiquing such actions, I’ll be careful to not give away the body count or ending; additionally, so much happens in this book that the details given here aren’t as spoiler-y as they may seem.)
The book is set a week or two after the events of Catching Fire. Peeta is being held by the Capitol and there is no news as to whether he’s dead or alive. Katniss, Gale, and the District 12 survivors are living underground in District 13. Katniss spends a good amount of time blowing off her responsibilities to nap in closets and contemplate whether or not she wants to become the face of the rebellion as the Mockingjay. Everything is being done to convince her to step into the role of figurehead by 13’s leader: President Coin. I use the word figurehead, because this is all Katniss can be. She’s a good face for a resistance, but it’s laughable to think of her as a leader.
Gale and Katniss share moments alone that I think are supposed to be meaningful, but they’ve drifted so far from each other that it no longer feels genuine when she calls him her best friend. Collins wants the most out of her love triangle and isn’t going to let a little lack of compatibility get in her way. (I don’t imagine the filmmakers will either, have you seen the gorgeous men they found to play Gale and Peeta?) In this book, Collins has lost her grip on the lead characters, and it falls to the reader to remember what was initially compelling about them.
Once Katniss’s sister, Prim, tells her to cut a deal with Coin by agreeing to be the Mockingjay, Katniss does so. From this point, there’s much of the same pageantry as when the Capitol prepared her for the Games. There is much talk of what she should wear, how she should be styled, what she should say etc. It becomes clear that Katniss can’t be given a script; she only does well in real world scenarios. To create propaganda for the rebellion, they decide to film her participation in minor, controlled battle situations. Because these scenes are so much about playacting, it becomes difficult to see Katniss as a real player in a real rebellion. Once this happens, it seems there is less and less at stake even as the tension of the book begins in earnest.
Then Peeta arrives in 13 after being brainwashed (“hijacked”) by the Capitol into a dark version of himself who hates and distrusts Katniss. Until this point, Peeta’s strength has been one of the brighter points of the trilogy. He is steady and dependable, bringing a warmth that is lacking in all the other major players. Katniss must now try to win Peeta back over to himself, but she’s not terribly interested in doing so. While Katniss has been cold in the past, her strength and compassion for the underdogs of the world made her palatable. She slips from that standard here.
When these books began, Katniss, Peeta, etc. were the counterbalance to the Capitol’s cruelty and coldness. Now that Peeta has been damaged and Katniss is unfeeling, there is little separating the two groups. This is something Collins plays with as she contrasts the propaganda of District 13 with the pageantry of the Capitol. It’s an interesting contrast to show the similarities between Presidents Coin and Snow, but dragging Katniss down also is on par with having Han, Luke, and Leia decide to be petulant, selfish jerks in The Return of the Jedi. It just doesn’t work.
So long as Katniss is going to sacrifice her better self for the sake of the rebellion, you’d think she’d be good at moving it along, right? Katniss tells her comrades and camera crew that she’s supposed to deviate from the schedule of photo ops for a real mission. When she leads them into a corner and feels guilty that they’re dying one after another, she confesses:
When everyone finally awakens, I confess. How I lied about the mission, how I jeopardized everyone in the pursuit of revenge. There’s a long silence after I finish. Then Gale says, “Katniss, we all knew you were lying about Coin sending you to assassinate Snow.”
“You knew, maybe. The soldiers from Thirteen didn’t,” I reply.
“Do you really think Jackson believed you had orders from Coin?” Cressida asks. “Of course she didn’t. But she trusts Boggs, he’d clearly wanted you to go on.”
“I never even told Boggs what I planned to do,” I say.
“You told everyone in Command!” Gale says. “It was one of your conditions for being the Mockingjay. ‘I kill Snow.'”(324)
When I was little, I’d pull elaborate April Fools jokes that never tricked anyone. I’d hop around, insisting I’d gotten them, until they patiently explained how they’d known all along. I feel like this scene is an image of those moments of my childhood (except with guns). I understand that the root of this exchange is to show Katniss’s charisma: People have enough faith in her to follow her anywhere. But the mess the mission becomes only illustrates how misplaced this faith is.
Then, finally, Katniss and the remnants of her squad are near President Snow’s mansion. If you’re like me, you’ll get to this part and say, “Wait, there aren’t enough pages left for a satisfying conclusion!” As of page 345 of 390, Katniss still doesn’t know how she’ll get into the mansion. Even if she were to shoot Snow on the next page . . . is 44 pages enough to handle the fall-out, resolve the rebellion, and conclude this silly love triangle?
What happens? There is chaos. And Katniss wakes up in the hospital where the chaotic events are explained to her. There’s not even dialogue for this:
So I don’t ask about anyone or anything, but people bring me a steady stream of information. On the war: [one sentence, omitted due to spoilers]. On President Snow: [one sentence, also omitted]. On my assassination team: [four brief sentences, omitted]. On my family: [one sentence, omitted]. (351)
That brings us to page 351 of 390. That recap blew through a lot of stuff in few pages . . . maybe there’s time for a satisfying ending . . . please? Katniss gets dolled up for a big day where the last few things may be resolved, but there is more chaos and she’s out of commission again. When she’s back, the final events are explained to her in much the same way as they were at the hospital.
To be fair, Collins is correct to realize Katniss can’t do everything to push the rebellion to its conclusion, so she has Katniss star in the places she can, then takes her offstage for the rest. That’s fine. But it isn’t too much to assume that Katniss will be heavily involved with the people who do the heavy lifting. This handy device of sending her away and sloppily informing the reader after the fact in a flat, minimalistic way is not satisfying to someone who has spent approximately 1,155 pages with these characters.
Mercifully, the end improves once Collins stops summarizing, but then she tacks on an epilogue only a notch above J. K. Rowling’s infamous epilogue for The Deathly Hallows. Yikes.
Overall: 2.5 (out of 5.0) The worst of the trilogy, but you can’t avoid it if you want to know what happens. And because the first book is so promising . . . you will want to know what happens. This book is a necessary evil for the curious. I am just so disappointed in the change in Katniss and the overall icy tone that further isolated the characters and stunted their interactions (a lack of chemistry independent from the expected doom and gloom of the rebellion).