I’m not sure if I should be angry or depressed about how bad Mockingjay is. To be sure, it’s not like I expected anything of real value from this book given my stance on the two that came before it, but this one still managed to be shockingly abysmal. That’s impressive! But is the phrase, “worse than I imagined it would be” an angry phrase or a depressed one? I suppose that depends upon the punctuation used at the end, but since I’m not sure which negative emotion is the correct one, I’ll keep it ambiguous for now.
Either way, I’m miserable and in need of company. So let’s have at it.
Mockingjay opens up with Katniss in the hospital. As it turns out, Catching Fire’s ending cliffhangered into a rebel rescue and the shocking revelation that District 13 is actually still alive and well. It’s now time for an uprising.
However, the above rescue happens off screen, and that becomes a defining point of Mockingjay: All of the fun stuff happens elsewhere. District 12 was bombed to ash, but Katniss was knocked out during that bit. Rebels go off and rescue Peeta (who was captured (it’s not that important)), but Katniss doesn’t get to go. There’s an entire country-wide uprising, but Katniss is only told what happens. Hell, even the climactic battle at the end happens while Katniss is knocked out. You know what other book ended that way? Twilight.
Instead we are stuck in District 13 with a dreary, boring Katniss who is suffering from PTSD and teenage self-absorption. On one hand, I find it refreshing that Katniss is shown to be so fragile and not perfect, and I believe it’s not only possible but very plausible that she has PTSD. She’s seen and done some very terrible things, and she should not be immune to the horrors of her world. However, she’s also completely insufferable for almost the entire novel, doing little but reacting and feeling sorry for herself.
When Katniss is finally roused into some kind of action, it’s to feed the propaganda machine. President Coin and Plutarch seem to think that making a series of videos will get the rest of Panem to rebel against President Snow, and I suppose there’s merit there. Katniss is dressed up ala the Hunger Games opening ceremony, and she’s filmed doing this and that to rouse the rebel army into greatness.
Sometimes she does a great job with these videos, and sometimes she does not. However, the direct effect of her work is never shown to us. Plutarch shows up and says, “Your propaganda videos have allowed us to take District X!” and then walks away. Katniss can only shrug, hate herself some more, and then go back to hiding in a closet.
Mockingjay is an entire novel where nothing has payoff. Every plot advancement is met with something happening off screen and us being told what happens and how to think about it. It’s very possible that there’s a reason for this, Collins being smart enough to deliver a message, but the execution is terrible and simply not fun. If there’s no payoff, then there’s no point, even if the point is supposed to be a lack of payoff.
One of my main complaints with The Hunger Games was that Collins’ message overshadowed the actual story. If I give Collins the benefit of the doubt and say every problem in Mockingjay was done to make a sociological point, then she’s gone even further, stripping away story for on-the-nose “Hey, our society is like this, isn’t it! You should think about that a bit harder, now shouldn’t you?”
The idea of filming a war from the propaganda/news side is actually brilliant; however, Mockingjay takes that idea and executes it with poor execution (wordplay).
To make matters worse, Mockingjay has the worst prose of all three Hunger Games novels. I’ve never been a fan of Collins’ writing, but it’s absolutely terrible here. If Katniss is uninteresting, the actual writing is worse. This novel is simply hard to pay attention to. There’s a line that goes something like, “…I’m waiting for this to happen. This is what happens:” and I just kind of…well, felt really depressed. Here is a 300-page novel with lifeless writing throughout. Even when the book manages to be interesting, the execution is just so flat that I felt my mind wandering.
And why the hell does Collins reverse the verb order when she attributes talking? The norm is to say “Katniss said” not “says Katniss.” Once I saw that, I couldn’t unsee it and found myself being pulled out of the story even more.
And why the hell does Collins rename morphine to morphling? It does the exact same thing and even has the same root sound. That is not world building. That’s just being daft.
Honestly, the whole book reads as if Collins is writing about something she has no knowledge of. I won’t claim to be an expert on propaganda, but I’m pretty sure filming a person shooting at a building won’t actually win you recruits, even if said person is wearing a nice outfit. Time and time again, Katniss and company do and participate in things that don’t feel real, from military training to filming propaganda, to the actual uprising itself. The entire novel feels fake.
During my review of The Hunger Games, I said I had trouble buying into the world of Panem. There are things that simply don’t make sense, such as the need for coal to power a city with medicine that boarders on magic. Mockingjay takes this problem and amplifies it to the point of near parody. You’re telling me, Collins, that Panem no longer has the technology to make high-altitude airplanes but can genetically create werewolves and completely silent hovercrafts? Really?
And are you honestly telling me that the Capitol city decided to booby trap itself to help protect President Snow? Really? Really? That would be like booby trapping Washington DC to protect Obama. The idea is absolutely stupid. And to take it one step further, half the booby traps don’t even make any sense. They aren’t just bombs but extravagant events, such as a wave of sludge or a meat grinder. Really? Really? Really!?
No. Just no. You cannot expect me to take this seriously if you’re going to pull that kind of illogical nonsense.
And good God, I haven’t even talked about Peeta’s stupid brainwashing! That probably deserves a good paragraph, if not two, but I can’t be bothered. The idea is dumb and the execution is worse. But props for making Peeta more annoying than he already was. I didn’t think that was possible!
The love triangle here returns, but this time it isn’t really subverted. To be sure, Katniss only cares about it on some superficial level, but she spends enough time around Gale and Peeta for us to feel the full force of their love for her. Even if Katniss doesn’t want to choose, we all know she eventually has to. But this is a young adult novel, so expectations must be met.
I do, however, have two positive things to say about Mockingjay. First, Katniss’s relationship with Buttercup throughout the novel is a huge highlight and a great example showing character development with the mundane. But I’m also a cat person and a sucker for anything with cats in it.
The second is the epilogue, which is so bleak that I couldn’t help but feel some connection with Katniss. She was just as depressed as I was!
Mockingjay is a terrible end to a series whose highlight is being just above mediocre. But hey, we get four movie adaptations because culturally, our standards are in the dirt. Mediocre is excellence and excellence is pretentious. Meanwhile Adam Sandler keeps making movies and people call Interstellar confusing.
Oh. It seems I went with depression and not anger. I’m sorry. Hey, at least we all agreed that Guardians of the Galaxy was amazing! That Rocket and Groot team-up, pretty awesome huh? Damn, I sure can’t wait for the next one of those.
Oh yeah. Almost forgot: Mockingjay is “worse than I imagined it would be…”