I didn’t love the first two books in this series – the worldbuilding is flimsy and I couldn’t help comparing them to the remarkably similar Battle Royale movie, which I like a lot more - but I liked Katniss, her narrative voice, and the energy of the story enough to keep reading. That was a mistake.

Not only is Mockingjay awesomely depressing, but the elements I enjoyed in the first two books are absent. It lacks energy, and Katniss’s character has changed radically and off-page before the book begins: the angry, determined survivor of the first two novels is gone, replaced by a clinically depressed and passive girl who spends most of the book in a despairing haze, being moved around like a pawn by authority figures.

This was such a deliberately and consistently grim novel that I ended up sorry that I read it, and I rarely feel that way. The first two books were dark in ways which logically followed from the premise: the story was about kids forced to kill in gladiatorial combat, and kids were killed in gladiatorial combat. This one is dark in ways which logically follow from the premise, but also in ways which don't. Sometimes people act out of character solely so that horrible things can happen, and a climactic scene makes absolutely no sense solely so that the most horrible thing of all can happen.

My usual example separating inherently depressing from gratuitously depressing is a Holocaust novel in which everyone dies in a concentration camp, and a Holocaust novel in which everyone dies in a concentration camp except for the protagonist's true love, who is liberated, runs joyously across the street to meet her, and is squashed by a cement truck. Not only was the cement truck not a logical consequence of genocide, but by adding implausible elements to make genocide even more depressing, the entire novel and so the genocide it contains seem less real, and so defeats the author's purpose.

Mockingjay is a cement truck novel.

It’s not necessary to write a book which is no fun in order to point out that war is bad, nor is it necessary to make the book excruciatingly depressing in order to convey that the heroine is depressed. Aristotle wrote all about the paradox of audiences getting profound enjoyment out of watching horrific tragedies unfold onstage. The emotional state of the protagonist does not have to be inflicted on the audience to make the audience to understand how the protagonist is feeling.

The first spoiler cut only describes the first sixteen pages, which is one of the most stunningly depressing openings I’ve ever read.



The page numbering starts at 3.

Page 3: Katniss stumbles despairingly through the firebombed ash of her district.

Page 5: Drugged, concussed, and depressed, Katniss stares at the mounds of corpses and blames herself.

Page 6: 90% of her district is dead and it's all her fault.

Page 8: District 13, which she’d hoped was the Promised Land or at least okay, turned out to be a fascist hellhole.

Page 9: Peeta is being tortured by Capitol and his entire family is dead. Katniss breathes in the ashes of her friends.

Page 11. Finnick is brain-damaged and/or having a total mental breakdown.

Page 12. It’s revealed that Cinna died off-page. (Cinna was one of my favorite characters and at least deserved an on-page death.)

Page 13. Yay! A moment of happiness! Prim's cat Buttercup survived... by eating the corpses of Katniss's friends.

Page 16: It’s revealed that the girls who helped Katniss in the previous book, Bonnie and Twill, died horribly off-page. This is completely gratuitous - they didn't even have to be mentioned and it would have been completely plausible if they'd escaped, but are brought up just so Katniss can know that they burned to death.



Had I been normally browsing, I would probably have given up there. However, I was determined to stay at air-conditioned Borders to prevent heat exhaustion, so I continued, cool but depressed.

The next spoiler cut is for the rest of the book.



Katniss is depressed, despairing, and unmotivated on page one. There is nowhere to go from there, other than "total mental breakdown." (Or up, if it was the kind of book in which up was a possibility.) When she grimly realizes that Capitol will use Peeta to break her, I thought, "That's unnecessary!"

I was bored by the PTSD in this book. It felt very textbook, especially as everyone had the exact same symptoms. It was like "flashbacks, check; nightmares, check; jumpiness, check; loss of concentration, check; total despair, check." It wasn’t that it was wrong, it’s that neither people nor mental illnesses are cookie-cut-outs.

When Katniss briefly feels like she’s done something good by comforting the wounded, the hospital is promptly bombed and everyone is killed. The one person from 13 whom Katniss likes gets his legs blown off and dies in agony. Her entire team, except for Gale and Peeta, dies horribly.

Finnick, once a source of light relief and interesting complexity in that he seemed to enjoy his status as a sex symbol despite its horrific origins, reveals that actually he was a sex slave and was being raped and forced to pretend to enjoy it. He’s borderline catatonic for much of the book. When he recovers, gets married, and is happy, I immediately thought, “He’s so dead!” Sure enough, he is soon after eaten by lizard-dogs.

Katniss spends most of the book being passive, hospitalized, or manipulated by others. Nothing she does of her own accord in the entire book, up until the moment when she kills Coin, ever succeeds. Even her mission to kill Snow fails. Though apparently it provided a diversion, so the rebels could... kill their own medics, including Katniss’s sister. What?

The final cherry of doom on the sundae of despair is the death of Prim. The completely nonsensical way this came about illustrates how so much of the grimness was shoehorned in for its own sake, not because the story logically led there. If the bombs were dropped by the rebels, why did the rebels let their own medics rush in to be killed? If the bombs were dropped by Capitol, why would they take out their own shield?

The fact that we didn't even see the long-term consequences of Prim’s death made it seem dually wrong: only there to rub in that everything sucks, AND to make the happy ending even more unconvincing!

By the end, Katniss is utterly broken and suicidal, Peeta has been psychologically destroyed, Gale has turned into a monster, and nearly everyone Katniss ever loved or even met is dead. In this context, the happy ending is ludicrous. Also, her "choice" of Peeta is meaningless, as Gale took himself out of the running by becoming a brutal terrorist who directly or indirectly killed her sister, and living alone, in the state she was in, would have quickly resulted in her suicide.

Apart from her personal life, if we are to believe a better government was put in, who put it there? Everyone we know is either dead, tending their garden, or evil. So... offpage people we never met fixed everything? But from what we’ve seen, the rebels are exactly as evil as the tyranny. (Not actually a profound point, by the way, and also one which inherently supports the status quo: if a rebellion will kill a lot of people only to install an equally evil government, then it’s wrong to rebel.) I'm fine with moral greyness and both sides doing terrible things, but the rebels were so awful that I didn't see how they’d be better than Capitol, other than not holding Hunger Games.

Regarding Katniss’s agreement to hold rebel Hunger Games, I interpreted that as a plot to kill Coin, based on Katniss's exchange with Haymitch. But it's never confirmed whether that was correct, or whether she did mean it but changed her mind at the last moment, or what she thought would happen after Coin died. It’s Katniss's one moment of triumph in the entire book, and we never learn what she thought she was doing.



If you haven’t started the series but you want to, I would recommend reading only the first book and possibly the second (though that one ends on a bigger cliffhanger), then writing your own ending.

The Hunger Games - Library Edition

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) - Library Edition

Battle Royale: Director's Cut (Collector's Edition). Warning: very violent and disturbing, doubly so because it’s live-action and the teenagers look like (and I think are mostly played by) real teenagers, not young-looking adults.
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cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)

From: [personal profile] cofax7


This was such a deliberately and consistently grim novel that I ended up sorry that I read it

QFT, as they say. I really resented the story, in the end: Katniss didn't have a single moment of triumph, Prim's meaningless death undercut the entire point of the whole series from Katniss' perspective, and Collins was so desperate to keep using the game-pods trope from the first novels that she undercut what little believable world-building she had. To which: why on earth would the Capitol leave all those deadly things lying around in the streets to take out their own people? You don't mine a field your own citizens are currently working!

One of my nieces just read the first one, and loved it so much, and I don't know what to tell her about the rest of the series.

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inkstone: Samurai Deeper Kyo's Yuya sighing over a book, caption: reading is money (reading)

From: [personal profile] inkstone


Oh. My. God. I haaaaaaaated this book. I hated that it became this venue for Collins's personal agenda. Thanks for letting us know (multiple times!!) that war does terrible things to people and that governments (both old and new) involved in war are all bad.

And yes! The mental illness in this book! I was like, "...you do realize people traumatized by war do not all react in exactly the same way!!"
yahtzee: (Default)

From: [personal profile] yahtzee


Although I did find the grimness of MOCKINGJAY a little too much, I liked it better than you. The book where I found Katniss overly passive was CATCHING FIRE; in MOCKINGJAY, she had less power, but she was doing her best to work within those constraints -- something largely absent in CF. And while I felt like more people could and should have lived (Finnick being the most gratuitous of the deaths), Prim's death I thought was absolutely necessary. It made Katniss' choice between a life of anger and a life of healing crystallize as nothing else could've done. And it set up her choice to destroy Coin in a way that made it more than a political assassination (thought of course it was primarily that.)

The main problem I had was actually Peeta's passiveness. Yes, it is Katniss' story more than anyone else's, but so much of the worst stuff that happens to her in the books happens to them. Peeta arguably has it worse in MOCKINGJAY. I wanted a moment where they were able to unify and strike back at the Capitol and/or Coin together and very much felt the lack of one.
octopedingenue: (Default)

From: [personal profile] octopedingenue


I vote instead of a cement truck hitting the Holocaust protagonist's true love, the protagonist and true love escape in a getaway cement truck and drive off to celebrate their joyful new life together...and a cliff suddenly gives way under the truck, tumbling them into the Grand Canyon. The End. (Yes, somehow there is a Holocaust concentration camp in Arizona.)

Have you read the Battle Royale novel upon which the movie was based? It's flawed but an interesting comparison to the Hunger Games, with a more defiant ending. It also pulls the experimental trick of narrating from the POV of every teen on the island at least once--even when this results in building up a character for three pages of exploring their hopes and fears, and on page four they die horribly.

(Worse, they survive their first shot at narration, you think they're safe, and then come round two BLAM.)

From: [personal profile] vito_excalibur


Not only was the cement truck not a logical consequence of genocide, but by adding implausible elements to make genocide even more depressing, the entire novel and so the genocide it contains seem less real, and so defeats the author's purpose.

I HATE those kinds of stories! I am looking right at you, Victor Hugo. Stop hiding behind him, Thomas Hardy!
sasha_feather: Toph and Katara from avatar: the last airbender cartoon (Toph and Katara)

From: [personal profile] sasha_feather


Thanks for this review. I wasn't sure what I thought of any of these books, except I knew I was annoyed by the "oh no two boys like me!" trope. I was frustrated that Katniss did not become political, did not seem to take an interest in politics much at all. The trial after Coin's assassination was off-page; surely that could have been a grand political moment for her. Surely she and Peeta could have become leaders.
ext_7025: (Default)

From: [identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com


When he recovers, gets married, and is happy

Oh, fer fuck's sake. I quit reading when I found out that he dies--I'd already pretty much given up, but that was the final straw (Cinna would have been, except I was positive at the end of the previous book that he was dead). But married? Finnick? That's even worse!

There were so many interesting things that could have been done with the Annie thing, and Collins went for none of them, and instead: exactly the most obvious and boring explanation of who-what-why possible. Disappointing. Very disappointing.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


And he never enjoyed sex or being sexy, except with Annie! It was all rape!


From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


People seem to have WILDLY different reactions to this book.

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chomiji: A cartoon image of chomiji, who is holding a coffee mug and a book and wearing kitty-cat ears (Tenpou - bad book)

From: [personal profile] chomiji


Interesting. I never read books that I know are super-depressing because, you know, real life has enough of those kind of moments almost every day in the news. But an awful lot of my younger friends seem to like this series. It makes me wonder whetehr this is some kind of an over-reaction to female-protagonist series where things are sweetness and light and marriage-plus-babies: instead, terrible things happen, and our heroine Endures! It's awesome!

>sigh<

It reminds me of when people would insist that I really, really ought to read Sheri Tepper. The few things I tried (The Family Tree and Beauty are the ones I recall) gave me the shudders for weeks afterward. Serious Themes do not necessarily equal Great Literature, especially when coupled with Wallowing in the Awfulness of It All.


From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


The first two books have a depressing premise, but play out as exciting action sf rather than Awesomely Depressing.

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From: [identity profile] loligo.livejournal.com


My usual example separating inherently depressing from gratuitously depressing is a Holocaust novel in which everyone dies in a concentration camp, and a Holocaust novel in which everyone dies in a concentration camp except for the protagonist's true love, who is liberated, runs joyously across the street to meet her, and is squashed by a cement truck. Not only was the cement truck not a logical consequence of genocide, but by adding implausible elements to make genocide even more depressing, the entire novel and so the genocide it contains seem less real, and so defeats the author's purpose.

Well said!

From: [identity profile] tavella.livejournal.com


Yeah, I read this (well, skimmed more after the first bit) because people had said good things about the series, and I kept thinking "this is the great, determined female lead everyone was talking about?"

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From: [identity profile] telophase.livejournal.com


...Katniss breathes in the ashes of her friends.

You know, I've worked in museums moving and packing human remains, and it's always affecting when you realize that you're sniffling and coughing because you're breathing in dust from the bones of humans dead a thousand years, but this is just ridiculous.
ext_6284: Estara Swanberg, made by Thao (Default)

From: [identity profile] estara.livejournal.com

re: Books that show the horror of war but are not awesomely depressing all the time


I think you will enjoy reading Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein when it comes out (well, at least in the UK, but that's what Amazon is for). It's about World War 2 in France and British female pilots and wireless operators that help the French resistance, and about female friendship.
Bring tissues, though!

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Re: Books that show the horror of war but are not awesomely depressing all the time


I will be all over that one, like anything else she writes. But I additionally have a thing for female pilots, female friendship, and the French Resistance, so it's like she wrote a book just for me!

From: [identity profile] vom-marlowe.livejournal.com


Wow.

I am so glad I did not pick up this series for my YA fantasy binge. Jeez.

From: [identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com


Prim's cat Buttercup survived... by eating the corpses of Katniss's friends.

Is it only me who finds this riotously funny?

I read the first one, which I liked, but not enough to read the second. Am glad.

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com


As I said in my own review, I really wanted to like this book, because I really liked Hunger Games and thought that Catching Fire, while suffering some middle-book problems, was enjoyable and promising.

I did not, could not like this book. It was not a horrible book or a horribly-written book, but it felt a lot like a book designed to make its readers feel horrible. It was unrelentingly grim and depressing, but it was also dull—and since Collins was able to write excitingly and engagingly in the first two books of the series, all I can think was that it was dull on purpose, not through lack of skill.

Mostly, though, what I objected to was that Katniss never got to have any victories at all. Granted, she spent most of the book in a traumatized/depressed haze and didn't try to do anything, but even when she did try... Katniss goes out to comfort patients in a hospital? THEY ALL DIE. Katniss attempts to prevent 13 from killing all the workers in 2? SHE GETS SHOT. Peeta shows up again? HE HATES HER AND WANTS TO KILL HER. Katniss almost never got up the gumption to do anything, but whenever she did, she got swatted like a fly.

Even if you accept (which I don't, personally, because individuals with PTSD are still individuals and still react differently to different things) that the depressed haze was an unavoidable consequence of her trauma... even if you accept that, the problem is that the book's hopelessness is clearly not just internal to Katniss. It's not that Katniss is depressed and is therefore interpreting everything in the worst way possible and that's why the book is so grim. The narrative reinforces the grimness: it really is that bad, it really is hopeless and pointless, it really is better to dig a hole in the ground and hide in it than to do anything. (Until the peculiar epilogue, of course.)

Ultimately, between the fact that the rebels and the Capitol were both equally awful, and the fact that everyone who was happy got punished for it, and the fact that Katniss got smacked down whenever she actually tried to do anything positive--as did everyone else who tried to do anything positive--the take-home message seemed to be "There's no point in bothering to try. Everything is hopeless."

It was hard not to interpret as, "It was wrong to rebel. Everything is going to be just as bad after, because all politics and all governments are equally evil. If you try to get rid of despots, you'll only make things worse."

Which is a message that I personally find pretty unappealing. And it's a message that flies totally in the face of the prior books: in The Hunger Games, when all hope seems lost, Katniss decides it's better to die with dignity than give in, and manages to wrench victory (or at least a reprieve) from defeat. That Katniss seemed irretrievably lost, and I didn't like that at all.

And I really did want to like the book.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Even if you buy Katniss's rather vague statement that the world was improved by what she did (and I'm not sure it was - yes, it's great that there are no more Hunger Games, but Vicious Terrorist!Gale is the only person we know to be involved in the government, so the new boss could be doing things just as bad) Katniss herself is worse off than she was before: she's a mess, Peeta is a mess, Prim is dead, Gale is evil, everyone else she ever liked is dead, and... it's all okay because she has babies?!

I feel like this is the bad version of Lloyd Alexander's fantastic Westmark trilogy.

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From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com


Yay! A moment of happiness! Prim's cat Buttercup survived... by eating the corpses of Katniss's friends.

I am so Team Buttercup. Love that cat. Love that the cat lives.

Am working on a theory that one can only afford to kill the cat if somewhere else in the story, things work out kinda okay. :-)

I enjoyed Mockingjay. I wanted Katniss to make some small, positive change--to use her power for good (her Mockingjay power, not her mad archery power)--at some point, in some way, and in doing so give us a small note of hope--but the more I think about it, the more I don't feel like that was the story the author wanted to tell, though it was the story I wanted. But it wasn't enough to keep me from enjoying it. Not sure why, entirely.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I think you can only kill the cat if the story overall works out okay.

What did you think of the epilogue? I too got the sense overall that the story Collins wanted to tell was one in which no good can ever come from war, and the entire story was about that... except for the epilogue, which to me rang entirely false.

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From: [identity profile] consonantia.livejournal.com


What you say about things logically following from premises and not being gratuitous is something I'm always going on about when it comes to fiction and film; I call it exigence. A related idea - I hope the relation is not just in my head! - I learned recently is medium-specificity. It's all about things feeling necessary, coherent, driven from the inside out rather than dictated from the outside in.

Also, I <3 you. Muah!

From: [identity profile] faithhopetricks.livejournal.com


My usual example separating inherently depressing from gratuitously depressing is a Holocaust novel in which everyone dies in a concentration camp, and a Holocaust novel in which everyone dies in a concentration camp except for the protagonist's true love, who is liberated, runs joyously across the street to meet her, and is squashed by a cement truck. Not only was the cement truck not a logical consequence of genocide, but by adding implausible elements to make genocide even more depressing, the entire novel and so the genocide it contains seem less real, and so defeats the author's purpose.

OH MAN. That's an actual book, isn't it? Do I want to know?

Mockingjay is a cement truck novel.

'Cement truck novel' = Term of Awesome.

The page numbering starts at 3.
Page 3: Katniss stumbles despairingly through the firebombed ash of her district.


o.000000000000000

Page 5: Drugged, concussed, and depressed, Katniss stares at the mounds of corpses and blames herself.

So....yeah!

Page 6: 90% of her district is dead and it's all her fault.

Katniss breathes in the ashes of her friends.

what

Page 13. Yay! A moment of happiness! Prim's cat Buttercup survived... by eating the corpses of Katniss's friends.

//glances at elderly calico

When Katniss briefly feels like she’s done something good by comforting the wounded, the hospital is promptly bombed and everyone is killed

OY

When he recovers, gets married, and is happy, I immediately thought, “He’s so dead!” Sure enough, he is soon after eaten by lizard-dogs.

................well, I knew I probably wasn't going to read this anyway.

The final cherry of doom on the sundae of despair is the death of Prim

'Cherry of doom' also = Term of Awesome.

Isn't....Prim the sister she originally steps in to save, at the beginning of the first book? Because braid my hair and call me Pollyanna, but I hate endings like that. I don't think there's anything wrong with tragedy, or despairing literature (I like Plath and Dostoevsky, for God's sake). But yeah, I have no patience for cement-truck stuff. It's just gratuitous.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


OH MAN. That's an actual book, isn't it?

Well, not to my knowledge. But it could be!

Isn't....Prim the sister she originally steps in to save, at the beginning of the first book?

Yes. The entire story happens because Katniss wanted to save her sister. In book three, Katniss becomes the indirect cause of Prim being burned to death.

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From: [identity profile] mercwriter.livejournal.com


Wow. I gave up after about 120 pages, and couldn't quite figure out WHY (beyond 'jeez, does it get any more depressing, and will Katniss get off her ass and DO something already?') -- so I decided I didn't care about spoilers and read this, and wow. I'm kinda glad I didn't finish.

I am Seriously Not Impressed by the book now.

o.O

Thanks for the post-- I will not bother finishing the book at a later time.

From: [identity profile] everstar3.livejournal.com


Page 13. Yay! A moment of happiness! Prim's cat Buttercup survived... by eating the corpses of Katniss's friends.

It figures I was eating a hamburger when I read that line.

ETA: also I am now irresistably reminded of the X-Files. Sigh.
Edited Date: 2011-01-03 10:17 pm (UTC)
matt_doyle: (Default)

From: [personal profile] matt_doyle


Hm. I both agree with most of this review, and still enjoyed Mockingjay, but I'm not sure I can articulate why. It was definitely not as good as the previous books (I actually think the high point of the trilogy is right before the games begin in the second book and it's all downhill from there), but despite frustrating me with its hopelessness, there were still quite a few things that hooked me (I liked seeing what was going on under the surface with Finnick, and I was interested by the developments with Peeta post-rescue, and the ambiguity of Katniss voting for a final Hunger Game really worked for me). Still, I'm not sure how I come out feeling good about the book in the final analysis, when I agree with so many of the criticisms here.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter


WOW. I thought it could not be more depressing than what you wrote about it in another book but OMGWTFBBQ?!?! Also, so so so so so so glad I didn't even try to read the first ten pages!

From: [identity profile] emily goodman (from livejournal.com)

Problem trilogies


Hi -- Just discovered your LJ and have been reading, comparing notes on books and chortling over some entries (like this one). What fun!

My reaction to MOCKINGJAY was that everyone has to write a trilogy these days -- a single book is just SO last millennium. I've recently read 3 trilogies, all of which had first books ranging from quite interesting (Scott Westerfield's UGLIES) to impressive (Patrick Ness's KNIFE OF . . .), and including HUNGER GAMES. And in all 3 cases, I think they could have told their whole story in 1 book, and I wish they had, because the remaining books in the series weren't as good as the first one and didn't really add much new to the story.

MOCKINGJAY does add a feeling of exhaustion after so much has happened and so many pages have been turned which I don't think the author could have gotten after just 1 book, and which I think she wanted -- but was it worth all the effort to get that feeling of exhaustion when it cancels out so much that was good in HUNGER GAMES? I wish I'd stopped after the first book, and I wish she had too.
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