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.

Spoilers trip over the skulls of loved ones )

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.

Spoilers fall, everybody dies )

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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