Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mockingjay (A Review Without Spoilers)

I got my review copy of Mockingjay on Tuesday morning, since they didn't send out any advance copies. I took it on vacation and read it between hikes, finishing it Friday morning, three days after I got it. If I had been home, I would've finished it sooner.

I was partly slowed down because I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the first and second books in this trilogy, back to back in March. (I blogged a very little bit about The Hunger Games here.) I remember that a major complaint about Catching Fire was that so much of the beginning of it was summary of The Hunger Games, and while that was frustrating, I think Mockingjay could have used a little more summary. I was grateful for The Hunger Games Wiki when I started Mockingjay; it helped fill me in on some of the details that had slid out of reach. There are so many characters in these books, and I didn't remember who Beetee or Plutarch was, or what happened to Cinna. In fact, as I recall, we don't quite learn what happens to Cinna, though it seems clear what probably happened--but then it's assumed in Mockingjay that we know.

Anyway. Although I don't think this book really stands on its own, it's a great ending to a fabulous trilogy. So read The Hunger Games if you haven't already, and I'll be surprised if you don't want to keep going and see the story through. I think these books are so realistic in their fantasticality: nothing happens that feels impossible. I do take issue with how Collins settles the question of whether Katniss will end up with Peeta or Gale. I love how it isn't clear throughout the book which way she'll go, how you can see her questions and feel how much she values each relationship. Also, Peeta has changed so much, and really, Gale has too. But when you get there, I think the end feels too easy. I don't want to say more, it would be too much of a spoiler, but this is the one thing that feels pat: the answer to Peeta or Gale? which is a complex and interesting question, until it's resolved. Not like I have a better idea for how it could end. I expected one of them to die, and I guess that would have been more irritating in many ways.

In her acknowledgments, Suzanne Collins thanks her late father, "who laid the groundwork for this series with his deep commitment to educating his children on war and peace." This series does closely and thoughtfully examine war and human motives for violence. It's interesting to see how different characters, raised in different ways and essentially in different cultures, though in the same country, have such variant views of values, inequity, the world.

At one point, Plutarch, one of the key leaders of the rebellion, observes, "Now we're in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated. But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We're fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction." But he adds, "Who knows? Maybe this will be it... The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that."

But this is a realistic revolution in the sense that many of the revolutionaries have their own agendas, beyond equality, beyond a better world. And they have their own yearning for power at the expense of anything else. We see the ways in which the personal intersects with the political, and each person brings their own worldview and their own experience into every decision made.

This is a thoughtful, captivating story, and I'm happy to have it in me. At one point, reading alone in my room, I called out, "Good! Good. That's what you were supposed to do, Katniss!" I hadn't been sure she would, but I was hoping so hard. And later in the story, I burst into tears, shocked with grief. Not all good books need to do that to me, but it does usually mean something when I start yelling at a character. I cry more often than I yell, but even that is a signifier: when I cry and I  have to calm myself down by reminding myself, "Elissa, it's a book. She's not real. It's not happening." But I still cry, because it is happening.

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