Seriously, Suzanne Collins? Seriously?
Like any other warm blooded, YA-loving, post-apocalyptic girl, I was waiting all summer with my finger poised over my amazon.com "order" button for your book. All June and July, I was dreaming of your take-no-prisoners, arrow slinging teenage heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and her two possible suitors: the stalwart miner-by-day hunter-by-night Gale, and the gentle croissant maker turned scary reality show contestant Peeta.
I shot a couple of arrows at a fair and for about half a second, felt very Katniss-like. My (adult) friends and I engaged in all sorts of ridiculous SAT style word games on your characters' behalf: Gale is to Peeta as Han Solo is to blank? (Luke Skywalker, of course. See this hilarious post from Forever Young Adult for more similar silliness.)
I was all aquiver (pun intended) with anticipation, imagining what delightful reality TV-inspired machinations you might create in your spookily possible futuristic world of 'the hunger games' - where the downtrodden districts willingly send their children off to an all televised gladiator-style fight to the death for the amusement of the ruling Capitol. Your final book was in my mind no less than a documentation of a social justice movement - the downtrodden rising up against their overly plastic surgeried oppressors, Katniss taking her place as the Mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion and freedom. (I even hummed a few bars of Do you hear the people sing from Les Miserables as I wrote this)
So what the heck happened? Agreed, Mockingjay is chock full of accessible writing and fastpaced action. I see glimmers of my beloved Hunger Games and Catching Fire - that fine balance you are able to strike between teenage angst and morbid homicidal detail. But here are some of the bones I have to pick with you, dear Sue:
1. A whole lotta angry and crazy: Without giving any spoilers, many of the main (and even not so main) characters of Mockingjay are either a. angry, b. crazy, or c. angry AND crazy for a lot of the book. While I admit, they have a lot to be both crazy and angry about - what with a civil war and food shortages and all -- the fury and insanity got a little tedious. It was as if Mockingjay needed a mood makeover from some of the frothy, over the top television producers and stylists from the previous books - I bet Cinna or Effie could pretty up all that dark lunacy.
2. A lack of snark: Speaking of those frothy television personalities, part of the reason the first two books of the series work so well is that they are in fact snarky, tongue in cheek re-imaginings of current day reality television. Without that snark factor, this is just a story about teenagers getting their limbs chopped off. And that never made for good prime-time.
3. A lack of arena: Part of the charm of your previous books was the incredible detail you give to your gaming 'arenas'. The dead victors faces projected in the night sky, the hallucination-inducing insects, the cornucopia full of weapons, etc. Without such a 'center' I felt lost in Mockingjay - your descriptions of The Capitol-as-arena fell short for me, too superficial, too lacking in detail, too quickly glossed over.
4. The mom is such a weenie: I suspended my disbelief as I read your other books, accepting that parents of the oppressed districts would somehow allow their children to enter a televised killing field - created for the amusement of the ruling Capitol. (You can find a similar argument here at League of Extraordinary Writers). But in your third book, the two dimensionality of the adult characters has reached an all time high. I understand the mom had to be a serious weenie for the readers to buy that she would allow her daughter to enter the games to begin with; yet, the maternal weenie-dom of Mockingjay is almost too much for this reader mom to bear.
5. The Deus Ex Machina factor: Ok, again, don't want to give a major spoiler, but let me say this. A long ago writing teacher of mine once told me that at some point in the writing process, all writers get bored of their own characters. At this time, it suddenly seems like a good idea to conclude that all of the book was in fact a dream, or to have a space ship come in and sweep everyone off to some other planet. He urged me to avoid the delectable temptation of sticking all my characters in a plane, and, say, making the plane go down in a fiery ball just because I couldn't think of another way to end the misery of my own story. Now, do I think that Suzanne Collins has succumbed to this urge? Uh, do parties at the Capitol serve purgatives in fancy glasses? (the answer is yes.. and the airplane thing is just a metaphor, for those who haven't read the book yet)
[And I won't even get into the issues of race and class - Mitali Perkins wrote a lovely blog post last year about how 'postracial' these books try to be and yet, everyone is blonde (Peeta, Prim) or at least grey/light eyed (Katniss). Have there been a central people of color in the series since Rue and Thresh?]
So, Mockingjay fans, go at it. Tell me I'm wrong. Convince me that rage and lunacy do make a good story. I for one could do with more froth, snark, and fun.
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