Friday, September 3, 2010

Oh, Mockingjay, Why Doth Thou Mock Me? A (slightly snarky) book review...and book giveaway!

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 "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.

***One person will win a brand new handcover copy of Mockingjay! Simply leave a comment on this page to qualify to win! Check back to see if you were the winner - winner announced in 1 week!***


  1. "Without that snark factor, this is just a story about teenagers getting their limbs chopped off. And that never made for good prime-time."

    we'll see if you still think this when your kids are teenagers. :p

  2. The capitol as arena thing bugged me, too. And it was very glossed over...which was my biggest disappointment with the book. That, and I wanted there to be more "meat" to Peeta's reappearance. I'm a sucker for a good love story.

  3. And now you just peaked my interest!!! ps. make sure I'm a follower since I signed up! Loving your posts~

  4. If no one else posts I might toss a coin between Robert and Natasha for the book - unless, Kari, you'd like to be in on the drawing too (you can always give it to someone...)
    Just trying to get some readers on board... (I'd dance a jig but it's cyberspace and I'm afraid no one would see my fancy footwork...)

  5. Congrats on your new blog! You don't have to enter me in the contest ... I already own two copies (bought them both so my husband wouldn't have to wait til I finished to read it, or worse, try to borrow mine while I was still reading).

    I liked it, though as with pretty much any trilogy (or series) that reaches this level of popularity, I thought this book was less well edited than the first two.

  6. Hi Linda! Welcome to the blog! I'll be doing another book giveaway this week - and an interview with YA/paranormal writer Cyn Balog so stay tuned! :)

  7. Err. Yeah. MockingJay, hmm? Oh, the series, yes, yes, is it fantastic. Why, of course!

    Ok, I pass. I can't put it up no more. And as a writer, I am told to be honest. So much so for the honesty, eh?

    So I decide to come clean. Hold your horses, guys, because you might get a bumpy jerk:

    Boo. There, I said it. I know, I am such an insincere YA reader. But hey, don't mock me readers of MockingJay. I have fallen into this world of wonderful books and characters only lately (before that I didn't have the time to chew my food, since software bugs kept getting my attention. Yeah, that was my JOB).

    So here's what I am to do. I will run to the library (the same place where I go in empty-handed and come out loaded with 6 books at a time, and glee) and get the first two books.

    As for the third, why, I already won the contest, didn't I? Sayantani, would you tell them please?

    Oh. We are still competing. (Grr.)

    Nevertheless, I shall get the books once I finish "Guardian of the Dead" (highly recommended btw).

    Cheers! :)

    (Live Blog:

  8. Oh...I suppose I don't need another copy. Although it might be fun to paper my office walls with the dust covers for inspiration. After all, what writer wouldn't want a release date like this one? :) Hope the winner LOVES it!!

  9. Before I read the book, I'd been wondering if there even could be a way to end the trilogy that would make me completely happy, since no one wants to see a series end that they've loved. But I see that's a bit of a cop-out, because these are all smart points, and I'd add a few more but they get into spoilers (and may not actually be all that smart, who's to say!). I will say I rather want to exacto-knife the epilogue out of my copy. That I know for sure.

  10. You make great points, and the series didn't end the way I wanted to, which I blogged about as well as part of my post-trilogy detox. I'm not too sure about the Deus Ex Machina theory. I think Collins was driving to this ending from the beginning, even though it's not the ending I personally would have liked. She was like Willy Wonka, inviting us into an incredible environment to ultimately show us the terrible outcomes of our worst impulses. I get it, I do. But I'm still totally bummed about Peeta.

  11. Hooray Sayantani! I read the first entry and I can't wait to read the rest... it almost makes me feel like you're reading to me and I am resting my head next to you with Sunaya and Kirin (and Milan though he doesn't care much for books just yet). You do not have any characteristics of maternal weenie-dom, not at all.

  12. Just wanted to say that I love your blog. Thanks for this.