About a week ago I read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and I. WAS. HOOKED. Like, seriously hooked. Read-it-in-one-day, went-to-the-store-immediately-to-buy-the-next-one, HOOKED. I was singing its praises and telling everyone I knew to read it. I started blog posts in my head about how THIS was how to write a truly awesome young adult novel. Fuck Twilight, THIS is how it is done.
Then….I read Mockingjay. Ugh. Mockingjay.
How did it all go so wrong?! I was so deeply, deeply disappointed. I couldn’t even bear to write a review of The Hunger Games because I still had the bad taste that was Mockingjay fouling up my brain.
So, quick plot summary. The main character in THG is Katniss, at 16 year old girl who lives in District 12, a section of future America and the losers in a previous war against the winners, The Capitol. the Capitol has separated out the conquered peoples into 12 separate districts and has basically plundered all the wealth and valuable products from each area. To reinforce that The Capitol has control over everything in their lives, every year they hold a Hunger Games. In these games, a boy and girl from each district is chosen by lottery to be thrown into the arena to fight for their lives. The last one left alive is the winner.
The main character is Katniss, who volunteers to go to the arena in the place of her 12 year old sister. I don’t want to ruin the plotline so I won’t say much else about it other than that I was absolutely enthralled. I read the first book in one day and immediately had to go out and buy Catching Fire. I kept thinking to myself, THIS is what young adult fiction should be about! I loved that it didn’t turn away from the violence and danger to the characters. Yes, people died. The characters were expected to kill each other to survive and the book didn’t shy away from that. I loved that young people were put in life or death situations and had to really find out if they were able to kill another person or not. It was real drama, real emotions, real survival (ok, well, REAL is of course taken in context, as not many of us would be expected to fight to the death!).
But what I absolutely loved about both this book and Catching Fire was the rumblings of revolution that were simmering underneath the events that we were reading about. Katniss was being created as a symbol of the revolution that you just KNOW is coming and I was so excited to see where this was going. When I was a teenager, I loved historical fiction about wars where teenagers could fight and get involved in resistance, such as WWII or the American Revolution (one particular favorite was Johnny Tremain). Perhaps my love of these books was from a fervent desire for some real excitement in my own life. I secretly would have LOVED to have gotten into some real danger for a worthy cause. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy, but I would have been OBSESSED with THG if I’d read it when I was a teenager. But there’s so much in there that raises questions in an adult too. What would I have done in that situation? Could I have survived? Would I have been smart enough? Could I have killed someone like that? Interesting to think about.
Unfortunately…then I read Mockingjay. To say I was disappointed is a huge understatement. Katniss was so dynamic and smart and engaging in the first two books! Then for 2/3 of Mockingjay she’s either moping around or in a drugged coma. She literally doesn’t do anything! The only time she sees action is when she’s talked into going to the front line so it can be filmed for a promotional video. She has no interest in the revolution, the revolution of which she is the symbol and which will ultimately end the tyranny of the capitol that resulted in her involvement in the hunger games in the first place. She just…can’t be bothered. She’d prefer to mope and sleep in cupboards and allow everyone else to make a bunch of decisions for her. I was just so incredibly disappointed! After all this time she’s been front and center in the action and then suddenly…nothing happens! She sits around! And plays with a cat! And goes for walks and takes naps! OH COME ON.
Now, I realized as I was reading that perhaps Collins is attempting to imply that Katniss is suffering from PTSD after everything she’s been through. Which is probably a completely realistic reaction to being expected to kill a bunch of people for your own survival. However, not to much fun to read. Young people want to read books where they matter, where they are not treated like kids but have crucial roles in the events around them. The first two books in this trilogy were awesome and met these standards in spades. The last one failed big time. I still read it and I’m glad I got to the end of the story, but Mockingjay really soured the story for me. I still love The Hunger Games but I find my love has been tainted a little bit. I wanted to love it all as much as I did the first, but I just couldn’t.
So, read the Hunger Games! Maybe skip Mocking jay.