Monday, 27 September 2010

REVIEW: Mockingjay By Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay Hype is like a double-edged sword...

No, that’s not right.

Hype is like a woman, pretty face, charming smile, voluptuous body, whose captivating presence we all want to find ourselves in. Everything about her fascinates us, ensnares us, and in the end we are reduced to drooling simpletons.

Then she strips off that skin-tight red dress and we discover she has a penis, and everything changes.

It doesn’t always end like this, but when it does, for most of us our subsequent reaction is ... shock? Extreme disappointment? Disbelief? Denial?

Whatever the outcome may be, it’s not positive, which is why I devised this oh so clever technique of holding off on reading some books, or watching some movies, until the infectious, all-pervasive euphoria attached to them petered out.

Fact: I haven’t seen Inception or Sherlock Holmes.

Fact: I only just finished Mockingjay, and I’m just starting Before I Fall.

You might think I’m punishing myself, but so far my technique has saved me from jumping into a few dodgy bandwagons. You know, the ones brimming with poo.

So, is Mockingjay’s hype more Christian Hendricks than Christina Hendricks?


Mockingjay flaunts a myriad of characters ranging from Ok-ish to ho-hum. The cast in this instalment is certainly the largest of any book in the series, though only for the singular purpose of providing readers with recurrent deaths. After all, this is war, and death must be in plentiful supply.

Some characters do excel high enough to carve a niche for themselves, away from the unflattering variety. Finnick Odair and Annie Cresta offer readers the book’s – hell, the series’ only believable romance; Prim undergoes a surprising and well deserved personality growth, taking on a more responsible role that puts her miles ahead of Katniss; and Plutarch embraces the war like a precocious child would an unusual puzzle, seeing it as a great opportunity to flex his creative muscles, just as he did as Head Gamemaker in Catching Fire. As far as he’s concerned, everyone’s a piece on his chessboard, a desirable means to a worthy end – the end being sensationalising the biggest, wildest, and deadliest blood sport in the history of Panem.

Johanna adds a bit of fiery excitement to Mockingjay, a refreshing escape from Katniss’ tiresome self-pitying.

Haymitch starts out great then later reverts to his same old, bland, drunken self. This behaviour was cool and funny back in The Hunger Games. It started to wear thin in Catching Fire. Now, it’s just lame.

Gale’s only reason for being in the book is to complete the needless love-triangle that includes Katniss and Peeta.

Peeta is ... well, Peeta. Neither here nor there. Same way he’s always been since The Hunger Games.

President Snow is still his predictable “mu-ha-ha-ha, I’m eeevil, check out my moustache” self. Collins had a chance to flesh him out in Catching Fire. She didn’t. She had yet another chance to do so in Mockingjay. She didn’t.

Then you have Katniss Everdeen, the star of the show, the Mockingjay herself. As a central character, Katniss does a decent job at carrying the book to its arduous anti-climatic end, tripping and staggering along the way, but never really falling facedown. This is not the Katniss of The Hunger Games, and by that I don’t mean she’s matured.

Yes, she does go through some personality changes, but not for the reasons you think. You see, in today’s YA, female protagonists must all live through a phase where they can’t decide which guy they want to stick with at the end of the story. Why? Well, because girls read more than boys and for girls to truly enjoy YA there must be a team A versus team B, or a team Jacob versus team Edward, or a team Peeta versus team Gale.

For the record, watching Katniss do the ubiquitous girl-caught-in-the-middle-of-two-guys dance is very sad. (And you wonder why most boys don’t like reading YA.)

In all sincerity, these characters make for a nice collection, despite their deplorable flaws. The real issue is that they don’t carry the emotional weight necessary to make me care enough when they die, which is what a lot of them do. They die, and I’m supposed to cry.

Well, my eyes are still very dry.

Score: 5/10


The first half of Mockingjay takes place in District Thirteen, which is a far cry from District Twelve, and yet not all that an exciting place to read about.

Come to think of it, The Hunger Games series isn’t quite the same when Katniss is outside the arena. The plot wobbles, tottering here and there, like it’s been hit by a truck, and then slows to an unsettling crawl. Nothing feels right. Imagine playing football underwater – that’s The Hunger Games without a hunger game. I think it’s to do with Collins’ prose (more on that to come).

Collins probably agrees, because in the other half of Mockingjay Katniss takes the fight to the capitol, and it so happens that –surprise, surprise – the capitol is one gigantic arena, complete with cameras, outlandish booby-traps and countless unwilling contestants to satiate your thirst for gore and death.

Still, Mockingjay falls short of delivering anything close to what we saw in the series’ debut. I can’t say I’m surprised. Catching Fire was a pretty good indication that Collins had run out of whatever creative juice she’d downed when writing The Hunger Games. It wasn’t a bad book. It was simply a bad case of déjà vu. Been there, done that.

In Mockingjay, war is upon Panem and our intrepid band of heroes, led by Katniss, is on a crusade for freedom, storming the deserted streets of the Capitol, which are not safe places to be at, as they are inundated with all kinds of traps, gadgets, pods, and weapons.

Now, close your eyes for a second and picture the most ridiculous weapon ever, something that makes little sense in logical terms. I’m dead certain you’ll find it in Mockingjay.

There’s a part in the book where a bloke gets caught in a beam of golden light and he stands rigid, mouth open like his screaming though no sound leaves him, and his skin melts like candle wax. Then there’s another part where an entire street folds in like a flap and people fall to their deaths. I literally laughed my ass off reading these scenes, and I had to check, more than once, that I wasn’t reading a novelisation of Road Runner.

It’s amazing how much you have to suspend belief just to enjoy Mockingjay. The violence is so cartoonish, like something straight out of Looney Tunes. No wonder I hardly felt any sympathy for characters that died.

I don’t know why Collins took this route. I understand that Mockingjay is all about war and thus the weapons should be deadlier than any weapon seen in previous Hunger Games books. This is a rational step forward in the creative process of book-sequel writing. However, in this case, the result is catastrophic. We’re talking about a series where in the first book a bunch of kids, some as young as 12, were put into an arena and forced to murder each other in cold blood. That’s disturbing, Ok? That’s psychologically disturbing. If you’re going to take things up a notch, I don’t think cartoon weapons is the right way to go.

Score: 5/10


Though Collins isn’t its pioneer she’s one of the few in the industry to have perfected this quick paced wordplay, short sentence structure, prose so many YA authors utilise today. It worked wonders for The Hunger Games – I was practically at the edge of my seat while reading that book. So much action. So much tension.

In Mockingjay Collins flips the script on her prose, allowing for an influx of poetry and metaphors. This is not a tension-laden book, at least not like The Hunger Games. Katniss does a lot of reflecting, retrospective analysing, and character examination, and because so many people presumably die on account of her, she has to properly convey gloom, depression, anger, weariness and a host of other emotions.

Collins’ tweaked prose is a hit and miss affair. When it works, it works really, really well. The ending is beautiful, easily the best part of the book.

When it doesn’t work, it’s like watching your grandmother perform a striptease – awkward and just wrong.

Every now and then Collins over-describes an action, or skirts around what she’s actually saying, and you’re forced to re-read entire paragraphs just to get the gist of what’s going on.

Considering the torrent of major character demises, Mockingjay struggles to be emotive. I think the problem lies with how fast-paced Collins’ prose is, and how awkward it can be sometimes. She’s capable of handling one or two major deaths, as we know from reading Rue’s tear-jerker end in The Hunger Games. Three deaths and above, and she loses her footing.

Mind you, Collins’ prose is still compelling in the end, though sadly not compelling enough to ensure a captivating read.

Score: 8/10


From Amazon: “Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’ family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final instalment of Suzanne Collins’ groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Alas, Mockingjay’s plot is more annoying and facile than powerful and haunting. At the end of the book you have to wonder: what was the war about? Freedom? Freedom from what, exactly? Where’s the freedom when the people who wrest control of Panem from the Capitol are no different from the Capitol itself? It’s like the transference of power from a murdered dictator to his murderer son.

I’m guessing it won’t be long long before Scholastic announces a new Hunger Games book featuring a character well beyond Katniss’ time, forced to rise up against the new government.

Score: 5/10


In the past couple of months there’s been heated discussions in the blogosphere concerning YA books and male and female readers. Hannah Moskowitz (I definitely spelled that right cos I checked Goodreads) wrote that a lot of YA authors aren’t writing believable male characters anymore and it’s affecting how boys pick up YA.

She got ripped apart by like a hundred blogger chicks, cos you know, boys should learn to appreciate girl books since girls have been appreciating boy books for eons.

After reading Mockingjay, I don’t see this ever happening. In fact, I think boys should steer clear of YA and stick to whatever it is they love.

Girls make up YA’s greater market share. These days, when you write a YA book it doesn’t matter who you think you’re writing it for, because as far as publishers are concerned you’re writing it for the people most likely to put money in their pockets – girls. You have the freedom to do whatever you please, but certain things must feature in your book, one of them being a love triangle, or some weird romance between a pseudo-strong female and a thing that talks, walks and acts like a guy but really isn’t. Of course there are YA books that shy away from this narrative, but the ones that are considered the genre’s flagship, the ones the media champions every so often, adhere to these rules.

This explains why there had to be a love triangle in Mockingjay. It wasn’t necessary. We all knew Katniss would end up with Peeta, no matter how bogus and forced their romance was. But the triangle – dragged on throughout the book and put to rest in the worst possible way (Gale does the unthinkable and Katniss can’t look at him the same way, so she picks Peeta) – had to happen, because the market demands it. Boys aren’t too crazy about reading this kind of stuff, and when it pervades a book they’re certainly not encouraged to give the book a try. The book might as well have a “Warning: Not for Boys” label on it.

There’s even a Twilight-esque scene where Katniss is supposed to be asleep, but instead she eavesdrops on Gale and Peeta’s conversation about which one of them she will end up choosing. I’m not making this up.

(To be clear: I am not saying there aren't YA books for boys. That's not what I'm talking about here, because whenever someone brings up this issue people start listing out YA books tailored for boys. I'm talking about male characters in the YA books that hold up the banner for YA. I'm talking about themes that make it difficult for boys to get into YA books for girls, because these books make up a greater part of YA, and because bloggers keep saying, "Well, boys should learn to read books for girls, cos we girls have been reading books for boys too."

Like it or not, young boys of today are born into a pop culture environment where what's popular gets the most attention, and everything else is pretty much shunned by the greater mass [that includes 3/4 the list of YA books written specifically for boys that you're probably typing out at the moment to post as a comment]. The most popular YA books right now are YA books for girls. Period. Boys will go for these books, just as they did with Harry Potter. Difference is, Harry had a universal theme. These recent popular YA books don't, and most boys will turn away, not just from them, but from YA in general, because they can't be bothered to carry out archeological digs in bookstores just to find some obscure book that could appeal to them. You don't have to be rocket scientist to deduce this fact.)

Just as I accepted that YA Paranormal is what it is and will never be what it is not, I’ve come to the same conclusion regarding YA in general. I think the argument about boys reading YA or whether they should bother with it is a moot one. If YA’s current market is happy with the way YA is (and they are, judging from the sales of Twilight, Hush-Hush, Fallen and co) then I see no reason why anyone should try and change things.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

To conclude, Mockingjay can best be described as an uninspired end to a rather average series.

Final Score: 6/10