Mockingjay – A Review – SPOILER ALERT

I devoured the first two books in the Hunger Games series in one sitting and have been counting down the days to the release of Mockingjay this week. I was one of the first to purchase it Tuesday morning and I carried it around with me all day like a security blanket. Then I read it. All night I read it. And it was over.

Like all good things that come to an end, it left me feeling a bit deflated. Now what? I often feel that way when I finish a good book, movie, or TV series. The characters have become my friends and I just don’t want to say goodbye. My sadness at the end of Mockingjay was a little different though.

The three book jackets tell a vivid story. Book one shows the Mockingjay small, almost timid, with its head down, clutching the arrow as though picking it up for the first time. Book two shows the bird as robust, surrounded by the color of flame, ready to take on the world. The cover of book three is pale blue and shows the Mockingjay with its wings spread out, surrounded by light. The book jacket radiates hope and rebirth. Then you open the first page.

Keep reading at your own risk. Highly opinionated commentary and spoilers abound.

With The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I was consumed by them, recommending them universally to nearly everyone I knew. Do you like excellent prose? Read these books! Suspense? Depth of character? Adventure with a moral message and great social commentary? READ THESE BOOKS!!

With this book I’m sort of rethinking my universal recommendation. Do you like a well-crafted but mostly bleak and hopeless message book about how war destroys everything? This bad boy’s for you!

The message is sound. War is abominable. It kills people and breaks and destroys those who are left behind. These are truths. After what Katniss has been through, it’s likely she would be left drooling in the corner of a psych ward while nearly everyone she’s ever loved either dies gruesomely or abandons her. Real, or not real? Real.

Enjoyable or not enjoyable to read? I’m leaning towards not enjoyable. It’s a must read and a compelling read but rather than leaving you cheering and begging for more, it will likely leave you saying, “Hmmmm. War is bad. I need some time to process.” And you will process. It’s not a book that will easily leave your mind. The feeling of this book reminds me of the feeling I get when I read books by one of my favorite authors, Thomas Hardy.

The first two books were built on a solid foundation of Plot, Character and Message with excellent writing to pull us into a vivid and imaginative world.

Book three seems to have a hierarchy of MESSAGE, then plot, with a smidge of character sprinkled in. Where I can name several “moments” from each of the first two books, moments that were poignant and beautiful and left me cheering, even in the deepest sadness, I had a hard time coming up with more than one in Mockingjay.

The first two books had a building sense of hope, rebellion, and impending butt-kicking triumph. The third one slaps the first two down. There is no winner in war. There is no triumphant rebellion. All is lost.

It got me thinking about the Cuban revolution, young people fighting for a brighter future, only to find that their new leader is Fidel Castro with all the implications we now know that brings.

There’s a glimmer of hope at the end of the book but it’s just that, a glimmer, with the overshadowing message that at any moment it could be shattered again. No one is safe because at their core, people cannot be trusted to be good.

And the last several pages, which should be the payoff for reading 3 intense novels, are written like a laundry list.

-We are broken.
-Peeta and I found love. Remember that fantastic moment that was described in such lush detail in book 2 around page 351? Yeah. That happened again.
-Our lives still suck.
-Gale, who we’ve all cared deeply about, leaves with no fanfare or even so much as a spot of dialogue but it’s probably for the best.
-Greasy Sae, a semi-inconsequential supporting character, remains with me and makes me soup because my mom is AWOL helping other people.
-Haymitch. Drunk.
-Haymitch. Gone.
-Life goes on but what’s the point?

Now I like to give truly gifted writers the benefit of the doubt. Katniss is the narrator. Maybe Suzanne Collins shuts off her lush evocative descriptive flair at the close of the book to show that Katniss has shut off, that she has nothing left to give to the narrative. I want to believe that it is a conscious choice to show that Katniss’s voice has become sparse, hopeless and unemotional, that even when talking about the small bits of healing she’s experienced, she can’t bear to talk about them in a compelling way because she’s just not compelled by anything left in this world.

But there’s part of me that thinks it was unintentional, like Collins gets her message across about war and devastation and then quickly ties up the loose ends in the lives of the characters we’ve come to adore throughout these 3 novels.

If her writing truly becomes so sparse and perfunctory at the end of the book to symbolize Katniss’s broken soul, then it should have gone that route many other times throughout the series, especially in book 3. Katniss spends much of book 3 feeling broken, helpless and not acting because she just doesn’t have it in her to go on.

Reading a book from the perspective of a broken hero is exhausting. It doesn’t help that she has little real meaningful interaction with other people. Maybe she can’t. Maybe war really kills all relationships. In the first 2 books it felt like it made them stronger, made reunions sweeter. Book 3 says, “Nope.”

I’m currently working on a novel. It’s nothing deep or world-changing. It’s fun to write and hopefully fun to read. I read Collins’s work with a student’s eye, trying to figure out how she does what she does so masterfully. I would be unbelievably grateful if I had her talent for suspense, character development and narrative brilliance. Even on the third book, I found it hard to analyze her writing because I was so absorbed in it most of the time.

Some good moments were Katniss’s speech into the camera after the hospital attack and I absolutely love the last sentence before the epilogue. It is beautiful. I wish it were enough for me.

One friend asked me what I would change and I keep asking myself that same question. Would I wanted it to end in flowers and rainbows and Katniss standing in Peeta’s embrace atop a parade float? No. Resoundingly no. I think the characters needed to suffer real consequences for what they’d been through. However, I feel like the first two books set you up for one thing in tone, character and momentum and the third book pulls the rug out from under you.

I can’t say I didn’t like Mockingjay but I can’t say that I enjoyed it either. Suzanne Collins is a gifted writer and she kept me glued to the pages of her novel from beginning to end. She didn’t take the easy, appeal-to-the-masses cop-out and tie everything up in a nice neat package. However I think she chose message over character and that’s a bit disappointing.

Now discuss. I’d love someone to prove me wrong, make me want to re-read it to find what I missed the first time.

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22 Responses to Mockingjay – A Review – SPOILER ALERT

  1. erin HANSEN says:

    I absolutely 100% agree with you. I’m so glad you put all my feelings into words, because when I finished Tuesday night, I had no words for what I felt. You’re right about the first two being uplifting, and having our rug pulled out on this one. About half way through I realized that there could be no happy ending, and it was disheartening. I read the last half with a sour expression on my face, lips pursed and wondering what would happen.
    The “laundry list” at the end reminds me somewhat of Jane Austen, who spends pages creating these relationships and characters, and then ends by basically saying “They got married and lived happily ever after.”
    I too read her book looking for literary style, having just started thinking of a novel. I learned a lot, but I wasn’t uplifted. I would rescind my recommendation for this book, just because of that feeling at the end.
    I honestly didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it afterwards, because I just didn’t know what to think. I almost feel like warning people–it won’t be pleasant when you get to the end. Anyway, thank you for articulating what I’ve been feeling.

  2. Holly says:

    Could a person read the first two books and then stop? From your description those two sound phenomenal, but I don’t know that I want to set myself up for the bleakness of the third book right now.

    • It’s physically impossible to stop after the first two. And yes, you should read them anyway. The journey is still worth it but just set your expectations for book 3 so you won’t be disappointed. I’ve read several reviews online that loved Mockingjay and I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it like the other two. I think the middle book is by far the strongest.

  3. Krissy says:

    I can think of lots of ways I would have wanted the book to go. Every time I think of something though, I have to admit that the more realistic scenario is the one that Mockingjay portrayed. I think the book was realistic almost to a fault. Those of us who love the Hunger Games don’t love it for it’s real-ness, but for its emotion and the emotion in this book was all gut wrenching. The events in Mockinjay didn’t happen the way I wanted them to, but they occured very closely to how they would have happened in life.


    One reviewer said that Katniss never acted for herself in the entire book but always allowed herself to be used and manipulated. How much more would we have liked the book if she realized earlier on that District 13 wasn’t much better and so she started her own movement. Used her fame and Gale’s talents and started her own revolution and became a hero who shaped her own destiny. Instead, the only time she had an agenda it was to kill Snow who had already been politically murdered by Finnick . She was after revenge and she even failed at that. Real or not real? Or is it more real that she would be too broken to act.

    It was also hard watching all the deaths. Especially the death of Finnick right after he finally found happiness. Didn’t we deserve to have his death mean something? Or to at least a death scene. But no, he was just gone. But in the back of my head I know that people die all the time for no greater purpose without final words, especially in war.

    And finally Gale. Oh my heart breaks for Gale. That she could discard him like that after so many years of close friendship and depending on each other for survival. All of that was broken because the bomb MAY have been his idea. I would have loved to have heard about a reconcilliation, even if it was years in the future. Healing and forgiveness would have been very satisfying. But, how many marriages are broken up after the death of a child because they can’t face the spouse that reminds them of the child.

    So although the book was not satisfying, you can’t argue that it was real. And those are my thoughts after a day of digesting it.

  4. Kate W. says:

    I have to say, I haven’t read these, but i enjoy nihilistic stories, so now I’m intrigued. Kind of warped, but there it is. It kind of sounds like, from your review, there’s too much reality in the finale? Would that be accurate?

    • Erin says:

      I didn’t love Mockingjay. But I had to keep reading, even though it was often brutal, and it felt like a satisfying conclusion. There could have been many different endings, but the one Suzanne Collins chose was right for a character who had just experienced too much evil. By the end of the book, I was so depressed and hopeless, thinking that Katniss would just fling herself off a cliff, that I found myself willdly grateful that Katniss would be allowed some measure of happiness.
      I didn’t think the characterization was as strong as the two earlier books. I would loved for Collins to have allowed a few fully realized scenes with Katniss and her sister Prim. Yet I think Collins decided that Katniss was a character who was so drained and depleted and confused, that she just didn’t have the depth of compassion or caring displayed in the earlier books. That’s disappointing, yet realistic considering what the character experienced.

  5. Kate W. says:

    Whoa, the above review didn’t show up until after I posted mine. Sounds like the realness was the issue. That was something about another series (I can’t remember name of it… a djinn and a magician and a battle with unmagicked folks. The magicians ruled the country… shoot. I could look up, but lazy). The ending was very steeped in reality. Seemed contradictory in a fantasy series.

    • Kathyrn in NZ says:

      It’s probably not the series you’re thinking of, but I read a scifan/magic realm first book of a series that had an ending (well, cliff hanger as it was the first one) that was “reality” – and I agree, a non-hopeful ending is very “not scifan”.

      And I think that’s what is so disquieting about any fiction book that ends “not happily”. We want happy endings, especially as they don’t happen in real life, particularly if the real life has a war going on in it.
      The Pandora’s Box story (myth/ legend) is absolutely the basis of human perseverance: humans need hope.

      Just my two cents worth!

  6. Thanks for you review! It was really well written and helped me put alot of my own feelings about the book (and the whole series into words). Up till now they’ve just kind of been buzzing uncomfortably around in my brain. But comfortable is not something I assumed Mockingjay would be.

    There came a point while reading the first two books (though I don’t remember during which book it occurred) that I realized ‘there is no way for this story to end well.’ By that, I mean that there had already been so many horrendous things happen to these characters, so many hurts, lives so tangled that I just couldn’t see how, after all that, there could be a calm, uncomplicated, peaceful ending. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately wanted that for them – they had suffered so much already – but there comes a point where you’ve gone so far in your story that in order to pay it off, you have to go farther still.

    My heart broke when Peeta tried to kill Katniss in the hospital. But even still I couldn’t deny the brilliance in it. Because it was this that allowed Katniss to see (really for the first time) what it was like to live with the absence of Peeta’s love, it allowed her to really grieve for this loss and then ultimately to realize that she couldn’t live without it.

    It was also painful to watch the distance grow between Katniss and Gale, but here again it seemed to make sense. The things that drove Katniss from Gale in this book had always been there, only she’d never realized it before (so consequently we, the audience of her narration, had been largely unaware of it as well). She’d thought Gale was all just talk as they hunted in the woods. And then she saw him only too willing to put this talk into action as the war commenced and she realized she hadn’t really known him at all. Because of this, I think his farewell scene is actually chapters long. They are growing apart for most of the book. The ‘maybe-his-idea’ bomb just happened to be the final stroke that severed their last thread of connection.

    This book was not an easy one. It was not one that made me satisfied at the end. As you said, I felt like I was processing for quite some time afterward (still am, actually). But, then again, I was not expecting it to be easy. I’m not even sure I was expecting it to be satisfying.

    This book as a conclusion to a series, felt a lot like the end of The Lord of the Rings did to me. In both, you witness the end of something horrible. I was even able to see the promise of something better in both. Only problem is you can’t enjoy it in either one. Because in both cases, you’re watching it through the eyes of a character who has been so badly damaged by the journey that they’re unable to find joy in the destination. Some wounds will simply never heal. But I think that’s where I’m able to find the hope at the end of Mockingjay. Despite these unhealable wounds, Katniss is trying to live. She hunts, she has genuinely fallen in love with Peeta, and she’s even consented to have children, which I feel shows the ultimate act of hope on her part: even through all she’s suffered she still sees enough potential redeemability in the post-Hunger Games world that she’s willing to risk bringing children into it.

    Is the world of Mockingjay a comfortable one to inhabit? No. But I felt like it was no more desolate than The Hunger Games and Catching Fire had set it up to be.

  7. Maggie says:

    I didn’t love the first two books – I never really liked any of the characters, but the suspense and writing made them fascinating anyway. As for Mockingjay, I feel like it was a REAL ending, even if it was super depressing and sucked. I kept telling myself that if I were Katniss I would have jumped off the nearest bridge, so at least there was SOME happiness, right?

    The hardest thing for me is the Gale/Peeta resolution. For THREE BOOKS we were set up that K was going to make a choice, the boys would TALK about the choice (that drove me crazy in Mockingjay) and I needed a PAYOFF in the choice department. (And I was totally rooting for Peeta!) But Peeta gets no screen time in Book 3 and Gale gets no real conversation and at the end it’s just the process of elimination. So it’s REAL and LIKELY, but a TOTAL BUMMER, DO YOU HEAR ME SUZANNE?!

    The message thing didn’t bother me too much, it was the total write off of various characters in which I was Emotionally Invested. GRRR. I mean, GREASY SAE?! Whatever.

  8. Heffalump says:

    I read through it in less than a day, just forging ahead so I could find out what happened. At the end, I found that I was unsatisfied as well. I felt there wasn’t enough between Peeta and Katniss. You are right in that they didn’t develop the characters enough. I also hate that almost every character you care about had to die. It doesn’t always have to be that way.
    I will surely be processing this book for a long time, and I feel like I should go back and read all three in succession to get a real feel for it.
    Having read Suzanne Collins’ Gregor Overlander series, I knew that things wouldn’t neccessarily end up all rosy and wonderful. I knew she wasn’t afraid to kill off beloved characters, and that she let characters you thought were okay turn out to be bad guys.
    I had hoped for more with her relationships with Peeta and Gale. A more definitive choice on her part rather than circumstance letting her decide. I always felt she would choose Peeta, so it was kind of a let down that she never really had to choose at all.
    I loved the first two books, but not this one so much. I don’t hate it, but like you, I don’t know that I can recommend it. It really bothers me too that Prim was killed off. The whole reason she went into the first games was to protect her sister, and then it is all for nothing almost. It doesn’t seem like life is much different or better after the revolution, at least from the little that was told about it.
    I’ll have to read them all again and really put more thought into it.
    Thanks for the review!

  9. Screen Time…that is an interesting way of putting it. While Gale had close to none in Book 2 Peeta has close to none in Book 3 and I really missed Peeta.
    I’m a hopeless romantic. I believe true love conquers all. I see it in my own life. Sure there is no violence or children getting killed, but there is hardship. REAL hardship.
    Sometimes it would be so easy to give up.
    But the reasons for living are my true love, and my four children. I find true joy and happiness in them.
    I want that for Katniss, I guess through all the horror that at the end I wanted to see that true love conquered and the pain may have been more easily erased.
    I might be a schmuck but that’s how I feel.
    There were moments, tender and true in the first two that I missed in the third. I would have liked more dialogue between Peeta and Kat.
    But you pretty much said everything better than I could. Amen.

  10. Emily says:

    i SO agree about the character development. i needed several hundred more pages/examples of the love between peeta and katniss. (more like in the first two novels).

    it would help make the MESSAGE more palatable. what is mankind’s redeeming quality? love. in the macrocosm of war, it’s nigh impossible to find or feel any kind of love, but we can feel it (and know it) in the love that is born and borne and personal between two characters we care about.

    a little balance in this way might have helped the author’s cause.

  11. FawnDear says:

    Great Review.
    I’ve been looking forward to this book all summer. Now I wonder why? Depressing is the overall feeling I had for this book. While the first two end with a little Hope that the Future may turn out better, this book ends with emotionless zombies.
    I think the first two books make you wish for a brighter future, the promise that a rebellion could end brutal jktyranny. But I totally agree with the overall message that ‘War is Bad’ in book three. Better to be ruled by a tyrant than have everyone die, or turn into monsters? Hummmm….
    I guess my biggest problem is that I turn to books to escape the so called, ‘More Real’ outcomes. You see ‘more real’ on the news all the time. I need my escape.
    Hunger Games sucked me in, Catching Fire consumed me, Mocking Jay chewed me up and spit me out.

  12. korinthe says:

    I have not read these (not sure I will after hearing about the letdown), but I think you might like _A Thread of Grace_ by Mary Doria Russell. Similar message (war is terrible) but exact opposite effect. Also, insanely good writing. Her other novels are equally compelling if a bit more fantastical.

  13. elliespen says:

    I’ve been avoiding this post for a day or two while I finished Mockingjay myself. It hasn’t been long enough since I finished for me to say too much about it (still processing), but I do want to say that I think I actually do love this third book, too.

    The feeling I got about the end wasn’t that it was a laundry list (although I can see where that view is coming from). It reminded me, actually, more of the ending to The Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure there’s a line in literature that is more simultaneously heartbreaking and healing than Sam’s last line (which I won’t say here, in case there are people who haven’t read it). And I got the same feeling from Mockingjay.

    I can’t describe it better than that right now, but once I’ve had a chance to fully process the book, I’ll try to give a better explanation. At any rate, thank you very much for posting your review. It’s making me think about it more. 🙂

  14. Jess says:

    The problem with writing a wildly successful series over a couple of years is that it’s practically impossible to end it well. 🙂

    I agree with your review entirely. I was also bothered by the way she handled all of the symbolism. I feel like she overly explained what everything meant, like we were too stupid to figure out what it meant. I feel like she dumbed that down for us a bit in the 3rd book.

  15. Stephanie says:

    Am I the only one that wasn’t dissatisfied with the book?

    War stinks. It was a book about war. It would have bothered me MORE if all the characters had survived, because that’s just not realistic.

    Besides, she ended up with Peeta and that made me feel good.

  16. Cody says:

    Suzanne Collins is an excellent writer and all three books are masterfully plotted and beautifully written. I enjoyed reading “Mockingjay” up to a point and then I kind of endured it so I could find out what would happen to all of the characters I had grown to love. And then I sort of winced for about 80 pages as one enjoyable/interesting person after another gets grim reaped, usually for reasons that were inconsequential to questions of plot or character except to illustrate that, as Sherman so succinctly put it, “War is (family blog).” (Although, hoo and rah for Gale, who gets a cool job in District 2 and is sometimes on TV! Also, whee.)

    My biggest problem with the series is that “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” promise the American Revolution. “Mockingjay” delivers a weird blend of the Civil War and Vietnam/Afghanistan in which the reader is never permitted to fully embrace the cause of the rebels, because war is inherently evil and the end never justifies the means. It was Black and White in the first two books. Capitol = Emperor Palpatine; Katniss, Peeta and Gale = Leia, Luke (without the sibling thing) and Han Solo. Then suddenly in Book Three everything is either BLACK or GRAY. If your is name is Gale, you are more or less GRACK. And if your name is Coin you are GRAY for a while before suddenly it’s revealed that you were really GLACK all along.

    I know I’m in the minority, but … Peeta? No way. It should have been Gale. (Just one guy’s opinion.) And while it may have been “realistic” to have Haymitch end his days as a drunken wreck who only occasionally sobers up and turns to goose farming when the whisky train is late, was anyone *really* reading these books to revel in their cold, pitiless realism? Give the dude a break. Maybe give him Greasy Sae. Anything but a relapse into haunted drunken despair.

  17. Melissa says:

    I TOTALLY agree. It was like losing really good friends. But, I’ve always been this way with good books. It’s almost sad to finish the story. The last Harry Potter was the same way. Anyway- thanks for sharing, and I share your feelings (but am so happy she wound up with Peeta- yes I’m a dork 😉

  18. Amanda says:

    I really have to agree with you and add this, because it’s been bugging me forever!

    This whole entire series started off with Katniss sacrificing herself to save her sister…. who then goes on and dies in book 3! So to me it almost made the entire series pointless!!!

    I was very excited to read Mockingjay, and I think because of my high expectations with the first two, the last one just couldn’t match up. It left me feeling very sad and depressed.

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