Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review: Mockingjay (WARNING! SPOILERS INCLUDED!)

I've been dreading the day that I would finish this book. For when I did, the distopic, 1984ish world Collins has created, where implanted whiskers and dyed skin are fashion trends, and the capital is a replica of sci-fi, Gaga-esque Rome, would officially be over. Over! Such loss can only be equated to the disappearance of a red velvet cake slice after you've eaten every last crumb. Reading the last line of MOCKINGJAY = empty plate.

Then again, it's somewhat of a relief that Collins, aka Newly Annointed Queen of the Pageturner, decided to wrap up HUNGER GAMES as a trilogy and not drag it out any further. Who knows? The fourth book might have introduced a Damien/Samara lovechild meant to be adorable, and around which all other characters are doomed to revolve, shriveling into paralytic caricatures of their former selves while sucked into the most drably anti-climatic ending ever before conceived (no pun intended), before being strangled to death by the big red bow tied on top.

Okay, okay. Wrong book now. Let's just say that if the girl from POLTERGEIST wandered into my room at night to announce "They're heeeeeere," the first name that would come to mind is Renesmee.

So back to MOCKINGJAY.

Two words: Brutal. Unpredictable.

Like its two predecessors, MOCKINGJAY is a pageturner, with an extra shot of ritalin and a near overdose of angst. In fact, the adrenaline-junkie pacing and elusive plot suck the reader so intensely into the story that one doesn't even realize there are pages in need of turning.

Out of the entire trilogy, the first half of MOCKINGJAY is the most post-apocalyptic, featuring refugees underground, ashen wastelands, and elaborate bomb shelters. Our heroine is already a scarred, broken, traumatized version of what she used to be, and that's when she still has 390 pages to go.

The action is good, but the politics are better. Collins is at her best when exploring the medium of reality TV, the influence of celebrity, and the manipulative effects of propaganda. Ultimately, the fate of the rebellion falls upon televised broadcasts and political speeches. Ethics vs results becomes a hotly debated issue in both combat action and the public's media. Do the ends justify the means of illusion, deception, and bloodshed?

In other words, do you blow up a fifteen your old girl to ensure her celebrity sister's endorsement in your political campaign?

Collins also continues to play Russian Roulette with censorship, always succeeding in depicting visceral violence without being explicit.
After finishing, I saw MOCKINGJAY as one book with two sections. Both sections being divided by the line: And that's when the rest of the parachutes go off.

Before that twist, MOCKINGJAY was a book about overthrowing the Capitol. It was about a girl who was going to assassinate a villain, lead a revolution, and choose one of two soulmates in the process. However, Collins catapults us into left field as we follow Katniss into a downward spiral of internal horror and suicidal delerium. Our heroine finally breaks and we break with her. For us, previous motives like kill Snow and Peeta or Gale? become laughably irrelevant. By the end, Katniss is not emotionally damaged, she's obliterated.

The success of MOCKINGJAY is that there never is a plot-friendly epic battle or final showdown between hero and protagonist. Instead we are taken through the horrors of war, the hopelessness in the aftermath, and the understanding of one's need to finally off herself while in the blackest moments of her shattered psychosis.

But it's not perfect. One too many times, Collins spoonfeedingly reminds us that Katniss is STILL playing in the Hunger Games, almost as if fearful that we won't buy that the steaks are just as high as they were while Katniss was in the arena. Collins also beats Katniss with the conflict stick one too many times in order to push her, and the plot, to get closer to the Capitol. Peeta is being controlled by the Capitol, so Katniss decides to become the Mockingjay and go to District 8. Peeta has been hijacked, so Katniss goes to District 2. Three-fourths through the book I realized I was actually waiting for the next bad thing to happen that would motivate Katniss all the way to the Capitol and President Snow's bedroom.

Also, the Peeta-Gale-Katniss soap opera has always fallen flat to me. In Collins' defense, it was rarely used in MOCKINGJAY which made it feel all the more irrelevant to the final plot, like a literary hassle more than a genuine conflict. Which made my favorite lines of the book be when Katniss, after listening to the two self-piyting boys conclude that she'll pick one of them based on her survival skills, declares, "I can survive just fine without either of them."

Damn straight, girl! You kick more ass than the two of them combined! That being said, I appreciated the seasoned, mature love demonstrated in the ending, as well as that final chillingly ominous line.

What did you think of MOCKINGJAY? Was Collins' departure from the traditional climax too frustrating to be satisfying? Did you find the final chapters to be an honest portrayal of post-war trauma or too over-the-top depressing and melodramatic? What should Collins write next? Most importantly, are you Team Peeta, Team Gale, or Team Cinna?

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