I was never interested in The Hunger Game series until the movie came out. Truthfully, I still wasn't interested. I assumed The Hunger Games was a tween phenom successor to Twilight, a series (both book and film) that I never believed deserved the hype it received and to this day I haven't been able to fully regain my respect for humanity for letting that happen. I just wanted to hang out with my friends, but they all wanted to go see the movie so I ended up tagging along. Not knowing much about the series going in, I was pleased by the interesting storyline, the high-stakes conflicts, the well-developed characters, and their relationships. I realized that maybe this pop culture trend was a bandwagon worthy of jumping on. I talked to my friends who had read the entire series, and they all highly recommended I read it. They offered their opinions on characters from the series, mentioned parts of the story they were dying to discuss but wouldn't so as not to spoil the books for me, and gave wildly enthusiastic thumbs up to the film adaptation. However, every single person I talked to about the series warned me that the third book in the series, Mockingjay, sucks.
No one could tell me exactly why. This was partly because they didn't want to spoil anything, but mainly they just furrowed their brows at each other while thinking of ways to describe why I'd probably be disappointed with Mockingjay, but not coming up with much. One friend simply called it "for shit," a phrase I'm not sure means anything specific, but which definitely comes across as an insult. But I've always been the kind of person who prefers to form her own opinion, so I read the series as soon as I could, and as fast as I could. This wasn't difficult. Suzanne Collins knows how to keep a reader hooked, and I couldn't put the first two books down, reading them back to back, barely stopping to eat or sleep. I was happy to find that the characters I'd become invested in while watching the film--namely Katniss, Peeta, Rue, and Prim--had been brought to the screen with few changes in characterization, and once I finished Catching Fire, I was intrigued with the paths the characters had taken and immediately picked up Mockingjay.
Now that I've finished the series and can look back on the three books as a whole adventure, I now know that everyone was right. Mockingjay sucks. Well, that's not fair. Just like the first two books, it was well-written in a way that keeps the reader eagerly turning pages to find out what happens next, introduces both endearing and abhorrent new characters that add to the dynamic of the tale and help define relationships between the characters we've gotten to know already, and pushes the tale beyond what we expect it to be. Yet, that latter attribute is where Mockingjay falls apart for many readers. Collins takes risks, which I always appreciate, and is not afraid to push the boundaries that she herself set up with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The problem is that she pushes Mockingjay too far, reaching a point to which we readers never signed up to venture. Each sequel in an adventure series is obligated to give us something new and exciting that tops whatever we experienced in the previous books while still retaining the personality of the series. Catching Fire does this admirably by (*SPOILER ALERT*) forcing victors back into the arena for the Quarter Quell edition of everyone's favorite reality competition show--a moment that shocked me so much that I woke up my sister because I gasped so loud--and elevating President Snow from nasty politician to a real antagonist and threat to Katniss and everyone she loves and cares about. We're introduced to the turmoil in the districts just itching for a catalyst for rebellion. We even got to enjoy the growing development of the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. The beauty of Catching Fire is that it kept throwing the reader curveballs while staying true to the innocent maturity Katniss's narration gives it. And then comes Mockingjay, a war story, where everything the first two books so carefully built comes crashing down.
First of all, District 12 has been destroyed. District 12 is home base, the place where Katniss can orient herself. Now she must live in the enigmatic District 13, which turns out to be a vast underground military compound. And there go all the quaint and homey comforts that Katniss has always known. There goes home base. The predicament is reminiscent of the final Harry Potter book, the only book in the series that doesn't chiefly take place at Hogwarts, and the characters must wander from place to place to complete their mission. The difference here is that Hogwarts continues to exist even after the story ends. It's always there in case Harry needs it. District 12, its buildings, its industry, most of its people. They're all gone. No amount of rebuilding can replace them. By destroying Katniss's domicile, the foundation of the series disappears, leaving us floating homeless and confused as to where we will wind up.
Speaking of bedrocks, the main factor that personally kept me reading was to find out what happens to Peeta. I like him for all the reasons Katniss and Haymitch want to keep him alive: he knows who he is and what he stands for, he's open and honest with everyone, and he is one of the few characters who retains his virtue even after everything he went through in the first two books. He's just a good person who deserves good things, but Mockingjay is hell-bent on keeping good things from him. We spend the first half of the book nearly Peeta-less, but this is necessary for tension and other characters we've been overlooking (Gale) to develop and whatnot. However, when the rebels rescue him from the Capitol, he's no longer the Peeta we know. The boy with bread who never had to (or wanted to) kill anyone is now a killer. He wants Katniss dead by his hands. This is a result from the torture he endures in the Capitol, but it broke my heart. Literally, once he returns, every time Katniss can't find the love and admiration for her that shapes his character in his eyes, instead finding only unadulterated hatred, I experienced pangs in my chest. The one character we are certain could never be a bad guy becomes exactly that. This is a betrayal. Admittedly it's an interesting plot twist, but it's also an unforgivable one. It's like someone turning Jesus into a hitman for the mob. The doctors figure out a way to recondition him, but he's never the same again. And don't you dare go telling me "That's life." This is not life. This is fiction, where people are actually rewarded for being good and don't get turned into evil Muttations. Seriously, the pangs are present right now.
Let's move on to the other character that changed too much: Katniss. She begins the series as a girl who's had to grow up before her time, who takes care of others. In Catching Fire, she begins to lean on Peeta and, to a lesser extent, Haymitch to help her out and do the things she doesn't want to, like speak to the public, but she's still somewhat mature. She's always been a flawed hero, but in Mockingjay, she loses most of her redeeming qualities and never regains them. She's regressed to someone who's constantly running off to hide from her problems in some abandoned closet, she puts other people in danger through her impulsive actions, and she won't listen to anyone or do things for others unless it's to manipulate them into doing something for her. She's become a freaking teenager. If I wanted to be annoyed by teenagers, I'd go to the mall on a Saturday. This is where the whole self-righteous argument against people who declare they're on Team Peeta or Team Gale becomes irritating, because for most of the third book, choosing which guy she'll end up with is all Katniss thinks about. Occasionally, she takes a break to dwell on killing President Snow or to glare at President Coin, but Mockingjay is all about the love triangle. Peeta being stuck in the Capitol is all about Katniss (and the reader) getting to know Gale in a romantic way so that he becomes an actual threat to Peeta's happiness. Katniss goes from a girl who's never considered settling down and getting married to a girl that dwells constantly on the two boys who love her while she's supposed to be fighting a revolution.
Speaking of the revolution, we all knew that's what Mockingjay was gonna be about. Frankly, we'd dislike the book even more if there wasn't a revolution. Even people who have only seen the movie know there's gonna be a throwdown between the Capitol and the districts. And it's handled fine. Until we get into the Capitol. Until the Capitol becomes the newest arena. I was actually kind of excited about this development. Before this, I was already feeling that Mockingjay had wandered too far from the first two books in terms of content and tone, and I was glad to have this link to the previous books. But then we get to the Capitol arena, and I can't help but think the term "jump the shark." There are nets made of barbed wire that tear through people. There are beams of light that melt flesh off the bones. There is a giant tidal wave of black ooze for some reason. I realized things had gone too far once the lizard people showed up. Yes, the lizard people. We'd come to expect Muttations in the series, but COME ON! That is when Mockingjay became irretrievable. That is when it went too far to defend. That is when it became so many people's least favorite book in the series. But there is one more issue to address.
Most of the problems I've addressed have resulted in a sense of betrayal from the reader (i.e., me), but this final issue is the one I personally cannot forgive. Seriously though, spoilers are ahead. Don't keep reading if you haven't read the books unless you want a reason not to give the series a chance. Here it is. Don't say I didn't warn you. Prim dies. What the hell, right? The whole point of the series is that Katniss is protecting Prim. She takes Prim's place as tribute in the Hunger Games, she allies with Rue because the little girl reminds her of Prim, she pretends to be in love with Peeta to appease President Snow after he threatens Prim, she's constantly preoccupied with making sure Prim is protected and safe once the revolution starts. It's all about Prim. And then Prim dies because she's sent to the front lines of the battle in the Capitol arena as a medic. She's thirteen freaking years old! Katniss realizes why this happens and gets vengeance for it, but once Prim dies, it doesn't matter anymore. Everything that has happened in the series feels pointless. All those deaths. All those horrors. Katniss goes through it all for no reason. One could say the reason was so she and Peeta would find each other and live happily ever after, but there is no happily ever after for Katniss without Prim. Yes, if Katniss had not volunteered for her sister, she would not have set events in motion that would lead to the downfall of the oppressive Capitol regime, and both Prim and Peeta would have died in the Hunger Games, leaving Katniss with no one to love her (except Gale, of course) and stuck in a country ruled by President Snow. Prim would have surely died in that scenario. BUT, as the series plays out, Prim does not have to die. Both Boggs and Snow would have hinted to Katniss that Coin was not to be trusted, and the mass murder of the Capitol children and mention of restarting the Hunger Games should have been enough for Katniss to make sure another heartless regime didn't take power. Prim. Did not. Have. To die. I'm not going to say all of the other betrayals would be forgivable without making the entire series moot by killing Prim, but this is the final straw.
So after all that, my friends were pretty much right. I would not go so far as to say Mockingjay sucks, or that Mockingjay is "for shit," but Mockingjay is a disappointing, ill-fitting finale to a remarkable series that otherwise deserves the hype it's received. Of course, I acknowledge that mine isn't the be-all/end-all opinion on The Hunger Games. Some readers may love how different Peeta is after returning from the Capitol. Some may have been waiting for such over-the-top traps in the arenas. Some readers may have problems with Mockingjay that I didn't even touch on. I discussed my issues with my sister, and she had completely forgotten that Prim dies, so obviously some readers don't have as big of an issue with that as I do. But the fact of the matter remains that most people who have read all three books in The Hunger Games series do not like Mockingjay, and I have simply tried to expound reasons as to why. If nothing else, after all this venting, at least I feel a little better.