~~Moved from GR~~
Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3)
by Suzanne Collins
Ever read a sequel to a book you loved only to find that said sequel was not simply disappointing, but was so naive that it caused you to go back and reevaluate the original book? That was Mockingjay (and, to a lesser extent, Catching Fire), for me. Let me be clear: it's not a bad book; I just found it very disappointing and it caused me to question whether the brilliant insights I saw in the first book were really there at all.
First thing to say: I thought the first book was simply awesome, and definitely worth a read. And if you've read the first and second, you're gonna end up reading the third. I would advise adjusting your expectations, however. I loved the character of Katniss in the first book: resourceful, determined, and ruthless, but not devoid of empathy or compassion. Although I found it difficult to read, I understood her evolution into the cold, calculating murderess of Catching Fire. But where did this fainting, fluttering, wingeing, whining weakling spring from? Katniss, the girl who earned her fame by defying the Capitol, literally spends half of the book in a state of semi-comatose self-pity. Most of the rest is spent in heartsick romantic yearning. And since I never saw a love triangle here at all (I thought it was patently obvious), I found the romantic agonies mindnumbingly dull.(show spoiler)
Part of Katniss's strength and power as a character in The Hunger Games came from her simultaneous manipulation and defiance of the audience. The portrayal of the media/audience relationship and the thoughtless, coldhearted enjoyment of another's pain was perfectly portrayed in The Hunger Games. To me, this message is weakened in Catching Fire, but was fully destroyed by Katniss's easy capitulation in Mockingjay and assumption of the shallow role of propaganda figurehead. Yes, the story cynically shows the way we can be manipulated by superficial stories and images, but it muddies and perhaps even destroys the brilliant and piercing insights of the first book. It made me wonder if perhaps I had initially read in more meaning than the author intended. While we see some level of corruption and cruelty in District 13, in this book, residents of the Capitol are portrayed as stupidly cruel.(show spoiler)
This absolute display of inhumanity allows us to distance ourselves from Capitol residents and therefore lessens our ability to recognize our own vicarious glee in the violence we follow and encourage in our media.
In addition, I feel that the portrayal of politics and power in this one is almost embarrassingly naive. President Snow is a cruel and inhuman idiot, and his puppet villainy distracts from any subtle message that the series might hold. Rather than recognizing our own potential to fall into the same traps that lead to this dystopian world, readers can simply focus on the big bad child-sacrificing, pimping, murdering, psychopathic president. And he is so stupid! He basically does the opposite of whatever Machiavelli would recommend. Imagine if instead of all this violence and murder, he (1)kept up the Catching Fire-style manipulation of Katniss into happy citizenhood, (2)used the excuse of the wedding to bestow food/luxuries upon the districts, and (3)used this or the Quarter Quell as an excuse to save (at least some of) the children. This would make him a hero who bestowed bounty upon his citizens and used his influence to save their children--not only instant goodwill, but extra food on the tables would quell the desperation that leads to revolts. Instead, he behaved with extreme idiocy which Collins insisted on treating as genius. I can suspend a lot of disbelief, but not that much.
I felt that there was a lot of pontificating in this book and I'm pretty sure I was repeatedly pounded by The Morality Hammer. But the message was so muddied, and I was in so much shock and denial about the simplicity of this story, that I am pretty sure I missed it. One group of people (the Capitol citizenry) is effectively dehumanized, so it can't be a warning of where we go when we become disconnected from reality. Since Katniss capitulates and apparently is satisfied to perpetuate her role as a superficial figurehead, it can't really be much of a denunciation of our use of media. Not much judgement or even thought is put into casual and brutal murder, the portrayal of war is painfully simplistic, and the over-the-top evil shenanigans of the villain limits any power in confronting the issues within civil war and justice. I just don't know. Maybe it was just meant to be thrilling, heartpounding, and exciting--something I can't handle, since I don't find child murder to be "fun". I'd read it again to find out, but I just don't want to. I think I'm just going to wipe these from my mind and pretend that The Hunger Games was a standalone.