I finished reading Mockingjay yesterday. While I've enjoyed the whole Hunger Games trilogy quite a bit, I cannot come to terms with the ending. For those of you who haven't read it yet, the end is solidly bittersweet--with a whole lot of bitter and precious little sweet. Now, I am not someone who has to have a happy ending no matter what. In fact, some of my favorite stories have tragic endings. (I never could resist anything that made me cry.) But there has to be a reason for the ending. If a story ends bittersweet, it should be because a happy ending would have felt wrong. Sydney Carton had to die at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, because if he had just swooped in, saved the day, and taken everyone back to England safe and sound, the book would have lost a lot of its meaning and power.
Alright, so let's start with the concept of meaning and apply it to Mockingjay. The ending would be understandable (and forgivable) if Collins had something specific to say. And I think she does have something to say, but what it turns out to be is something as broad and bland and over-parroted as War is bad.
Yes, war is bad. But in my entire life span (which, admittedly, isn't very long), I haven't run into a single living person who thought war was good. So really, did Collins have to sacrifice the ending of this trilogy for the sake of telling us something that we already believe?
Now, while this is one major problem I have with the ending, I think the real reason I didn't like it was not the ending itself, but the promises I felt the author had made to us that weren't fulfilled. Looking back on the series, I feel like there were a number of opportunities that were wasted, and a number of aspects of the ending that made it distinctively unhappy. For example:
- Peeta's speaking abilities are mentioned and come into play a number of times in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Because it kept coming up, I felt, when I was speculating about Mockingjay before I read it, that something meaningful Peeta says in public should have a pivotal role in the book, particularly at the end. Instead, Peeta is a prisoner of the Capitol for the first half of the book, has a severely altered personality in the second half of the book, and the only major part he plays in the end is to keep Katniss from committing suicide after she makes the final decisive action of the book. Yes, that action belongs to Katniss, since she is the main character. But the story is also Peeta's in so many ways, and to have his only role in the book be as a source of angst for Katniss is just disappointing. I wanted to see him act. I wanted to see him come into his own as a well-reasoned, decisive man. I wanted him to have a moment where I could stand up and cheer for him. But the book had none of that.
- The romance went kaput. Despite how well it was written, I'm not sure I liked the love triangle. Being yanked back and forth between Gale and Peeta created a lot of tension, but after a while I just wanted it to stop. Also, the way in which it got resolved wasn't really a resolution. Katniss admitted that a part of her would always hate Gale for her sister's death, and Gale, for the most part, walked out of her life. And after that, Peeta and Katniss fall back in love again in a very boring way off-screen. After three books of constant romantic tension... that's it?
- In the end, Katniss has Peeta again. Great. But everyone else is gone. Even the people who aren't dead are gone, such as Katniss's mother. Throughout the book the one source of comfort for Katniss has been other people, but at the end of the book she's all but completely alone. The book ends with a profound sense of loneliness, which I found very depressing. No reward at all for suffering through all the gruesome deaths that litter the pages of the book.
Those are just the main problems I can think of off the top of my head. In all, it felt to me like Collins performed a series of tricks, dazzling us with her ability to keep us constantly in suspense, jumping higher and higher each time. And then, after all those surprises, she found that she'd left herself only a few options with which to craft a good ending. So she made the ending bittersweet, because that was all that was left.
Now, the one thing I haven't addressed is that the ending is realistic. In real wars, people you love die horrendous, pointless deaths. Happy endings are in short supply. But most people don't read fiction for realism. We have real life for that. Good fiction tries to make us better than we are, not by reinforcing the hopelessness many of us already feel when looking at the world, but by telling us that evil doesn't always win, and that there's a reason to keep hoping and keep fighting for what's right and true. If a book's central message is "Life stinks," I don't know if it can really be classified as a good book.
But, despite all the negative things I've said, I do think Suzanne Collins is a talented author with great storytelling abilities, and I would still recommend The Hunger Games and Catching Fire -- and, yes, maybe even Mockingjay, though not without fair warning -- to someone looking for an engaging book to read. I won't deny that reading these books has been fun. And I'm still looking forward to the movie.