Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Hunger Games trilogy: Catching Fire and Mockingjay

Today I continue discussing the Hunger Games trilogy, the first book of which I discussed so exhaustively yesterday. This is part of my Summer of Reviews, explained here.

Book review:
Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins

Book review:
by Suzanne Collins

As I concluded yesterday, The Hunger Games sets us up to follow the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, on two character arcs.
One - The journey toward self-awareness in terms of her emotions. Katniss has been living in survival mode for all of her formative years, and her emotional maturity is stunted. We are set up to expect growth from her in this area, as she learns to identify the way she feels toward Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, and her mother.
Two - The journey toward self-awareness in terms of her unique talents, and her discovery of how she can use those talents. Everyone in Panem is captivated by her inner fire. We expect to see her becoming the leader of a noble cause: the toppling of this horrifically unjust society.

The titles of Books Two and Three in the trilogy give us an inkling of how the story will play out:

Book Two is called Catching Fire. Throughout The Hunger Games, fire is a symbol of Katniss herself. Therefore, naming the book Catching Fire indicates that the ideals she stands for will start to take root in the hearts and minds of the people in the districts. Not only that, but Katniss will start to see that she has these gifts for inspiring people, and that she may be able to use them to cause change.
(She does not yet know what ideals she stands for, but the way she instinctively reacts to situations makes it clear what they are. In addition, she has Peeta and others in her life who are more aware of what they stand for, and can help her explore her own positions.)

Book Three is called Mockingjay. The mockingjay is an important symbol in The Hunger Games as well. To Katniss, it is a reminder of her father. To Katniss and others, it symbolizes the limitations of the Capitol's seeming omnipotence. To those inclined to see it, it can symbolize the hope that, like the mockingjay, an alternate society can find a way to survive despite the efforts of the Capitol. Therefore, it seems that this book will tell the story of the overthrow of the Capitol and triumph of a new society, one based on the humanistic ideals of both Katniss and Peeta.

As I have argued, this is the story foreshadowed by the character development in The Hunger Games as well as the titles Collins gave to the rest of the trilogy.
Now that I have actually read them, I see that that is not the story Collins intended to tell after all (assume for the time being that she had the whole story planned all along). Catching Fire seems to continue along that path, and then Mockingjay throws various curveballs in the story's way. The curveballs could be interesting ways to ultimately arrive at the same conclusion, so I held out hope until the very end.
It saddens me to report that the Hunger Games trilogy does not get there. It goes someplace else entirely. Instead of being a story about teenagers using their innate gifts and idealism to change their world, it is a story of how war ruins lives and destroys even the seemingly strongest survivors. I am not exaggerating when I say that Collins completely destroys every single character she so effectively made us care about. She utterly tears them down and leaves them in ruins. Had I known that, I would not have signed on to invest my time and emotions in taking this journey with Katniss. And because I feel so strongly that we were set up to take another journey entirely, I actually feel angry.

That's right. I vehemently dislike Mockingjay, and therefore the trilogy as a whole, and therefore I do NOT recommend reading these books. Unless they completely rewrite the story for the movies, and I hope they do (but with Suzanne Collins so centrally involved, they probably won't), I can't recommend them either.

Final verdict: this trilogy fails, because the reader is blindsided. That's not good writing, and it's not good storytelling.

(may contain spoilers)

Well, I wrote up my thoughts about each book, but blogger lost them, and now ... I just can't.

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