So after sitting with the story for a little while now, I'm realizing that Mockingjay left me with a different sort of TEABS. You could call it DE2ABSS for Disappointing End to A Beloved Series Syndrome. That's not as catchy as TEABS, but hopefully it won't need to be used as much, so it doesn't need to be the kind of acronym that catches on. Although I do think more numerals need to be used in acronyms, just in general...
Anyway, after this point there'll be nothing but spoilers, so if you haven't finished Mockingjay yet, you probably don't want to keep reading. Unless you haven't even started Mockingjay yet, in which case I'd say to you - don't bother! Let the world of Panem and all of its beloved characters live on in your head untainted by this mess.
So first off, some history of me and The Hunger Games in general, because I realize I'm being a bit brazen by openly declaring the end of Katniss's story a festival of suck, and tons of you will angrily disagree with me. That's totally fine, and I realize I'm not necessarily the demographic for this book anyway (although there you could argue that none of us on FYA are really the demographic, but that's getting ahead of ourselves).
At any rate, as a movie nerd first and foremost, I was predisposed to not really be into The Hunger Games. When PoshDeluxe first told me about this amazing book she was reading where a bunch of teenagers had to go into an arena and fight to the death I snarkily replied, "Oh, so some YA writer realized that most people in America still aren't aware of Battle Royale and then decided to mix that in with Shirley Jackson's The Lottery? Whoopity do!"
But she kept talking about it and raving, so I started to see that maybe there was something there. I'd blown off Harry Potter until she convinced me that the books were way better than the movies on their own, and I'm really glad I got into that as well as several other YA series that followed. So we agreed that if she'd watch the awesomely violent Battle Royale then I would also read The Hunger Games.
And it took me a couple dozen pages, but I quickly realized that I totally loved The Hunger Games, too. Suzanne Collins may have launched into her world from a series of incidents that I was familiar with, but she made it completely her own. And other than wondering about the technology that let them be filmed all the time throughout the games, I was completely hooked. The training! The careers! Cinna making me somehow care about futuristic female fashion! Rue! Poor, amazing Rue...
And the beginning of what would become the love triangle that consumed the books was so heartbreakingly real. Katniss realizing that Gale would be watching her as she pretended to love Peeta, not understanding that the longer she put on the act the more genuine her affection for him would become... ouch.
When we would first get together and argue about whether we were Team Peeta or Team Gale it felt more like we were only talking about whether or not we thought Katniss should even bother with giving Peeta a real chance. Readers either loved Peeta's passion and found his childhood crush on Katniss endearing or thought that unconditionally loving someone from afar didn't really make sense and that anyone who acted that way in real life would totally be a stalker and bad in bed. I clearly sided with the latter camp, so I was Team Gale when we didn't really know anything about Gale except that A) he was probably hurt by what Katniss had to do with Peeta to survive the Games and B) he was the best chance her family had for survival if she died (and that's all I needed to know to realize that Gale was clearly a badass).
But yeah, that book was AWESOME.
Catching Fire wasn't quite as strong for me, but I loved the way we got to see more of Panem, and once I got over the fact that the Quarter Quell felt kind of like a cheat by Collins as much as it was a dick move by President Snow, I was okay with that device and got sucked back into the arena. Plus learning about Haymitch's history, seeing a bunch of victorious tributes get together, and getting to go back in with a little bit of an idea of what to expect from the damn game makers made it fun to be back in that world. Admittedly, I was a little peeved by the whole, "This has been a revolutionary plan all along and oh my god there's randomly no District 12" shock ending that felt like it came on too swiftly and a little too Shyamalanistic, but we knew there would be an entire book following that, and Collins had won my respect so completely from the death of Rue scenes, so I was ready to go for the ride.
And the first half of Mockingjay was a pretty great ride. I still find the destruction of District 12 a little bit over the top, but it gives us an excuse to get all of our protagonists inside the awesome flip side of dystopia that's all underground and full of rigid rules. And seeing that as the alternative really did make me think about the world we live in and how it's kind of impossible to get away from having different districts that are full of disenfranchised people. There are only so many resources, after all, and on Earth is America really all that different from the Capitol when we rely on third world slave labor to provide us with oil and Nikes and stuff? And maybe if President Snow is the embodiment of capitalistic greed, President Coin is a demonstration on how a Communistic attempt at getting people to share resources still falls apart because there'll have to be someone at the top determining exactly how those resources are shared, and it would be impossible for that person to not become corrupt, and...
Then I'd slap myself and make fun of my brain for reading way too much into a book where a girl with awesome bow and arrow skills is having a hard time choosing between a baker and a hunter. But still, I enjoyed those thoughts, and I wouldn't be surprised if Collins planted some of those ideas in there on purpose to help show that it's not just that war is bad, it's that fighting is part of the human condition and how we respond to that necessity is how we determine what our character is.
But I digress again. Because there we are, watching Katniss be manipulated and moved throughout this world, but we're watching her come into her own for the first time, too. When Plutarch & Co. realize that they can't get the soundbites they need by writing what they want her to say, they're inadvertently helping her tap into that inner fire inside. In District 8 she breaks away and does what she needs to. In District 2 she risks her life to save a bunch of people who would have loved watching their career children slaughter her or Prim, and it's awesome.
But then they send her in on a mission to get camera footage of her in a city (lame). Things go wrong (duh). Peeta is a walking time bomb because of the whole hijacking thing (not only lame but also robs even Team Peeta fans of the chance for Peeta and Katniss to really find their way to each other). Finnick dies, they hang out in the back of a fur shop, then the army is in the middle of the city anyway, meaning that the entire mission we'd just watched is pretty much pointless.
And before we even worry about the whole saving Prim was the only reason Katniss volunteered for the Games and started this shit storm but then Prim died anyway thing, what about the fact that it was sort of just a given that President Snow had a bunch of children hanging out in his front yard as some kind of deterrent. What the fuck is that?
Yes, the world is full of awful people who commit unthinkable crimes like using children as human shields (don't click that link if you want to sleep ever again, cause you'll realize you're totally a Capitol citizen damn fast if you do). But why would anyone really assume President Snow just put them in his front yard? And if Coin did it as part of her master plan to make Katniss one last symbol of her new power, how did she do it? And why did she bother? Just for the one last Hunger Games? Because it wasn't like Katniss was starting to think, "Hmm. Maybe I won't choose Gale or Peeta and will just run away with President Snow instead!" That whole mess comes out of nowhere, and then the kids thinking that the parachuted bombs would have food and prizes because they serve tributes that way during the Games was just another bit of WTF.
And yes, you can argue your way around it and say, "Well, Katniss and her gang were hanging out in tiger lady's basement for a long time, so all sorts of things could happen above ground. It makes sense that Snow would do something and then and then Coin would do something and then something else would happen and the kids grew up watching the Games so maybe at Christmas they have presents parachuted in to be cute and then that set up the thing with the bombs and everything."
You can say that, and yes, it theoretically could have happened. But the fact that it could be possible doesn't make it believable within the confines of the story, and that's the problem with everything that happens after that fake mission into the city. As soon as they're in the basement, the action is all off the page, which means that not only do we not get to see any of it, but none of it makes any sense. When we're finally brought in to the "Let's Have Another Hunger Games" vote, we don't catch that Katniss is saying, "I vote yes - for Prim" merely as a way of stalling so she can kill Coin because we're too busy going, "Wait, what the fuck is happening??"
And that's lazy storytelling. Some of that, of course, is because we're always trapped inside Katniss's head, so we can't know what's going on everywhere else. But how awesome would the series have been if Collins had left that convention behind? What if The Hunger Games was from Katniss's point of view, Catching Fire had completely shifted the action to Peeta's POV, and then we experienced the events in Mockingjay from Gale's perspective?? How much more powerful would the bombing and executing of Prim have been if we'd been able to see it coming but were unable to stop it, like Gale was? And then in the epilogue we could have pulled back to an omniscient viewpoint and been given the opportunity to check in on all of our favorite characters. Maybe without any inner monologue at all, because then there wouldn't be this final sort of debate over whether or not Katniss ending up with Peeta was a good thing or a bad thing.
Of course, like I said in my other post, that Epilogue was great for me if only because it proved the point I'd been making since the first book: if she chooses Peeta, her life will suck. And to be clear to people that posted some stuff in the comments after my last post, I don't at ALL think that having kids and being peaceful is automatically a sucky life. Hanging out with someone you love, producing more people that you love, and watching them grow up to become full fledged human beings in a world where you don't have to send them off to a lottery every year just to get your allotment of grain sounds like it could be a beautiful thing. But even though there is a line about how holding the first baby alleviated some of Katniss's fear, she still felt terror all over again when she got pregnant again, and because Collins has us trapped inside Katniss's 37 year old mind even at the end we can see that she doesn't think, "Wow, I used to not want children because I grew up in a horrible world. But then Peeta made me realize that thanks to all of the horrors and sacrifices that we went through, the world today is a better place. It isn't perfect by any means, but it's the kind of place where I could imagine starting a new life, of seeing into the future, of the possibilities of it all" and on and on. But she doesn't. She says that it took fifteen years to agree to children, but Peeta wanted them so badly.
And she doesn't look to the future or find hope. She dwells on the past, talking about the graveyard her nameless children play on, about the "tedious" task of making a list of every act of goodness she's seen someone do. That's a horrible existence, and it doesn't ring true to the Katniss that we grew to love in the first book. Yes, she's reactionary, but therein lies her strength, and her fire, and her only moments of actual joy. But in choosing to spend her life with a dandelion, she chose a life of sitting on a hillside in a meadow without ever leaving to go off with a hunting partner.
And here again, yes you can argue, "But that's how it would really happen! War is bad and stuff!" And yes, war is bad. And yes, it could happen this way. But that doesn't excuse that in a fictional world we should see things happen, and that those things should happen for an actual reason that is propelled by the interactions of believable characters and a plot that moves us from scene to scene. Instead, we only get Katniss kind of whining.
And she always did that in her head, and I think we all do that internally from time to time, and that was one of the things that connected us as readers to her plight in the first book and her painful realization that she was going to have to choose between suitors in the second. But ultimately she always proved that she was a person of action no matter what she thought in her head. And the second half of Mockingjay robbed us of that Katniss, and that's nothing but disappointing.
Of course, if the epilogue hadn't been in there, and there'd been a fourth book where Gale had to come back to District 12 as part of his Important and Awesome Work... Hmm. And THEN Katniss could see Gale on one of his visits and start to want to come back out and make the world a better place, especially because she has kids now and that fire inside her wouldn't make her just worry about explaining nightmares. And there'd be some of that old tension, and she's wonder if maybe she should have picked Gale after all, but then we'd meet Gale's wife and she would be AWESOME and SUPER HOT and Katniss would realize that she no longer even had a chance.
Not only that, but we'd get to hear from Gale and how the whole disappointing ending of Mockingjay thing where Katniss didn't actually choose at all but rather just ended up with Peeta because he was the only dude her age in her district. And Gale would explain that yeah, he used to love Katniss. But when he realized that she'd always think he'd directly killed her sister just because he had a good understanding of human behavior he realized that he was actually over her. She'd put him through the ringer, and for what? Because she kinda liked this dough boy, too? He didn't need that shizz in his life anymore, so he did the only sensible thing any of us can do when we realize we're in a love triangle - he took himself out of it and reminded himself that there are plenty of other awesome people in the world. Then he went and found one that understood how awesome he was and they also made babies together, but they did it with way more orgasms than Katniss and Peeta.
But still, Gale's fire would reignite hers, and then she would light up again, and she would inspire Peeta, and he would use his power of knowing the right thing to say in every situation to rise to a status where he was improving Panem for everyone. Not as President, necessarily, but at least as a leader in a badass non-profit that was working to improve the life of miners in every district, or just as a mobile food bank operator.
Of course, he'd still be working directly under Gale's supervision. And maybe he'd start to have a crush on Gale's wife, too, because he realized that the girl he fell in love with was literally 7 when he decided to love her, and she changed so much as they grew together and then somewhere in the pandemonium he felt like he was losing her again, which made him cling on to her ever tighter, so then she thought she'd better go off on her own for a few months and try to rediscover herself, only to discover, to her horror, that she'd somehow become just as crappy at caring for her offspring as her own mother was because she totally abandoned her children to that milk toast baker.
And that, too, would be how things really happen in real life. It would give everyone their bittersweet ending that they needed because war is bad and they think that that's what this series is about (even though it's totally not). But it would be a bittersweet ending with some punch, with some fire, with some real hope of a continued existence.
Is it still bad fan fiction if the writing is actually better than the original story?
Also, dear Scholastic - I'm totally available to serve as editor for your next big crossover series. Or to help Suzanne do a rewrite before the paperback comes out.
Check out our Hunger Games themed t-shirts!