I finished this early Sunday morning after staying up late the night before attempting to finish it but ultimately succumbing to sleep.
10) Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins
The final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy is bleak. It's a country song without the steel guitar. It's your dog dying on the day your significant other leaves you because you got fired from your dream job. Mockingjay is Aron Ralston's situation but with both arms. It's bleak is what I'm saying. The one ray of hope and sunshine occurs in the final two pages and that undercuts much of what the character represents.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Suzanne Collins decides to punch the reader in the gut several times throughout the book, and in discussing it with a few folks after the fact, many believed a few times too many. The toll the events of the rebellion take on Katniss and those around her is absolutely devastating, but considering the stakes of what her side's undertaking, it's hard to fathom anything less. The rebellion attempts to overthrow a totalitarian regime with far-reaching power and a streak of cruelty that appears limitless based on the main character's understanding and description.
For me, the bleakness of Mockingjay is what makes it work. Once Catching Fire took the characters in the direction of complete rebellion and governmental overthrow, there was no way Mockingjay could have a happy ending, and Collins delivers just that to the point that the journey getting there took me by complete surprise. Key characters die in surprising and gut-wrenching fashion, and Katniss makes tough decisions that shock, and sometimes disappoint, both herself and the reader. But it's consistent, which is important. When a book or series of books gets the "young adult" label, I tend to associate a neat and tidy ending to go along with it. This trilogy, for the most part, doesn't attempt to do that too much.
The idea of "young adult" literature is always something that gives me pause because the difference between this particular series (and the later Harry Potter books fall under this same umbrella) and regular, standard fiction appears solely to be an absence of sexual content. Meanwhile, the violence is decidedly adult as is the depression, emotional trauma, and post-traumatic stress Katniss and other characters endure. The only thing that stands out as "young adult" is the fact that the protagonist is 17, but she's lived far more than her 17 years over the course of the trilogy. The terrible scars she bears, both physical and psychological, are haunting, and I caught myself many times wondering how this could be considered anything but adult.
There were a few really disappointing elements along with some aspects that stood out to me as especially great, and covering them means that I'll include a few spoilers so beware these final two paragraphs.
First, Finnick got the short end of the stick. Aside from the triumvirate of Katniss, Peeta and Gale, Finnick is the most rounded and realized character in the entire series. His death came across as cheap and completely unworthy of his development throughout the last two books. He deserved better than a throwaway line coupled with someone else while getting eaten by super velociraptors. Second, having Katniss be absent from her trial was a really odd choice considering it's a story told in first person. It would have been nice to know what occurred to allow her to get away with assassinating the new president in front of a large crowd. Finally, Katniss having kids didn't ring true. Regardless of the abolishment Hunger Games, Katniss never came across as the kind of character that would get over her fear of bringing children into the world. In a way, her ending up with Peeta or Gale, period, never felt quite right. Maybe Collins should have killed her off or perhaps let her live her life alone, but giving her the standard white picket fence happily ever after ending felt hollow considering the events leading up to it.
However, many of the other moments made up for the rest. Prim's death at the hands of Gale's cruel plan was a punch to the gut but for all of the right reasons. Collins made the correct call by fleshing her out over the course of this book because the one thing really lacking in hindsight during the first book was the establishment of Prim as someone for whom Katniss would sacrifice herself. Also, her choice to shoot Coin during the planned execution of Snow is terrific and really illustrates one of the larger ideas I hope people take away from the series as a whole: corruption exists at every level. What were the rebels fighting for, anyway? They just replaced one dictatorial regime for another one that will eventually come up with their own version of the Hunger Games because the world is ultimately a twisted place. But people, as Katniss demonstrates when she makes the attempt to remember every good thing she has ever seen anyone do, in their hearts, are good.