Thursday, July 19, 2012

Promises, Promises: Why Mockingjay Infuriated Me

File:Mockingjay.JPGFinally got current(ish) with my dystopia reading--a good idea, since that's what I'm writing. A few weeks ago, I finished Mockingjay. Rarely has any book elicited such ire. Here's why: the writer-to-reader promise.


The concluding scene of Catching Fire made me cry. For Peeta, of course, but also for Katniss. Her only goal this time around was his survival, and now she has to face that death would have been a less painful reality for him. And this hurts her. Because Peeta matters to her.

I wanted--no, needed--to read the next book not only to learn Peeta's fate, but also to see Katniss's newfound unselfishness continue to grow. Ms. Collins promised it would. Katniss had learned to see Peeta as a person. Maybe she was even learning to love him.

But in Mockingjay, for no good reason, Katniss snaps into instant regression. She takes half the book to break down over Peeta's torture, and the rescue attempt isn't even her idea. When he's back but hijacked out of his head, she goes to see him once. Once. She gives him up almost instantly as "irretrievable." And she leaves the District and tries not to think about him anymore. In fact, she probably would never have laid eyes on him again, if Coin hadn't sent him to assassinate her.

Then we're in battle with them, and Peeta realizes he's a danger to everyone, that he has no way of knowing what's "real or not real." My heart broke for him when he pleads for Katniss to kill him, for her own safety. In that moment, I didn't need some melodramatic declaration of love. I didn't need a kiss, or a paragraph of dialogue in which she extolled all Peeta's virtues. I just needed her to say, "I'm not killing you because you're worth saving. Because you're Peeta."

Instead, we get, "I'm not killing you, so stop wasting my time asking me to."

The epilogue seems intended to rip out any root of hope that the last line of the final chapter could be true. Sure, Katniss had Peeta's kids. Because he wanted some. But there's such a lack of love in her, even for them, that she doesn't bother using their names.

I. Hated. Her.

Once I'd gotten over my initial fury, analytical me resurfaced. Katniss from the first book would have done all the things I hated her for in the third book. What was my problem?

I get the effect this kind of life, this degree of violence would have on a person. From the first page of this series, Katniss is emotionally stunted. And only a sociopath (which she isn't quite) could survive the Hunger Games without severe PTSD. Emotional numbing? To be expected. Fear of attachment, for sure. After all, what's the point, everyone's going to die. So that's not my problem.

I'm not a Happily Ever After Reader. Never have been. So that's not my problem.

Here's my problem. In that second book, the author gave Katniss an emotional arc, a journey of change. That arc is a promise: when you see Katniss again, she will be this new person. Not the old one.

Did the author make the promise in order to break it? I want to hope not, because that indicates some serious reader manipulation on her part. However, I can't chalk up Katniss's actions (or that hideous epilogue) to anything else. Especially given the overall skill with which this series was written.

If I'm right, this author exploited my emotions on purpose. Skillfully and successfully. So yes, she's brilliant. But ... how can I trust her?

Have you read this series? Did you feel the same way? Do you think I'm nuts?

How do you define the writer-to-reader promise? Is it universal, or does it differ for different readers? Can you recommend us some authors you trust to keep their promises?


  1. Just read this, and I, too, was utterly disappointed w/Mockingjay. Mostly b/c she ******SPOILER ALERT*********

    killed the sister. WHAT on earth. Totally unnecessary, in my opinion. I get it that tons of people die, but she's already lost her dad and bazillions of friends. MUST we truly lose the one pure character we were rooting for? To me, it was a perfect encapsulation of Collins' worldview that permeated the series. Hopelessness. Overwhelming sadness. Very much reminded me of a modern-day Thomas Hardy. And I love Hardy, but his one or two books that don't have a morbid ending are so much more POWERFUL and redemptive. That said, I'm not a happily-ever-after girl either. But after reading this series, I'm definitely re-working the ending of my paranormal novel (if I ever rework the entire book). I see how depressing and pointless a bleak ending can be.

    Great thoughts!

  2. First off, love your blog! Reading through the posts and want to comment on, like, every one. But this one had to be first.

    Why? Because, well, Mockingjay was my fav of the HG series. *ducking*

    Maybe I felt a different connection with Katniss, had fewer expectations on her. And it must be said that I never really felt it for Peeta until he went nuts. Yeah, I'm weird.

    And maybe I read Catching Fire so stinking fast that I missed the story arc you speak of. Question for you--did you hate Katniss in book 1? Were you Team Peeta from the burnt bread story?

    Everything seemed to happen to Katniss, and all she could do was survive. Even Peeta's love just... happened. She didn't want to love him, so when she proclaimed her lack of murderous intent, what else could she say? Was Katniss numb? Sure. Frustrated? You betcha. But the growth of her love and reactions were pretty consistent, all told. I'll submit that the epilogue was painful. Seriously.

    Very interesting question about author/reader trust. Is it our job (as authors) to build trust and relationship, or simply stir emotions and trigger shifts in thinking?

  3. H--I agree. It's clear that Collins intentionally destroyed goodness in the final book. And I get that this is merely a reflection of her worldview, but ... Prim. Really, even Prim?

    D--Happy you're enjoying my little thoughts in the big blogosphere. I need to get back to regular posting here! I was lax in August (as you can see, blush).

    I love your dissenting opinion. Thanks for sharing it!

    My expectations of Book 1 Katniss would not have been frustrated by Book 3 at all. I didn't hate her. She was interesting. And yes to all you said--everything happened to her. She was a survivor and nothing else because she didn't know how to be anything else. Her life to that point hadn't allowed her to be. But that changed in Book 2. She changed. Love *did* start to grow. I read Book 3 to see the growth continue, but it didn't. Instead, she regressed with no apparent reason.

    I didn't care for Peeta until he started asserting himself a little in Book 2. The burnt bread story was nice, but I want guys to be MALE. And you seem to know what I mean. ;)

    I think that if you want readers to follow you with loyalty, to pre-order your books before they can even read the back cover, a certain amount of trust is necessary. I base this on my own experience as a reader, though. E.g. there's a literary fiction (or maybe she's commercial women's fiction? I guess now she is) author of whom I've read six books because I enjoy her voice. But I got to the point that I couldn't read her any longer because she valued a shocking climax more than she valued a believable one. I could predict her unpredictable books because I just went, "What's the one thing that would be least likely to happen/no one would ever see coming/would invalidate the rest of the story to this point?" And that's what she did.

    So as you can see, I don't mean "trust" as in, "The writer will never make me uncomfortable or stir up unwanted emotion." I mean that when the writer begins something, he/she knows what is beginning and plans to finish it. Also that the writer is aware of the reader's emotions and doesn't handle them lightly.

    Ha, this comment is as long as my original post.

    Anyway. I love the thoughtful comments I get on this blog! You are inspiring me to keep going when I think, "What can I possibly blog about?" Thanks for stopping by!