Catching Fire & Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – review

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins
2009, Scholastic Press, 391 pages, 978-0-439-02349-8, Hardcover, $17.99

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins
2009, Scholastic Press, 390 pages, 978-0-439-02351-1, Hardcover, $17.99

Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian Fiction/Survival Fiction

Having now finished the Hunger Games trilogy, my final take on the series is this: it’s quite possibly the most emotionally devastating series I’ve ever read. And I’ve read my share.

People have been comparing it to Battle Royale since the first book was released, and, yes, in many ways the The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are conceptually similar. But the comparison really stops after book one, when Catching Fire and Mockingjay take a decidedly different turn and delve into other difficult areas.

But even given that fact, there’s something else that I find quite different (as far as my reading experience, at least), and that’s the emotional content. Sure, Battle Royale has its moments, and you feel for the characters, particularly when the book provides glimpses of their personal lives, but being in the midst of these situations from a first-person POV is an entirely different situation. In the Hunger Games series, we’re with Katniss every step of the way, seeing what she sees through her own lens of personality and experience. Her conclusions are not always accurate–in fact, she’s wrong in many cases–but that’s part of the appeal of a first-person POV. We, the readers, are sometimes able to distinguish what is happening when she cannot, but much of the story’s tension exists because we cannot determine exactly what is happening outside of her perception.

Anyway, this post is definitely not a comparison between two different books. I had merely been considering the difference between third- and first-person views before sitting down to write, so that’s what came out first.

But I still want to highlight the rocky emotional terrain because it is what made the books most enjoyable for me. I’m neither a huge fan nor a detractor of Collins’s writing style, as I find it a little bit generic but by no means unsatisfactory. Her ability to draw out the feelings of the characters, however, and to elicit reactions in the reader is pretty darn phenomenal, at least from where I was sitting.

Regarding the conclusion of this series–which I understand received mixed reactions–I had been pre-warned by the person who lent me the books that it was sad and not at all what I might want or expect to happen. Well, having reached the end, I beg to differ.

Frankly, I don’t see how it could have ended any other way. By the end of Mockingjay (and I’m not really going to give anything away, here), the characters have seen so much and undergone so much physical and mental trauma that, while they retain some parts of their old selves, they’re certainly different people. Katniss has lost her home and the people she cares about. She has been hounded ever since she survived the games, and she has been forced to lead a rebellion for the sake of her friends. And she’s not even the character who had it the worst. But even then, hearing about what others have been subjected to affects her stability–the situation with Peeta worst of all.

If anyone thought that she would be able to happily reintegrate into society and go along like nothing happened, then maybe they were expecting too much from the fiction aspect of the story. And it wasn’t as though Katniss was likely to become a leader–she has, herself, determined that leadership isn’t a role that suits her, and it’s obvious from her distant and unsociable personality that she’s right, no matter how she looks on camera.

For the most part, the other characters in the story really grew on me once I got to see more of them. Even the antagonists of the series were interesting if not likeable (really, Snow is a legitimately creepy man, but he’s an intriguing villain). There were only two exceptions: Coin, who I don’t think I was supposed to like anyway, and Gale, who just served to annoy me a little bit throughout the story. This reaction to his character ultimately comes down to a personal preference–I don’t like jealous types. That I decided I didn’t care for him actually speaks well of Collins’s representation of his character.

Finnick was probably the character I grew to like the most. He was unexpectedly sympathetic, and his backstory surprised me. His behavior in Mockingjay was an interesting juxtaposition to the abilities he demonstrates during Catching Fire, showing that, for all he has hidden it, he hasn’t been unaffected by the games or by his life in the Capitol. The way he dealt with his own difficulties while trying to help Katniss deal with hers was also more than a little endearing.

Getting to read something about Haymitch’s backstory was surprising as well. We finally learn the truth about what happened during his own game, and after it, which led to the Haymitch we know from book one. Most surprising, I think, is discovering just how ruthless he could be–something that is demonstrated throughout the series, but which is somewhat tempered by how much he cares about Katniss and Peeta. He’s quite a curious character, in my opinion, and it would be fascinating to experience a story from his point of view.

I’m certainly looking forward to next year’s movie and, of course, having read and enjoyed the series, I’m setting my expectations high. From all I’ve heard, a lot of the people involved with the project are fans, so here’s hoping that the end product is something awesome.



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