Survivor. Sharpshooter. Courageous rebel. Wimp.
That’s the character development of Katniss Everdeen in the final installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t read book three, stop now.
After surviving the arena for a second time, Katniss Everdeen finds herself homeless when the Capital destroys District 12 in retaliation for her rebellion. Along with Gale and her family, she is taken to live in the underground bunkers of District 13, where there have been people all along (surprise surprise). It’s a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, except everyone’s forgotten their Who records in the post-apocalypse. District 13 want to use Katniss as the face of the revolution. The Mockingjay.
While Katniss poses for the cameras as a hero, she toys, yet again, with the feelings of Gale and Peeta. You’ll start tearing your hair out at the indecisiveness of this girl by page ten. How long can this go on for? Any normal person by now would have asked for a bit of space, but no, not Katniss. Despite losing her home and being in the middle of a war zone, she continues to make out with both Peeta and Gale. I just don’t get it.
Collins doesn’t even put Katniss in the position where she’s forced to make a choice between the two. She just slides into life with one, without a thought for the other. I do agree with her choice in the end, but the last few pages of good writing are not enough to make up for a novel plagued by bad pacing and laziness.
The main problem with Mockingjay lies in Collins’ inability to write major action sequences into the story. Whenever an epic fight or chance for archery appears, Katniss hunkers down, falls asleep, curls up in foetal position, gets knocked unconscious or locked in a room. Where the first two books never backed down, the third is like running away and waving a white flag. Katniss gives up.
Peeta’s description of Katniss perfectly captures the confusion about her character in Mockingjay:
Friend. Lover. Victor. Enemy. Financee. Target. Mutt. Neighbour. Hunter. Tribute. Ally. I’ll add it to the list of words I use to try to figure you out.
As readers, we don’t want our heroes to wig out. We want them to find the courage within themselves to persevere and fight the good fight. Above all, a hero needs to conquer their self doubt. It’s easy to write a scene where a character does nothing. It’s hard to plot a taught and frantic thriller. The lack of build up leaves the ending empty; the deaths in the book are made less meaningful as a result.
Haymitch’s character never evolves past the drunkard next door; even when he is forced to sober up in District 13, he’s blissfully wasted by the end of the novel. Katniss and Haymitch spend most of the novel fighting, which does little for their father/daughter relationship developed in the first two books.
The side plot about Peeta being hijacked by the Capitol is ridiculous, like some kind of Manchurian Candidate Lite. If only Collins would follow through her ideas. What if Katniss had to kill Peeta on live TV? Wouldn’t that bring the story full circle and create a powerful ending? Even the ending she chose would have worked so much better if we’d seen more of Prim during the novel, instead of a few brief words at the start. What I’m shocked at is that all these structural issues made it past an editor.
While the scenes involving the “cracking of the nut” and the race to the Capitol are some of the most entertaining, they’re too short and underdeveloped. Finally, I thought, here she goes with that amazing bow. And before you know it, Katniss is back to being locked in a room, contemplating suicide.
The movie version of Mockingjay may be a chance to restructure the failings of the novel. This is one case I hope they don’t stick to the story.