EW Shelf Life Book Club: 'Mockingjay'

Like many of you, I’ve finished Mockingjay–tearing through it at top speed, just as I did The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. And I have to say that although I loved it, and thought it brought the whole trilogy to a perfect end, I know not everyone does. That’s what this book club will be about–not so much reviewing a particular book, but hashing it out, talking about things we liked and didn’t like, speculating on what an author really meant by a certain plot twist or development. I’m curious to know what all of you think.

So, with that in mind, here’s where I’m at, a few days after finishing Mockingjay. (Anyone who hasn’t finished the book, STOP HERE! There are SPOILERS below.)

There’s a lot out there in the media about the violence and brutality of the book. Sheryl Cotleur, who works for a California bookstore, wrote in an op-ed piece, “It seems to me [the books] go beyond the usual mayhem….Now we have not only children killing children, we have electrocution, drowning, burning, stabbing, being injected by virulent venom and more torture than I can recall in any young adult novel I’ve ever read.” For her part, Collins told Library Journal recently, “One of the reasons it’s important for me to write about war is I really think that the concept of war, the specifics of war, the nature of war, the ethical ambiguities of war are introduced too late to children. I think they can hear them, understand them, know about them, at a much younger age without being scared to death by the stories. It’s not comfortable for us to talk about, so we generally don’t talk about these issues with our kids. But I feel that if the whole concept of war were introduced to kids at an earlier age, we would have better dialogues going on about it, and we would have a fuller understanding.” She also says that she hopes readers will come away from the books with “questions about how elements of the books might be relevant in their own lives. And, if they’re disturbing, what they might do about them.” For my part, I think that yes, the brutality is graphic–it occasionally made me flinch–but I also think Collins would not have been able to make her point about the futility of war unless she described it honestly. And real war isn’t  guts and glory. It’s unspeakably horrible. People (often people you love) go out and kill other people.

So: your thoughts on the violence? Too much for the book? Were you ever bothered by Katniss’ ability to kill ruthlessly? How did you feel about the combat scenes?

I’m reading a lot–mostly on various blogs–about the outcome of the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle. Some readers seem incredibly disappointed that Katniss ended up with Peeta, not Gale, and they think the book ended with a whimper. When I first read it, I thought it was a little flat. But it’s grown on me. For one thing, it’s realistic. In war, even the “winners” don’t really win; they’ve sacrificed so much and seen so much and lost so much. Both Katniss and Peeta are injured (both physically and emotionally) and worn down. In retrospect, Katniss’ quiet resignation in the final pages seems fitting to me. But let’s hear it: Who thought she should have ended up with Gale? Why? What did you all think of the ending itself?

Finally, taking the trilogy as a whole, I’m left not just with Collins’ powerful anti-war message but with an indelible image of Katniss in my head. I honestly think she’s a fictional character for the ages, that these books are going to be around for a long, long, time. You?

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  • Kristin Courtien

    I am definitely Team Peeta, and I really enjoyed this book up until the last 2 chapters. I had to re-read the last 2 chapters beucase i couldn’t believe that Prim was really dead and that Katniss and Peeta were so badly burned and that this was the way the author really wanted to end this story. I was disapointed at first but I will say that this trilogy is one of the best I have ever read but to be honest I would prefer to keep fiction fiction and not teach children about war through fictional characters.

    • nodnarb

      I actually thought about reading this series because the reviews make it sound like something I’d enjoy… but the whole Team X/Team Y is such a turn-off. Any book that can be reduced to that is insipid.

      • MeMe

        The books were never supposed to be about the love triangle, it’s just what people choose to focus on. The protagonist is definitely never defined by her romantic entanglements. I am turned off by the team whoever and so on. But the books rise above a romantic soap opera that other books are built upon.

      • Charlotte

        Don’t be afraid of the books because of the supposed love triangle. It really is not the focus of the books. And I for one really liked both of the boys she cared about.

      • Melissa

        And in this particular case, I might suggest that the Team Peeta/Team Gale situation is more of a way for readers to try and understand who Katniss becomes then just another soap opera. For me, I wouldn’t go as far as picking a team but I did have a preference towards Peeta because I felt like Katniss was going through things with him that Gale could never fully understand. And that even though she & Gale had connections too, those could be overcome but Gale would never be able to fully understand the horrors of the arena.
        I’ve talked to a few other people who all agree that understanding Katniss’s choice in a guy was helpful in understanding her choice in who she was going to be. & even those who do still try to reduce the relationships to a team soap opera clearly aren’t paying attention to the books. They are so much more.

  • Otter

    The whole series is apocalypse porn.

  • Melia

    I felt every emotion possible while reading this book.
    Sure the ending was a bit ant-climactic, but why does war have to have a huge ending where the good guys win and the bad guys all learn their lesson? War is death and suffering, when it’s over that doesn’t just go away. I felt like the ending was perfect. When Prim (and Finnick, gosh I loved him) died I was aghast. If I lost my sister, who my relationship is very similar, I think I would have just rolled over and died, not taken out the s.o.b. who’d ordered it. I completely understand Katniss’s need to hole up. It felt poignant that only Peeta’s steadiness could save her from her chosen coma.

    • Cleo

      I loved the book and the ending. I loved that she really needed Peeta to survive and she finally found out that she really loved him. I love that society learned from it’s mistakes and they are trying something else and they have the history books to teach children about war instead of sending them off to war and making them watch it on TV. Society was already changing for the good at the end of the book. It was violent but so is war.

    • Julio

      I tlotaly agree with you on the roacnme. I was sitting on the fence because I didn’t think she loved either one during the series. I favored Gale just because I have a thing for dark-haired guys. I did, though, love how the book ended. It was the write choice for her. And I disagree with AtenRa. She did make a choice of which guy she ended up with. She could have picked some other guy in the end. But when she did make the choice, it was the right one because she was now in love with him. It took time, yes. But this way he wasn’t a prize (or some consolation prize).

  • Sarah

    I was really disappointed in the book, especially as a Team Gale girl. However, even though I wasn’t happy about it, I think that was sort of the point. The death of Prim, the burns, the growing apart of Gale and Katniss… all these things are realistic. And reality is not always happy or satisfying.

    • Susan

      I like how you put that because I was completely disappointed in the ending of the book. What you said makes me look at it differently and I feel a bit better about the whole thing.

      • JEB

        I read Mockingjay in one sitting, so it obviously held my attention. I basically liked the book but was kind of ???…so, I went out to amazon to read the posted reviews. The “most helpful” negative review has a LONG and detailed reply comment on the second page by SheSaid that respectfully, thoughtfully and fully put the book in perspective for me; once I read SheSaid’s reply comment, I felt like I “got it” much better. And it helped me feel good about the ending, too.

  • Celia

    I thought the violence in the book would have had more of an impact if the writing wasn’t such a jumbled mess. The writing in the previous books wasn’t perfect either but this one wasn’t even fit to be published. The whole story…like the writing…was unorganized and didn’t make sense a lot of the time. Many of the events that happened seemed to be thrown together instead of being planned out. I was also quite disappointed with Katniss in this book. She wasn’t the active leader I was hoping she would be. She spent most of the book hiding in closets or getting injured. I expected her to be a lot tougher. With that said…it could have been worse.

    • Hillary

      I agree- I wanted Katniss to be a more active participant throughout the book and sometimes had the same problem with Catching Fire as well. I understand that the author was often sending the message that Katniss was a pawn in larger plans, whether the Hunger Games or the rebel movement, but I thought that message was overdone and kept Katniss out of the action too much. At times, it felt like the plot could have been summed up as “something dramatic happens and Katniss gets sedated, then has everything explained to her when she comes to!”

      • Tracy

        I agree! Having her miss her entire trial at the end was the worst of it for me!

      • Celia

        I know! The trial would have provided a great literary moment but it was like the author was rushing to finish the book. The first one is so good because the author took her time with the story. Both Catching Fire and The Mockingjay seemed so rushed.

      • Stevie

        I think her lack of participation was kind of the point…she didn’t want any of it. She didn’t want to lead a rebel army against the capitol, she didn’t want to be the face of the rebellion. She wanted to settle a personal grudge and if that meant taking command (as she did after boggs was killed) then she would but she never once said that she wanted to lead.

    • autumn

      Although I do like the idea of Katniss being the hero and always being in the action, I thought it was really realistic of her to hide in closets and try to get away. She is a 17 year old girl who was thrust into war. She didn’t even want to be the Mockingjay until she realized that it could help out Peeta and the others. It just seemed really realistic to me.

      • Kiki

        But when she was thrust into the hunger games, which she also didn’t want, she responded not only actively, but with immense determination. That’s also how she responded to her father’s death and her mother’s depression. So it did seem out of character for this girl who proved she could endure so much to suddenly become unable to cope. (That’s not to say that all her coping mechanisms were perfect — her difficult relationship with Peeta in the first couple books shows that — but she did cope.)

      • Sara

        Actually, I thought the depiction of Katniss was far more realistic for showing her vulnerabilities. Nobody is that strong and brave all the time, especially not given what she’s endured over the course of a couple of years. She really endured some horrific things, and was never given the chance to grieve. She would be an utterly unrealistic character, and the integrity of the story would be compromised, if she never had a moment of weakness. I find it incredibly poignant that this girl who’s been forced to live what should have been private moments in front of the cameras, when she finally has some agency of her own, hides in a closet where she can be safe and no one can watch.

      • Tannis

        Kiki, the only reason that Katniss responded with immense determination during the hunger games, when her father died, and during her mother’s depression was because those were situations of ‘eat or be eaten’. Katniss had zero choice but to step up in those instances. I actually thought that it was more realistic to watch Katniss deteriorate the way she did. IMO, it’s more realistic than reading about a 17 year old girl who’s on a war path, is hard as rock, and nothing breaks her down. I believe the way she was written makes her more relatable:-)

      • Stevie

        When she was thrust into the Hunger Games there WAS nowhere to hide. she knew she’d have to fight eventually and so she did because she had no other alternitive. had she been able to Im sure she would have hidden away (which she did as much as possible using the trees)also, before she went into the games she had never killed another person, never seen those kind of horrors, those kind of things and that guilt change people….

    • Kristine

      This was my second biggest problem with the book (after not knowing what happened to anyone except Peeta and Katniss). Yes, Katniss has even more to be afraid of and upset about now, but she seems to deteriorate instead of growing stronger, which I had really hoped for. It almost completely undermined the first two books. She was brave in the first two stories – or at least had the resolve to protect the people she cared about. With this aspect of her life gone, she seemed to spend most of her time hiding. Gale changed more into what I would expect for someone in his position. Katniss seemed to go backwards. It took a lot of guts for her to kill Coin, and that was her shining moment, but even after that she’d decided she was going to die in some way or another. No, she never wanted to be a revolutionary, but she was one whether she liked it or not and never embraced it. It was a bit frustrating.

      • Janine

        I agree, Katniss as a character seemed to regress instead of getting stronger. I was incredibly frustrated that after Katniss did the brave thing and killed Coin she was taken out of the picture. At the end of the book you feel like there is still no real hope for sound government…but why not? Why couldn’t there be moral people left? Peeta and Prim were obviously good. That was my biggest issue, that in the end we’re left with a broken Katniss and a government she still can’t trust. So all war is moot? There is no point in fighting a corrupt government because it will lead to more corruption? I felt like Katniss needed to have her say, to establish what they needed–to be the real Mockingjay. I didn’t mind that she was broken a bit, that she ended up with Peeta in district 12. But, I minded that her voice wasn’t heard and in the end she was just a pawn, just like the beginning.

      • Ayla

        It was realistic in its sense. If you had gone through all the horrors that Katniss had, would you come out a stronger person or a broken one like she was. Maybe you are a lot more brave then I am, but I would have been broken. Life doesn’t work out that only the moral people are left, so why should this book?

    • Emily

      I read all three in a week over Christmas Break. I stayed up till 4am fiinhsing the first one! I LOVE them and I am obsessed now! I need to get a t-shirt before the movie which I WILL be seeing at midnight! I am so excited!! They are seriously amazing books!You MUST get your hands on the other 2 ASAP! I couldn’t imagine waiting!Oh and the Last Song is my favorite book of all time (atleast one not in a series!)

    • Irina

      When I finished the 3rd book I was shocked, all of the betrayal, the district 13 playing her all along, just like the capitol, trying to gain control. I did understand why did she killed Coin, I knew she would do it even before it happened, she knew Coin want her dead and that she could be the one behind Prim’s death, but what determined her to do it was the moment when Coin actually addresses the idea of throwing a Hunger Games for the Capitol people to suffer and I though she is just like him, showing that a life can be worthless to her eyes; Katniss did it to stop 13 into becoming the new Capitol she realize that all the loss all the fight was in vane that they were no more free than when they were under Capitol’s government, so she stepped up and stop the hunger games once and for all.
      After that moment she just let herself go living each death one by one repeatedly, feeling the emptiness, the loss with no desire to come back. Then Peeta’s return slowly brought her alive he was the only one who could give her some comfort not only because he suffer for her o for everything they went thru, but because she fell in loved with him for real and I believe she fell for him long before that, when she wanted to save his life instead of hers on the quarter quell it wasn’t just because she owed him too much it was because she couldn’t imagine the world with out him. And he is the only reason she agreed on becoming the mockingjay, to save him and when they does, when she sees him hijacked and lost maybe forever I think she realize she loves him for real. She never felt anything like that for Gale even though she loved him very much she never loved him that way.
      I did like the end, it was different, it showed reality, the wounds that can never be healed, even if you won, you have lost more than you can bare but you do, because life goes on, the world just keeps spinning with out asking if you want to continue or not.

  • Jennifer

    I was pleased Katniss ended up with Peeta. They shared such a bond via the games that I felt they belonged together more than her and Gale. I also had to re-read Prim’s death scene – I thought it was some kind of a dream the first time through. I was a little shocked at the final assassination, but then it seemed appropriate. Overall, very well written trilogy. I look forward to the inevitable movies.

  • Anitamargarita

    I had to sit with the ending, but since the story started and ended with Prim, I was able to accept it.

    I REALLY liked that the rebels/ Coin were not “heroes.” Colony Thirteen kinda reminded me of the Cuban Revolution, which I have always ben obsessed with for this very fact: Yes, the government was corrupt and needed to be overthrown, but did the replacements do that much better of a job? Thirteen’s control over their citizens is very much like communism, as kids would perceive it anyway.

    (Yes, I’m clearly from the United States. I am not taking it for granted that all of these readers are, nor that my government is doing such a great job themselves.)

    • autumn

      I really agree with you, I was glad the Katniss realized that two wrongs don’t make a right. This seems like a good theme to teach kids.

  • Bookworm

    The first 2 books kept me riveted with the plots and the character developments of Katniss, of Peeta, of Gale, Haymitch, etc. I felt like the last book was watered down with everything and everyone. While the last book takes the situation to the “war” level and you’re left wondering who the “bad guys” and who the “good guys” are, I was a bit disappointed that Katniss never had her moment. When she finally gets to the end and kills the President (s), instead of giving her that one moment where she can reconcile that after all the loss and all the suffering, that she at least knows that she had an independant hand at her own destiny and she fulfilled it. But instead we get a Katniss who blacks out and hears about what happened like yesterday’s 6 o clock news. And the fact that everyone abandons her, from Gale, to her mother, to even herself, made the epilogue seem too much like a freshman attempt to appease the readers. While it wasn’t unicorns and rainbows, I felt that the Peeta/Katniss relationship was ignored in this last book, where it was the glue that held them together in the other 2 books. It was a great story, but the ending felt too much like one of Plutarchs “propos”. Contrived and not authentic.

    • SilverLynn

      lol, sorry I know it’s not funny but I had to laugh at your use of P’s Propos.
      they were somewhat annoying.

      and I agree, I kept waiting for Peeta to come to his #$%^&* senses and realize that YES, katniss is a bad person, but hey, look what she’s been through. if you live through that and still manage to be a happy little sparkle princess,then something must be wrong with you. Peeta’s indifference/”epiphany” in this book was HIGHLY frustrating, especially since Katniss realized she needed him so much this time, and wasn’t happy without him, including being with Gale. I felt like she put her own happiness aside and couldn’t feel calm at anything until she had him safe at her side, whilst he comes back and totally turns against her. [With help from the trackerjacker venom, but he did say afterwards that he realized she was manipulative, blah, blah, blah.] I hated his “new personality”, the moody, cynical, jerkish side of him, tbh.

  • Alexa

    I think the violence was necessary to the book. While it was upsetting to see characters such as Finnick and Prim die, it was a war. It wouldn’t have been realistic for everyone to survive and come out unscathed.

    As for the ending, I really enjoyed it. I had never really picked a “side” per se, but when I read the ending I was satisfied. Like Jennifer said, they formed a bond during the games, and I felt that it was right for them to end up together. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and the entire trilogy.

  • alm034

    Big fan of the first book, hugely disappointed in the following two. Were these even written by the same author?

    • kenkrnrkrnkrn

      i know! the first book is really outstanding and there were definitely something missing with the last two books. i was confused with what is happening most of the times especially in the third book. lol.

  • Kim

    I didn’t particularly like the ending the first time I read the book. But when I went back a couple days later and re-read the last few chapters, I “got it” and I really appreciated the ending.

    One thing that I didn’t like was how sudden Finnick’s death was, and how little was said about the aftermath. I feel like it lacked impact because it was like “blah, blah, blah Finnick gets killed, blah blah”. He was a huge part of the final two books, and it seemed like he was killed off as an afterthought, like there weren’t enough deaths so let’s kill him off too. Along with that, I felt like Annie’s reaction to his death needed to be stronger, or at least further mentioned. Anyway, just my 2 cents. Overall, thought it was a worthy finale to a fantastic series.

    • autumn

      I agree with you Kim. I loved Finnick and was shocked and saddened by his death, but I think it was the author’s way of showing how war really is. There is time to grieve over someone in the middle of a war, you just have to move on.

  • K

    I actually think it was the perfect ending. Peeta and Katniss never chose to be revolutionaries… they were pawns of everyone else. I loved that they were able to chose to leave it all behind and start a life they chose.
    Obviously, the violence was tough but I think its important given how desensitized our culture is to violence. Violence IS terrible and I think its important lesson to teach.

    • K

      I guess I don’t know how to spell choose.

  • Angie

    My first reaction after finishing this book was a deep sigh. The sadness & anger Katniss & Peeta and all the survivors feel will forever permeate their lives but it’s as Katniss describes: “What I need is a dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses…And only Peeta can give me that.” To me, her & Peeta were destined to end up together. I loved her friendship with Gale, but although there bond was strong it was no match to the things her & Peeta shared. As for the violence and exposing the harsh realities of war to our children, I can only say what I would want for my own children and that would be that they read these books.

  • Tracy

    I was left wanting more in the final pages which finally brough Peeta and Katniss together, but I had to remind myself that this is not a romance series, and their relationship was not the point of the story.

  • sockigal

    This book is right on target, just like the other two in the series. I enjoyed all three books. The twists and turns, very well developed main characters that I just fell in love with, and the cruelty of wars made this series of books ones that all 12 year olds and up should read. Many children have fought and died in wars throughout history, and continue to in some countries today. Nothing wrong with teens discussing the atrocities of war and what can be done and has been done for us to be able to live in a peaceful society.

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