Going into the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone I had spoken to had generally disliked the ending to the series. Some were adamant that the book was utter trash and had completely ruined the series for them. The best response I had heard was lukewarm. I expected poorly-written prose and a too happy, simple view of the world. I found the exact opposite.
Given that this is a young adult series I expect the majority of readers expected the clear dichotomies we have come to expect from children’s literature (and often the world). There would be a good side and a bad side with no shades of gray. The Capitol would fall and everyone would rejoice expect those naughty Capitol citizens who would be punished in a satisfying way. However, Collins did not take the easy way out. War is never the triumph of good that we have been told it is. There is no clear good or evil, only confused humans acting out of grief, desperation, and hunger for power. Most readers went into this book expecting a glorious restoration of the American republic, but the Hunger Games has never been about idealization. It has always been a story that derives its power from being honest even when the character and the reader desperately want something, anything, to go well.
At the end of Book 2 Katniss was rescued from another Hunger Games by an elaborate plot and whisked away to the famed District 13 while love-interest Peeta Mellark is captured by the Capitol. The district has been reported destroyed by the capital since the dark days. However this reveals itself to be a lie. The district agrees to keep quiet and not set off its nuclear weapons if the Capitol leaves them alone. Being free from the capitol’s clutches proves more bitter than sweet. First, her beloved District 12 is firebombed, killing most of the people she knows. Katniss is constantly afraid that Peeta will be killed, a fear that grows stronger whenever she sees him appear (looking weaker and weaker) on Capitol television. Not only this, but District 13 turns out not to be the bastion of freedom and hope that the reader was hoping for. No, it is a highly controlled district where all activities are bent towards military operation and food is just as scarce as in the other districts.
Katniss grows increasingly disillusioned with Distict 13 and the rebellion. She is furious that District 13 has watched the exploitation of others go on for so long, despite their claims that there was no other ways. This anger is only increased when she discovers that the borders of District 13 were only an afternoon’s walk away from her own. The leader of District 13 (and hence the rebellion) is just as a power hungry and cruel as the Capitol’s President Snow. The war is messy, cruel. Neither Katniss nor the reader feels any difference between the slaughter of District 12’s children and the scared children of the Capitol who are mowed down in brutal assaults. No one has purely kind intentions.
The gritty, difficult world of Mockingjay stays true to the reality of war. There is no noble clash of good and evil, but angry, desperate humans destroying each other. I see this not as inappropriate, but fitting. So here’s to the series that gave us a heroine who wasn’t likeable and sweet, but absolutely commanded respect. Here’s to the series that reminded us that killing and violence are not to be praised. Here’s the series that refused to lie to us.