I really wanted to like Mockingjay. No, to put it more accurately, I wanted to finish the book and be utterly satisfied with the outcome of Katniss’ life. Because, along with so many of you, I’d grown to care deeply for the feisty teen. I wanted her to take out Snow (and Coin as well.) I wanted her to have a profound happily-ever-after with one of the boys she loved. I was even willing to be persuaded one way or the other although I leaned towards self-sacrificing Peeta just a bit. I wanted Prim to grow up to be an herbalist and healer. I wanted Buttercup fat and happy, Haymitch back on the wagon for good, and a cherry on top, please.
So did I like it? Did the novel, in fact, satisfy?
If you’ve read the novel, you know that what Ms. Collins delivered fell somewhat outside the purview of my expectations. So much so that it has taken six weeks for all my feelings to settle into something like an opinion. So here it is. Collins didn’t deliver either happily-ever-after or up-yours-Capitol the way I expected. Instead, she delivered what I’m going to call realistically-ever-after. Given everything that we know about how humans survive trauma, wartime, and devastating loss, the picture of Katniss rings absolutely true.
First the Capitol, and then Coin, spent untold effort trying to figure out how to complete unhitch and neutralize Katniss Everdeen. And they came so close to succeeding. It’s nothing short of miraculous that she retains a semblance of sanity after two rounds in the Arena, seeing her entire District destroyed because of her actions, watching as a warehouse filled with people she’s comforted are bombed, watching as her companions are horrifically slaughtered while she leads them towards Snow in the Capitol, and seeing her little sister burn to death before her eyes, and so many other horrors. A superhero could survive these things. A fictional character could survive these things. But what makes us love Katniss? She’s as true-to-life as they come. A real person—a person who loves and feels deeply—cannot experience these horrors without some degree of insanity, without some desire to end it all.
I agonized through the pages detailing Katniss’ mental derailment. Why? I kept asking. Why can’t I just have Katniss happy and married or happy and single or, well, just happy? Do I need this as a reader? Er, well, yes. Actually I do, if I value truth-telling. And that is what Collins gave me: not what I expected, not what I wanted, but Truth. The last paragraph, the last sentence—these are what reconcile me to the way in which Collins told Katniss’ truth:
I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty year.
But there are much worse games to play.