All right people. I've rolled up my sleeves. I've got snacks at hand and tissues (for mucus or possibly blood). And this cold has let up enough that my brain seems to be operating at relatively normal levels. I think I'm finally ready to blog about Mockingjay.
Please note: (read the following line in this voice))
OH YES. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Actually, there's going to be some blood too.
Mockingjay, book three in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, was a huge disappointment. I'm genuinely stunned by all the glowing reviews, gathered with links here by the Huffington Post for your perusal.
I was particularly shocked by the effusive review from Publisher's Weekly whom I trust so blindly (especially with its red stars. How could you, PW??)
Now I'm not going to drag you through every single reason why I was disappointed in this book. Why? Because a reviewer on Amazon named Suzanne G. has said it all (or most of it, anyway) and said it in a much calmer, rational voice than I could probably manage. So please please pretty please, read her review right now and then come back.
Review you must go read right now.
Done? Okay, great.
To quote Suzanne G., "I think the vital counterpart to accurately portraying the horror and corruption of war is the possibility of redemption, of pursuing redemption."
I completely agree. If I wanted to read in grim, brutal detail about the horrors of war and PTSD with no sense of redemption whatsoever, I would just read a nonfiction book about war. I would NOT read a Young Adult fiction book. See, that's the beauty of fiction. You can show the reader sadness and horror but also lift them above the fray to reveal something MORE. As in, the redemptive powers of helping others, the resilience of humanity, the power of love to survive attacks that scar the body forever, or the beauty that can be found in simply moving forward.
At the end of Mockingjay, I felt none of this. Nope. I just felt sick to my stomach. Depressed. Numb.
It's tempting to drag Collins into the town square and hold her responsible for our collective grievances against this book. But as a writer, I know how easy it can be to be blinded. Collins has a lot of (explosive) balls in the air and there were so many places that almost worked. I can't help but think she had the best of intentions. And yet, the book fell short. So I want to talk about the publishing industry and where some of the blame should fall with the failure of this book.
Where was her editor? Seriously, where was she? My very first thought when I finished Mockingjay was, "Well, that book needed another round of revisions for emotional growth and character development." (Yes, that really was my first thought.)
Look, we all know how these big series work, right? They're cash cows for publishers. The first book is a huge hit and the readership clamors for more, working themselves up into a lathered frenzy of anticipation. The next book comes out and we ALL buy it in hardcover, no questions asked. Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games. They've made big bucks for publishing houses and bookstores during a time when many industry professionals are peeing themselves with fear over the impending publishing Armageddon.
There's always a push for the next book to come out sooner, while the fan excitement is at fever pitch. Why worry about the quality of the story when the publisher knows for sure that we'll all buy it anyway? Now that Mockingjay is out, who are fans like me waving their fist at? The author Suzanne Collins. No one is coming to the doors of Scholastic with torches and pitchforks. And what does Scholastic care about Suzanne Collins? Her trilogy is over. That cash cow has been milked. On to the next author. The next trilogy. The next big thing, which we will all go out and buy in droves, no questions asked.
You will notice that stylistically Mockingjay is very similiar to the previous books in the series, in my opinion, to a fault. Every single accursed chapter ends with a ludiscrous "twist." Now, Collins' used her amazing ability to write a good cliff hanger to breathtaking affect in the first two books. But in Mockingjay it was overused. The story no longer takes place in the Hunger Games/ Quarter Quell arena and life doesn't always involve a twist. It would have been more effective to end a few chapters on an emotional cliff with no twist and then punch the reader in the face with an unexpected twist when the plot genuinely called for it.
As is, I began to anticipate when something would go wrong and often, how it would go wrong (Oh great, Peeta's all crazy in the head.) I can't help the fact that I can physically see the chapter coming to an end. Now, either an editor failed to reign in Collins' obsessive need for end of chapter twists or (more likely) Collins' was strongly encouraged by her editors to invent twists with which to end each chapter because that's something the reviewers have praised about this series.
There's also the unforgivable matter of not explaining why Katniss voted yes to a final Hunger Games involving the children of Capitol leaders, as Suzanne G. mentions in her review. Smart readers can make the assumption that Katniss voted this way on purpose to make President Coin trust her thereby leaving the President open to Katniss' deadly attack. But this was in no way explained. Immediately after Katniss kills President Coin, she is dragged into a room where she promptly contemplates suicide for the billionth time in the book (yet another lost opportunity for character growth and some sense of gratitude for life and the resiliency of the human spirit. No?) That was a perfect time for Katniss to take the reader through her thought process, thereby reassuring us that she would never, NEVER actually support another Hunger Games, no matter who participated. I'm truly shocked that no one caught this mistake. And as a writer who tends to leave out important explanations by accident, I'm going to blame the editor for this one.
Really what I'm getting at here, is that these cash cow series are often congratulated for keeping the industry going. They also reassure people that readers do care about books in spite of blockbuster movies and video games. And I think instead of milking them for short term gain, publishers owe it to us, the readers, the industry, and themselves, to make these books as great as possible and stop worrying about making sure the book hits its release date.
Because if that's all the editors care about, then the publishing Armageddon really is on the horizon.
[Editor's Note 1:55 PM, same day:] The voices in my head were arguing with me (as they do) and so I felt the need to explain a bit more about this post. I don't want anyone to think I'm putting all the blame squarely on the editor. I just think as readers, writers, and consumers of stories, we need to demand that the story is what matters, not the deadline.
Basically, it takes a village to write a book. The author writes the best book she can. But she should feel comfortable telling the editor that the story is taking longer than the predetermined schedule. And the editor should then take the book and make it even better than the author ever could on her own. But she should also feel comfortable walking into a meeting with the President and the marketing people and say, "Look, Author and I have been working as hard as we can, but this story isn't ready yet. We need to push back the release date." And the higher ups should be supportive of this. They shouldn't punish the editor or the author.
So as readers, how can we help? We can demand better books. And we can be patient when a book doesn't come out on schedule. Because in the end, it's the story that matters. The story is what will be left behind. And it deserves to be the best story it can possibly be. No matter what the cost.