Mockingjay–Suzanne Collins

When I finished Mockingjay, my son asked me if I was happy.  “Yes.  And no,”  I said.  And why?  “I got what I wanted, but it’s so dark.”

Collins’ vision of government and power mirrors that of our current culture and particularly of the young people about whom she is writing.  Katniss remains as suspicious and wary as she seems to have been since the death of her father and the end of her childhood and, as before, this approach serves her well.  The bad guys are bad, but the good guys might be, also.  Like the early Harry Potter novels, it becomes harder to tell who’s on which side and if there are clear-cut sides.  Everyone’s motives are complex, including Katniss’.  Gale’s anger smolders and flames as he works with Betee to design weapons that play on emotions as part of the trap.  Peeta calls for a cease-fire and is branded a traitor, then broken on Panem television.

The frustrations I had with Catching Fire as Katniss’ love triangle with Gale and Peeta intensified were allayed after Katniss overhears a conversation between Gale and Peeta about whom she will choose when the rebellion is over.  Gale says she will need whomever will help her survive and, for once, she stands up for her emotions, even if only in her own head.  She blames them both, Gale for saying it, Peeta for not refuting it and then thinks, “especially when every emotion I have has been taken and exploited by the Capitol or the rebels.  At the moment, the choice would be simple.  I can survive just fine without either of them.”

Survival in body is one thing; in heart and mind is another, as Katniss learned after surviving the Games.

All of the novel’s skepticism boils down to relying on one’s self and love as the trilogy comes full circle.  The Hunger Games end with the subtle quenching of hunger of the most basic kind.  Love is real and small acts of kindness fight the darkness.  But the darkness is there.

And so I close the cover, happy, and unhappy.  Reassured, and disturbed.  And hungry for more.

Finished 4/14/2012

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Catching Fire-Suzanne Collins

I hate to say this about a book, but I can’t wait for this movie.

The ante is upped.  Rebellions have begun after Katniss’ symbolic finger to the Capitol in threatening to eat the poison berries at the end of The Hunger Games.  President Snow points to this moment, but we all know it goes back to when Katniss covers Rue in flowers, to when she refuses to act like the animal the Games assume she is.

President Snow leads Katniss on a merry chase that drives her further into the stereotype of femininity and the arms of Peeta.  They announce their engagement and then Peeta announces their (nonexistent) clandestine marriage and nascent pregnancy.

All of this to protect their friends and family in District 12.  Epic fail.

The Hunger Games are the Quarter Quell, which celebrates the 75th anniversary of the games.  This celebration requires an innovation and for this particular Quell it’s reaping from the surviving victors, which means Katniss is back in the arena and Peeta volunteers to save Haymitch and, his ultimate goal, Katniss.

My son commented that “Katniss fights alone in The Hunger Games, but in Catching Fire it’s all about alliances.”  Katniss has grown up and realized that there are people she can and must trust.

The one person she hesitates to trust is herself and the Twilight-esque drama over Peeta vs. Gale becomes all too frustrating from a character who is hard as nails everywhere else.

Maybe I’m just slow, but Collins kept me guessing.  I knew where the book was leading, but was never entirely sure how we were going to get there.  Let me say that I enjoyed the ride.

Finished 4/11/12

Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins

I heard about this book on Fresh Air with Terri Gross and promptly bought it for my son, who read it and then the rest of the trilogy.  Mockingjay came out shortly after he had read the first two volumes.

When I heard there was to be a movie, I waited.  I have learned my lesson and, if possible, will read the book after seeing the movie.  Especially one bound to be unbelievably hyped.

I had heard that the book was slow in the middle (from my son and another friend).  It was not.  It was amazing.  But how, I wondered, was I going to say anything about this book that hasn’t been said.  I probably won’t.  But these are my reflections, my record, my engagement with the text, so I guess any repetition that may occur is irrelevant.

I just finished reading Susan Douglas’ book about enlightened feminism, so that was fresh on my mind and Katniss Everdeen’s busting of the stereotypes Douglas explores kept confronting me.  She’s a young girl who hunts with a gorgeous guy and doesn’t notice.  She doesn’t worry about her looks, particularly weight, unless it’s to worry about not having enough.  She is a young woman who provides for her family through a particularly masculine pursuit of hunting.  Gale traps with elaborate snares (like women trapping men).  She shoots her prey through the eye with one arrow.  When she buys a wounded goat for her sister, Prim, she says she knew it would be worth its price and denies any sentimental motivation.  When her mother and sister work to heal the people of District 12, she runs for the woods where she can kill things and be in control.  When she has to pretend to be in love with Peeta, she’s in drag.  She’s acting out a script she’s seen women performing.  Her one truly feminine trait is her nurturing love for her sister and her care for little Rue.

Like Douglas’ heroines, however, in order to survive, Katniss must hide her power under a mantle of silly femininity.  She has to giggle in her pre-game interview.  She’s waxed and primped, stripped naked, subject to the gaze of her handlers.   To earn help in the games she must kiss and cuddle and declare love and demonstrate her devotion to her purported beloved.

Unlike Douglas’ heroines, this drag show saves Katniss’ ass from the powers that be, the Capitol, but the drag does not convince the people in the outer districts.  Here it’s her defiance of the show that captures attention:  the flowers over Rue’s body and the threat of ruining the games by eating the poison berries.

This blog is not about movies, but, because this book’s movie adaptation was just released, I have to comment on life imitating art.

Katniss Everdeen is a female heroine who kicks ass and shoots and saves the boy.  The actress who plays Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence, has been asked to put on a drag show by some critics.  In particular, several male critics have tried to police her weight.  Hollywood has become the Capitol.  Like her literary counterpart, Ms. Lawrence has flipped the establishment the bird.

I think Susan Douglas must be pleased.

On to Catching Fire.

Finished 4/9/12