Top critical review
Collins disposes of her characters rather than completing character arcs
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2012
***Warning--major spoilers ahead...
Upon finishing Mockingjay, I concluded two things: 1) this trilogy is a tragedy, and 2) Suzanne Collins believes executing a character arc is as simple as executing the character. Here's why:
Finnick: Shortly after his wedding, Finnick--one of the few characters who is actually somewhat developed throughout the story--is eaten by lizard monsters on a mission that was ultimately completely and utterly futile. His sacrifice (if it can be called that) meant very little, if anything, to the story.
Prim: The entire plot of the trilogy centered on the attempt to keep her alive, and she is killed in a random bombing at the end, as Katniss watches from a few feet away. The entire plot of the story hinged on saving Prim from the evils of the age, and that battle is lost in a very grim way. Katniss did not need her heart ripped out in this way to make the decision she made at the end. This was an extra knife in the gut from an author who enjoyed bitter ends for key characters.
Peeta: Though a large portion of the first book sets up Peeta and Katniss for a deep relationship, that relationship is largely ignored throughout the entire second and third books in favor of a shallow coexistence. Peeta instead becomes a sort of zombie trying to kill Katniss, and never quite recovers; this leeches from Peeta his most valuable quality, which was his commitment to keeping Katniss alive. Sure, he saves her at the end with his miraculous appearance at Katniss' attempted suicide, but without others' prior interventions, he would have already killed her on multiple occasions. It seems as though nothing between his capture at the end of the second book and his appearance at the assassination at the end was either necessary or supportive of the plot. He's tossed in at the end for a happily-ever-after that is anything but happy. He deserved more and better--from the author as well as Katniss.
Gale: This is perhaps the most tragic of treatments. Gale's death would have preserved his character, but instead, Collins assassinates his character rather than taking his life. In the last few pages, I was waiting and wondering how Katniss' first and oldest friend would make his return and begin the impossible task of making up for his role in Prim's death. Instead, the reader is robbed of any closure beyond their insufficient parting at the Capitol. The person who had vowed to protect Prim and had been there for Katniss--usually behind the scenes for the length of the trilogy--had failed in the most ironic of fashions and finally gave up on the Everdeens in the end. He'd taken some job in another district, and the reader is left to assume that he and Katniss' relationship had died with Prim. This isn't characteristic of Gale as we'd come to know him. Had he died nobly at the end, perhaps to once again protect Prim, that would have stayed much truer to his character. In my opinion, Collins certainly did not complete his character arc successfully, and traded plot for shock.
Katniss: In the third book, it becomes more obvious with every page that Katniss' story is a full-on tragedy. The reader loses a great deal of sympathy for her as she stops caring about those around her, and in her pusuit of killing Snow, she begins to kill civilians in the capitol. 3/4 of the way through Mockingjay, I found myself wondering why I was supposed to be rooting for Katniss anymore. Her character degrades into little more than a tool of the revolution, without any kind of motivation beyond vengeance. The entire push toward the capitol is a totally futile errand that accomplishes nothing but death; all those Katniss loves are either killed or broken along the way. In the final pages, the reader is left with a smoldering ruin of a cast and story, with only a glimpse of future hope for something better. Unfortunately, I didn't grow to care much for the nameless faces of Panem's future; I cared for the characters of these three books.
Make no mistake--I enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy, and Mockingjay was an engrossing read that kept my attention. I didn't expect hugs and rainbows at the end, but in any form of literature, the reader can only hope that the characters' existence had a good purpose and a satisfying end in the fictional world in which so much time has been spent. Viewed as a larger story, I don't think Collins told a satisfying tale. Whether or not that was her intention, I'm not sure, but as a reader, I felt her treatment (or perhaps more accurately, her disposal) of many of these characters was ultimately disappointing.