A story as harsh and violent as Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy just could not end with happily ever after. A neat package of reconciliations would ring false at the conclusion of the thrilling dystopian tale of Panem and its young citizen Katniss Everdeen. But even at that, Mockingjay, the just-published conclusion to the series, does not end satisfyingly.
Certainly it can be tough to wind up a popular series. Collins has faced the challenge of topping herself ever since The Hunger Games took the young-adult book world by storm in 2008. She created a country that keeps its citizens in line by staging an annual Survivor-style battle to the death with 24 of its children — two "tributes" per district — and she put us inside the horrifying live broadcast via the first-person account of teenage Katniss.
Last year in Catching Fire, Katniss was back in the arena, battling fellow victors in a special competition held each quarter-century. Wearing her mockingjay pin, she had became a national symbol of courage. But she didn't know that her talents had caught the attention of the rebellion building up within the districts. By the end of Catching Fire the fight against the controlling Capitol had burst into the open.
As Mockingjay begins, she agrees to become the propaganda star for the rebels, based in the long-secret District 13. Collins writes exhilarating action sequences, but there aren't enough of them. Katniss is forever waking up half-drugged in the hospital, or shaking off bad dreams, while important actions are taking place elsewhere. First-person narration becomes a trap.
The disappointment with Mockingjay hits primarily as Collins starts her home stretch. It's almost as if she didn't allocate enough time or chapters to handle all her threads, which is a shame, because the earlier books offered a spark of hope in Katniss' survival. Mockingjay also is about survival, of a damaged country and damaged people, but the emotion in the final pages is exhaustion, not joy — or peace.