Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Should a Girl Deal with It All?

I whipped through Mockingjay in two days (including time to feed the family, although I'll admit, I wasn't doing a very good job of that at the end). For the past couple of days now, I've been trying to decide what I think about it. I don't think I liked it that much, and I'm trying to understand why. Today while listening to a student's speech, I think I might have found the answer. 

The student was talking about having strength in the face of difficult circumstances. She said she has found that hiding is not the answer, that problems have to be faced. It occurred to me that Katniss was always hiding. I know she was suffering PTSD, and it's no wonder. No doubt, she's been through some horrifying experiences.  But as a literary character, I'd like to see her fight her way through the pain to salvage some sense of hope. (Spoiler!) In the epilogue to this series, Katniss has what could be labeled a happy life with Peeta, but she still seems detached from it and unable to fully trust in it and even to appreciate it. I don't expect that the character would suddenly "get over" all the awful things that happened, but it would be nice to see evidence that she's healing. That evidence wasn't there, at least not to me.

Am I being unfair? I thought of some other characters who have faced terrible circumstances and how they've come out of it. Most recently, Ophelia. I reckon having your father murdered by your secret husband, thinking you've been cast off by that husband, having to fake your own death to escape the threat of a poison-happy, evil king, and then learning your husband and your brother have killed each other would be about as traumatic as what Katniss went through. The interesting thing is that Ophelia did the same thing as Katniss - she hid and sank into depression. For Ophelia, this happened in the convent, and she was finally brought out of it by the friendship of Isabel and by finding a purpose in working as a healer for the nuns.  When Horatio shows up, she's well on her way to being able to put the events of her past behind her and face her life with hope. 

I also thought about Sarah in The Heretic's Daughter. Being imprisoned in a 17th-century jail for months and having your mother be hanged as a witch is pretty traumatic, I'd think. Yet at the end of the book, Sarah has found a degree of hope in preserving her family's story so it's not lost to the future generations.  I even remembered Patty from Summer of My German Soldier - physically, verbally, and psychologically abused by her parents, suffering the loss of her friend Anton, under suspicion of spying for being friends with Anton, sent to a detention center - still, that book ends with a note of hope.

Mockingjay didn't seem to have any hope at the end, just a weary, distrustful sense of acceptance.  Maybe I'm naive or weak to want hope at the end of the stories I read; after all, not everything in life has a hopeful ending. But I would argue that books are not life. They are stories that can help readers, among other things, find the silver lining in the gloomiest cloud. That doesn't mean I want a "Pollyanna" ending. I know I've used the quote from Elizabeth George Speare before, so I'll just paraphrase very loosely here, but at the end of a book I want to feel that the main character can stand up to his/her life and will be ok. Maybe he or she is not ok just yet, but he/she is on the road to being ok. The book can have a "sad" ending, but still have that little glimmer of hope that keeps the ending from being "bleak." Mockingjay was bleak.

(There's a really excellent one-star review on Amazon by a reader named Suzanne G, and the follow-up comments are good, too. The review does a more in-depth critique of Katniss' character and the failings in her relationships with the other characters.)

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