An Unpopular Opinion
It seems the past few years have been rough ones for young adult dystopian novels. People seem universally disappointed with the clichéd "married with kids" happily ever after in Mocking Jay and with the death of Tris in Allegiant. I feel completely neutral about Allegiant. I didn't love that Tris died, but I wasn't overly upset by it either. Sometimes the hero dies at the end of a book. I've been known to like those books in the past, so I had no hard feelings about this one.
Mocking Jay, on the other hand, was a book whose ending thoroughly satisfied me, so I was surprised to find that so it left so many people disappointed. I would like to explain what, exactly, I liked about it. But first things first...
The One Thing I Didn't Like About Mocking Jay
I didn't like the fact that Prim dies. Not that I hate books where important characters die. I loved Henry's death in The Time Traveler's Wife. I wept, and yet felt strangely comforted, at the death of Father Karras in The Exorcist. But those deaths made sense to me. Prim's death made no sense at all.
From the beginning of the series, everything Katniss does is for Prim. Her feelings of responsibility to her mother and sister are the primary reasons she gives for not running away with Gale at the beginning of The Hunger Games. Saving Prim from certain death is Katniss's only thought when she volunteers to take her sister's place as tribute. Saving Prim seems to be one of the main themes of the books. And then she just dies? Um...huh?
Let's talk a little more about The Exorcist. The book was written by a devout Catholic, so it contains many themes with regard to faith and morals that I don't plan to get into here. I'm just going to talk about the primary action of the book, which all revolves around Regan and her possession by an evil entity. Father Karras comes on the scene, not fully believing that Regan is possessed, but determined to help nonetheless. In addition to being a priest he is also a psychologist, and he treats Regan's case from a very scientific point of view. As the story unfolds, of course, he begins to realize there is a little more going on than merely a chemical imbalance in the brain. He agrees to perform an exorcism. Or at least assist in one. The exorcism fails, but Father Karras sacrifices himself in order to save Regan.
I love the scene where he dies. There has been so much about his emotional state and the loss of his faith in God earlier in the story that the reader truly wants him to have a happy ending. And he does. The movie sort of rushes through this scene, but in the book it is very strongly implied that in the final seconds of his life his faith is restored. We are then led to believe that he does indeed find joy in the hereafter. And of course Regan and her mother have a happy ending as well.
What if Regan had died instead? I don't know about other readers, but I personally would have wanted to grab William Peter Blatty by the lapels and scream, "Why would you make me spend 300-plus pages rooting for this kid to be saved and then kill her anyway?" Well, that's kind of how I felt about Prim's death in Mocking Jay. Maybe not quite that angry, but at the very least confused.
Now...on to what I did like about the book.
Katniss's Feelings About Children
In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, Katniss tells Gale that she never wants to have children. This is not motivated by her personal feelings about kids in general, but by her revulsion at the thought of bringing a new life into such a messed up world. These feelings become a recurring theme of the series, so the fact that she ends up having children in the end really says a lot about how far she's come emotionally. It is also a testament to the fact that they really did create a better world when they won their fight against the Capitol. Katniss is free to have a family and to love that family without the fear that one of her progeny will carried off to a horrible death. Yes, this ending may be clichéd and overused, but in this situation I found it fitting.
The Love Triangle
Gale is Katniss's best friend. There's an undeniable attraction between them that they both seem to want to act on, but for some reason have just never gone there. Then Peeta comes into the equation. If we are to believe that he is indeed telling the truth in his interview before going into the arena and not merely making a publicity stunt, then we know that he has loved Katniss practically from the first moment he saw her. At first Katniss does not return his feelings, but as time goes on their bond deepens and we see something forming in Katniss's heart that could very well be love. But of course it's complicated, because Gale is still a part of her life.
The question of who she would eventually choose plagued me from the beginning. At first I wasn't sure who I wanted to root for, but gradually I started to think I wanted her to end up with Peeta. My husband and I actually had some in-depth conversations about this. He was rooting for Gale. Neither of us had any idea who she would choose, if she even chose at all.
I was naturally delighted when I reached the end of Mocking Jay and discovered I'd bet on the winning horse. But my satisfaction with the end of the book went much deeper than that. I literally had tears in my eyes (something that doesn't happen to me often) when I read the final few pages. The passage that moved me so profoundly was this one:
What I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring.
So in the end she chose the person who was good for her. She and Gale may have been kindred spirits of sorts, but their relationship would have been toxic. She chose the man who could keep her grounded. Who could provide a counter-balance for all of her passion and rage. She chose the one who was the missing part of herself.