Adventures in Reading: A tale of two tyrants (in two parts)

PART 1

As previously mentioned, one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2013 is to read 12 books.

Twelve books in 2013 is a book a month(ish), and once the New Year hit, the countdown was on.

The problem was, on January 1, I was midway through a research book for my novel that I had to finish to continue writing.  Yet, this title couldn’t count as book #1 since I was, indeed, already halfway through it.

To compromise, I took another book I was also halfway through and counted the two halves as one.  And as it happened, the two books – John, King of England by John T. Appleby and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – both dealt with the subject of tyrants and people’s responses to their actions.

Tyrant #1: President Snow of Panem

When it came to Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, the big adventure was in convincing myself to read it at all.

As you can see by the atypical cover above, my copy of the book is not of this continent.  Rather, I bought it in England in 2011 because it was already out in paperback there, and thus cheaper.

Mockingjay - US cover

Mockingjay – US cover

I originally started reading Mockingjay that same year, but stopped a short ways in.  Like the first two books of wildly popular, dystopian YA trilogy – The Hunger Games and Catching Fire – I was put off by the glorification of killing in a youth book, particularly where it came to kids doing the killing, and their victims being other kids.

I also disliked how little information the books contained regarding the breakdown of modern society and how the nation of Panem – and it’s dictatorial leader, who was responsible for the killing of kids by other kids in an annual, bloody spectacle known as the Hunger Games – was allowed to rise.

However, upon giving Mockingjay another try, I was pleasantly surprised.

In the first two books, a lot of 17-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s first-person narration read like she was reporting her participation in the Hunger Games rather than reacting to and reflecting upon it.  She was also often conveniently left feeling numb so as not to have to report any meaningful emotions surrounding her ordeal.

In Mockingjay, though, the author delves into the full psychological impacts of war, and has Katniss experience all of it through the course of the revolution against President Snow.

It isn’t pretty.

Depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, etc. are real effects that war has on soldiers.  One reviewer on Amazon felt the book contained far too much self-loathing on the part of Katniss, but I disagree.  I believe it was exactly what was needed to balance out the glorification and gameification of killing in the first two volumes, and inject some realism into an otherwise fantastical tale.

Katniss Everdeen

I’m opposed to gratuitous violence and the and fetishization of war in youth entertainment.  Whether there’s any concrete evidence that it has a negative effect on young people or not, at the very least, I believe constant exposure to violence desensitizes people to it, and that having this happen at such a young age is hardly positive.

Rebellions are a hot trend right now in YA speculative fiction novels.  And while I’ve admittedly not ready many of them, I appreciated how Suzanne Collins deviated from the predictable kick-ass, hero-worshipping tack she could have taken.

I actually found myself moved by Mockingjay a way I didn’t expect, and hope it reminds youth and adults readers alike that while rebellion/war sometimes is necessary, both its fighters and victims are changed by it, and will likely never be the same again.

(Image #3 source)

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8 thoughts on “Adventures in Reading: A tale of two tyrants (in two parts)

  1. It’s usually a necessity of commercial storytelling, but, at the same time, I am amused by the resilience of characters who have been exposed to what should be emotionally scarring traumas.

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    • I too am oftentimes amused by that, particularly within speculative fictions genres, in which the suspension of disbelief factor is higher. However, I like it much less in youth entertainment, as young people sometimes lack the mental capacity or life experience to recognize the unreality of it all. I have seen children as young as nine reading The Hunger Games, so I’m glad that Suzanne Collins took the story in the direction that she did.

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  2. It’s interesting that you changed your opinion, Janna – that reflects an author with a great writing style. I haven’t read any of these books, but will once I have some spare time (which is not looking good at the moment) 😉

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    • I know a lot of readers didn’t like the direction Suzanne Collins took in the last book of the trilogy (Mockingjay), but it was my favourite of the three. About midway though Mockingjay, I thought to myself – as they say, if you’ll pardon the profanity – “Wow – sh*t got real.”

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