Monday, August 30, 2010

Mockingjay & How Guys Read

So I finished Mockingjay last Thursday, right after we discussed how teen guys read, when they stop, if they ever start reading again and why.

It's possible these two topics are related, because while I reacted one way to Mockingjay, based on our discussion, I suspect the guys reacted completely differently...

My nonspoiler review.

Two weeks ago I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire and loved them. The plot was disturbing and the descriptions brutal, yet the characters were sympathetic and the relationships so well-drawn that it was easy to be pulled into the story.

Catching Fire ends with a cliffhanger, so naturally, I couldn't wait to grab Mockingjay, the third and final installment, as soon as it was released last Tuesday. I started reading right away, but by page 107, I was concerned.

If you read my other two reviews, you know the parts I found tiresome in those books. So at first I thought, "OK. This one's just frontloaded with those bits. It'll pass."

It didn't.

Mockingjay is pages and pages of misery. Around Part 2, it starts to get a little better, but as quickly as our reason to care appears, it disappears. And it's right back to bad things happening... bad things happening... more bad things... and just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it does.

And then it's over.

The violence is significantly amped up--far beyond the previous two books--so much so that it spawned a big discussion over violence in Kidlit.

That did play a role in my diminished enthusiasm for Mockingjay. But my primary disappointment was the loss of what I felt made the books relatable and the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle.

Collins shows no compassion for her characters in this book--not that she ever did. But in the first two installments, she gave us a break and allowed them moments of joy or at least humanity. In Mockingjay the only peace comes on morphling and even then not so much.

As for the love triangle, I found the interactions between the three leads awkward and forced, and at times unbelieveable. (Two scenes in particular I wish I could share...)

It felt like Collins lost interest in that aspect of her story or was just trying to wrap it up. The book's conclusion in particular was inconsistent and irritating.

I keep reading that the message of Mockingjay is "war is hell." To that I say, "Perhaps."

The message I read was that everyone is evil and everyone will let you down. I suppose that's real life, but I felt like these brave, heroic characters deserved a better ending--reality notwithstanding. (This is fiction after all...)

It's an extremely cynical book. Some might argue it's the book we deserve, but I don't believe that. At least not yet.

My grade for Mockingjay: B-  Because despite my reaction, Collins's writing is strong, and her ability to maintain the tone and keep you biting your nails at the horror of it all is masterful.

If your favorite parts of the trilogy are the battles and the brutality of the games, you will enjoy Mockingjay. If your favorite parts were the character development, the relationships and the love, you probably won't.

On to How Guys Read~

So last Monday I mentioned the discussion about how there's no market for YA male books. Or agents report asking for boy books only to find editors have one (1) slot for them. And often it's filled.

Several male readers left comments on what they read or Moms reported what their teen sons were reading, and based on all those comments I spotted a trend.

First, teen guys DO read! But often they jump straight from MG to the adult aisle. Specifically, adult fantasy, sci fi, thrillers, crime or nonfiction.

Four commenters (Matt, DL, Angie, and Ellie) noted guys sometimes take a reading break in their late teens/early 20s. Follow-up questioning revealed other extracurricular activities (e.g., parties, video games, girls, etc.) as the culprit, but these guys ultimately did start reading again.

Now I'm wondering: Can the YA guy market be created (or expanded)? If not, why? YA is working great with the girls.

And how did you guys feel about Mockingjay?


Ex-pat Odessa said...

I think girls read more because well, let's face it, girls mature faster than boys. Girls LOVE getting into books, "living" the books in their minds and hearts, whereas guy would much rather be out doing something real, than sitting inside in la la land, cause really that's what fiction does, takes us to La-La Land. I LOVE la-la land.
I suspect guys get back into reading after they get that rebellious, let's drink, party and chase all the girls we can out of their system.

Natasha said...

When I was growing up, there was no YA. From kid lit, you graduated straight into Science Fiction, or Romance, or whatever.Unless Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys qualify as YA.
I heard the term YA about a year back, and the couple of YA books I have read read nothing like any of the books I read as a teen.
Clearly the YA market has been created- why can't it be created for boys?

LTM said...

@Odie: Well, that's very sexist of you... (Reply: What's wrong w/being sexy?) ;p

@Rayna: We always had a "teen" section when I was young, which included Drew/HBs, also Judy Blume, Cleary, Andrews, Pascal, etc. I never paid any attn. to whether there were boy books there, but see. You asked MY question! ;p

Unknown said...

Once again I totally agree with you on Mockingjay. Your comments actually reminded me that I stopped subscribing to Rolling Stone magazine back in the day when all the stuff started in Iraq. It was because they told you how you should be feeling. They didn't leave anything for the reader to formulate on their own. I think the same can be said for Mockingjay.

Ex-pat Odessa said...

sexist, really?!? hmmm....
But yeah, what's wrong with
being sexy?
doing best Austin Powers impression: Well hello!!!Yeah babay!!!!

Carolyn Abiad said...

I have to agree with you about Mockingjay, all darkness and no bright spots. Felt preachy and the ending was just tacked on. But you know, boys are playing Resistance and Metal Gear Solid and you don't even want to know what kind of violence is in that. This book is no big deal for them. Girls, well, we need more of the deep emotional stuff that I don't think Collins really knew how to tap. Maybe that's why Borders was giving them up at 50% off?? Get em out the door before people hear it was disappointing?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a happy ending kinda guy. I like violence and stuff, but there has to be some redeeming value and closure at the end. I understand life in not always that way, however, I don't need to feed my brain with chronic misery. I know its out there in the world, and I try to make a difference the best I can. But I don't need to let misery dominate and control my life.

Stephen Tremp

LTM said...

@Anne: It was a bit heavy-handed, and the beauty of the prev. books was their subtlety--the creepy familiarity of the reality TV, the Roman coliseum. She hit us all over the head this time. I said in another spot I felt like the mole in "Whack a Mole." :D

@Odie: I's just teasing you. That was Spinal Tap, remember? What's wrong w/being sexy?

@Carolyn: Half price??? Wow. Well, if anybody's paying attention, it's the GIRLS who are still reading YA. Might need to keep that in mind. And shew, you're right. Some of those games are gruesome...

LTM said...

@Stephen: Me, too! Your comment on YA male readers was so inspiring to me, btw. I felt like writing immediately! :D And this comment reminds me of my post on "why adults read YA" (Aug. 19).

Mockingjay is NOT why I read YA... ;p

Hart Johnson said...

I haven't read Mockingjay, yet (I am 153rd on the library waiting list, but there are 50 copies, so I should get it around late October).

I actually love the social commentary in the earlier books--the political thing... interested if with THAT in mind you think I'd like it.

On boys though--good observations. There IS some YA fantasy for boys (my son loves Cirque de Freak) but I can see the 'skipping it' part--I did that myself, as when I was a teen, the YA selection was not nearly so good. I jumped from Judy Bloom to Stephen King because at 12, I was suddenly 'all that' and wanted to prove my maturity with bigger stuff... or something like that.

Angie said...

I personally haven't read any of the Hunger Games books yet, my my teen boys loved it and are excited to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I think there could be a male YA market, but I think it would have to focus a lot on action and adventure.

Cruella Collett said...

So I couldn't stay away. I skimmed :P And kudos to you for going quite spoiler free.

I can't remember if I still was reading "The Hunger Games" or just had finished it when I commented last, but either way I feel that in retrospect I have changed my feelings about this book slightly. While reading it I thought it was SO SO SO good, and that I would never forget this book EVER. And then it ended and the ending was okay-ish, especially because I knew there was more to come. But then the weekend passed, and suddenly I realized I hadn't thought about the book once. Usually when I read something I like, I think about it afterwards. This - I devoured it - not so much.

My impression from the Mockingjay reviews I haven't been able to avoid is that this is sort of the problem with that book. You are left expecting more, but not exactly getting it. And since you say the love triangle thing (which , I must say, feels slightly forced in the first book, but I expect that will become more prominent as Gale gets more action [I presume?] in book two) ends, then I have a fair idea why.

I will still read them, of course. But I don't think I will remember them when I am 85...

A Pen In Neverland: Angela Peña Dahle said...

I haven't picked up any of these books but they are on my reading list. I'm a bit skeptical and anxious to read them now to see the things you pointed out about it. Heck if a writer can move the reader or get a point across, and do it exceptionally well, then kudos to them.
I too wonder about the YA guy (especially since I have a son) market. I'm writing a YA now and I am concerned with writing in first person for one of my male characters, because I'm not sure I can even pull it off! Yikes! oF course I just need to study and read more guy YA to get the hang of it. Obviously I'm being much too hard on myself. LOL.

RosieC said...

OH, man, I'm bummed to hear your thoughts on Mockingjay. I haven't read it, but I haven't read the first two, either, so it's not happening any time soon. I was really interested in the discussion on NB's blog last week, though.

I'm not sure about the YA market for boys. The question would be, how to expand it. I'm sure it could be, but the how is the key. Someone (Roland?) had a good point about boys wanting more action and less of the romance. If books were written with teen boys as the MCs, some by not intense girl-involvement, and serious action/drama, maybe that would work. What do you think? Will you blog about this more later?

LTM said...

@Hart: well, the social commentary is there, but there's little else if you get my drift... yep! And you had some great insights on boy readers on that other post~

@Angie: that's me w/MJ. I'm thinking the guys probably loved it... ;p

@CC: I felt like they had so much promise... Personally, I liked CF best of the three. But isn't that the rule w/trilogies? #2 is always best? MJ stayed w/me but not in a good way. In a "Man!" kinda way. :D

@Ange: You'll prob. like the first two HG books... ;p I guess for the male POV, try channeling the male speakers you know. Or who are like your character... yes? How do they talk? I bet you get it. You have a nice rhythm w/language.

@Rosie: MJ just had no breaks. It was one big war book. As for the YA boy market, I just wonder if we built it, would they come? I'm not really targeting this mkt, though. So I've no expertise here~ :o)

Unknown said...

I haven't read Mockingjay but I really found this post interesting and loved reading the comments that went along with it. Very insightful!!!

Jan Markley said...

Interesting review of Mockingjay. Also interesting about how guys read. I think teenaged girls also read adult books but continue to read y/a. My debut middle grade novel, Dead Frog on the Porch, with twin girl protagonist, manages to appeal to both girls and boys in that age range.

Jessica Bell said...

Well, I don't read any current YA. The only YA I've read was when I was studying children's lit at University, and when I was about 14, borrowing from the school library, those books where you could choose your own ending. Did you ever read those? Anyway, a little off the topic, but I think Mockingjay would have juat been churned out for the sake of the publishers. I bet the women is DESPERATE to write something with new characters!!! ;o)

LTM said...

@Jen: Yay! :p

@Jan: I think Dead Frog on the Porch should have UNIVERSAL appeal... :D I really do!

@Jess: (hows that for alliteration!) Jen, Jan, Jess~ All I have to say is "being tired of them" would certainly explain Collins's approach to this final installment b/c she sure let those characters HAVE IT. :D

I dunno. The other side says us naysayers just don't get it. Perhaps they're right. Maybe I never should have liked these books in the first place... ? ;p

Portia said...

I've not read any of the series, but now you're making me think I should. You made an interesting point about books in a series. By the last, it can sometimes feel like the author is just trying to wrap it up--just when the reader wants to savor and go deeper!


RaShelle Workman said...

Hi Leigh - I'm worried about Mockingjay too. I've heard this similar thoughts from others. While I enjoy greusome (obviously), I also need to have the happy ending. The fact that it isn't going to happen makes it so I don't want to read the book. And it seems our kids are getting enough hell in real life. Is it necessary to reaffirm that by saying there can't even be a happy ending in fiction? *still pondering*

LTM said...

@Portia: They're super interesting books! I just wish the final installment had played out... differently. Yes? :o) Oh, and Empire Strikes Back? Totally the best. ;p

@RaShelle: lol @gruesome you! ;p You are making my point, though. I don't have to have my stories tied up all nice with a pretty pink bow... I just don't want them to be so awfully grim. :o\

RaShelle Workman said...

Leigh - I understand and I don't need a big, red, fancy, velvet bow. Heh heh. But some good, strong packaging string is nice.
Have you read the book "shiver"?

LTM said...

I personally love pink bows... And boas~ ;p

Have *not* read shiver. Not a big werewolf fan. But I've thought about it--everyone keeps saying it's good. Is it?

RaShelle Workman said...

I love purple myslef. You're so cute.

I'm not a big werewolf fan myself, which if why I waited so long to read it. The reason why I mentioned it is that it's part of a series, which usually means the reader is going to be left hanging. Her ending was one of THE most beautiful I've read in a LONG time. You have to have the build up to get the full effect, of course, but BEAUTIFUL!

Tina said...

I have two boys, 10 and 13. The oldest is a voracious reader and jumped straight into adult fiction, with his favorites found in fantasy and sci-fi. He likes series. My youngest hates to read. I just keep telling him that all we have to do is find the right kind of book, and he'll love it. We've had a couple of hits, but those weren't series, so it was back to the hunt again. Our librarian had even assembled a list of recommended books for boys his age who don't like to read. He has liked some of them. But if I were to compare the volume of books read, Jake would be at one end of the scale and YellowBoy at the other. All that to say, I think there's definitely a market there. And I haven't read the series you're talking about. Is it 10 year old appropriate?

LTM said...

@RaShelle: it's on the "to read" list~ :o)

@Tina: I don't have boys, but IMO, this series is really better for older YA. The violence is very graphic. (But I've been informed that's normal for guys--so maybe preread?) :o)

DL Hammons said...

I've only read HG, and I must admit I wasn't that impressed. I was going to wait until the other two came out in paperback to read them, but now I'm thinking not. I'm a "Hollywood Ending" type of guy...I like my happy endings (which is one reason I stopped reading Stephen King). Life is depressing enough, why can't we be lifted above all that in our fiction?

LTM said...

DL: Really? You didn't like THG? I wonder why?

Me = also Hollywood ending gal. But I don't mind if they've had to go through some stuff to get to it. I just like a positive ending... Yes? :o)