Mark Reads ‘Mockingjay’: Chapter 27

In the twenty-seventh chapter of Mockingjay, I really need to be held. Tightly. Forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mockingjay.

HOW IS COLLINS GOING TO WRAP THIS UP.

In the stunned reaction that follows, I’m aware of one sound. Snow’s laughter. An awful gurgling cackle accompanied by an eruption of foamy blood when the coughing begins. I see him bend forward, spewing out his life, until the guards block him from my sight.

I cannot believe she did this. I mean, it makes perfect sense, it just feels right, but…oh my god, it’s really happening. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As the gray uniforms begin to converge on me, I think of what my brief future as the assassin of Panem’s new president holds. The interrogation, probable torture, certain public execution. Having, yet again, to say my final goodbyes to the handful of people who still maintain a hold on my heart.

Well, this is how it’s going to end, isn’t it? Katniss has sacrified her life and well-being to assure that Panem does not have Coin leading the country. It’s a real testament to her personal integrity and her bravery. I was so upset at her for saying yes to allowing another Hunger Games that I never considered that she was playing us all. It’s even more ironic because she went to the Capitol to kill Snow, when it was really Coin who she needed to kill all along.

The prospect of facing my mother, who will now be entirely alone in the world, decides it.

“Good night,” I whisper to the bow in my hand and feel it go still. I raise my left arm and twist my neck down to rip off the pill in my sleeve. Instead my teeth sink into flesh. I yank my head back in confusion to find myself looking into Peeta’s eyes, only now they hold my gaze. Blood runs from the teeth marks on the hand he clamped over my nightlock.

Oh my god, Peeta, what have you done??? I don’t even know what to think about this. I know Peeta wants to save her, but is he guaranteeing her more torture and pain at the hands of the government? Oh gray areas, WHY ARE YOU SO PREVALENT IN THIS BOOK?

The guards lift me above the fray, where I continue to thrash as I’m conveyed over the crush of people. I start screaming for Gale. I can’t find him in the throng, but he will know what I want. A good clean shot to end it all. Only there’s no arrow, no bullet. Is it possible he can’t see me? No. Above us, on the giant screens placed around the City Circle, everyone can watch the whole thing being played out. He sees, he knows, but he doesn’t follow through. Just as I didn’t when he was captured. Sorry excuses for hunters and friends. Both of us.

I’m on my own.

After all this time, Collins still knows how to write these tense and frightening scenes with brilliance. If there’s anything that I already know I’m going to take from this series, it’s that Suzanne Collins’s greatest skill is in writing action. It’s a complete justification for having these books be in first-person present and it’s allowed us to live entirely in the moments of Katniss’s world.

In this case, we’re dropped into the uncertain and terrifying experience of Katniss after having assassinated Coin. She’s taken to her old room in the Training Center, dragged through tunnels and passages by a handful of guards, and deposited, blindfolded and handcuffed, into this room. Her cuffs are removed before she’s locked in and Katniss surverys the damage.

It’s a struggle to get to my feet and peel off my Mockingjay suit. I’m badly bruised and might have a broken finger or two, but it’s my skin that’s paid most dearly for my struggle with the guards. The new pink stuff has shredded like tissue paper and blood seeps through the laboratory-grown cells. No medics show up, though, and as I’m far too gone to care, I crawl up onto the mattress, expecting to bleed to death.

I said it before, but it’s worthy of being repeated again: I feel entirely helpless. Hopeless, too. Collins has created that sort of atmosphere with her story, where even a singular scene in which something good finally happens to Katniss would at least make me feel a little bit better. But it’s just tragedy on top of another tragedy here, and I can’t hardly stand it. And it only gets worse:

Jumping to my death’s not an option—the window glass must be a foot thick. I can make an excellent noose, but there’s nothing to hang myself from. It’s possible I could hoard my pills and then knock myself off with a lethal dose, except that I’m sure I’m being watched round the clock. For all I know, I’m on live television at this very moment while commentators try to analyze what could possibly have motivated me to kill Coin. The surveillance makes almost any suicide attempt impossible. Taking my life is the Capitol’s privilege. Again.

I’m very happy Collins makes this distinction at the end of this section, because I also think it’s important to note that even in the most extreme sense, the Capitol has absolute control over Katniss. She doesn’t even own her life, and despite that the war is over, it’s still very much a reality of her existence. And that’s terrifying.

Instead, Katniss decides that she can give up, that that is something the new Capitol can’t control. She resolves to not eat, drink, or take any of her pills, but once her morphling withdrawal kicks in, that plan is pretty much obliterated, so she surmises that it might be possible to die from an addiction to morphling. (Wouldn’t that take a really long time, Katniss?)

It’s at this point that Katniss starts singing. We’re not given much context to it, except that we know she does it often, remembering the songs her father had taught her before he died. It’s strangely…uplifting? I mean, the concept of her finding her voice and using it to recall such a positive memory is the first moment of calm I’ve had in a long, long time reading this book. But it’s shrouded in frustration, as it’s revealed that weeks have passed without anyone coming into contact with Katniss.

What are they doing, anyway? What’s the holdup out there? How difficult can it be to arrange the execution of one murderous girl? I continue with my own annihilation. My body’s thinner than it’s ever been and my battle against hunger is so fierce that sometimes the animal part of me gives in to the temptation of buttered bread or roasted meat.

We’re back to this being about hunger again, and I think it’s something I’ve sort of unconsciously avoided talking about. It’s true that food was much more steady in Mockingjay than ever before. (Well, except for Victory Village.) But now Katniss is willing rejecting it as a sign of protest. She hadn’t done this before, had she? Regardless, it’s a huge moment of independence for Katniss, who is sick of being pawns for everyone else.

They can fatten me up. They can give me a full body polish, dress me up, and make me beautiful again. They can design dream weapons that come to life in my hands, but they will never again brainwash me into the necessity of using them. I no longer feel allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself.

Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifies its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.

Thank you, 758 other people who highlighted this passage, for agreeing with me. This realization by Katniss is, while heavy-handed, monumental. IT’S TIME FOR HER TO BE A BADASS ON HER OWN.

After two days of my lying on my mattress with no attempt to eat, drink, or even take a morphling tablet, the door to my room opens. Someone crosses around the bed into my field of vision. Haymitch. “Your trial’s over,” he says. “Come on. We’re going home.”

But….but…badassery! Wait. WHAT??!?!?!?! There was a trial??? WHAT THE FUCK.

I have to complain a bit, y’all. It has to happen! I can accept the context of the situation, but this is now like…the third time something GIGANTICALLY HUGE has happened and Collins is all, LOL ALL U GET IS A SUMMARY LOL. Particularly this summary is a bit grating, considering….well, ok, let’s get to it.

Haymitch stays with Katniss as she is taken care of and prepped to leave the Capitol, where she’s taken aboard a hovercraft with Plutarch and Haymitch.

After I shot Coin, there was pandemonium. When the ruckus died down, they discovered Snow’s body, still tethered to the post. Opinions differ on whether he choked to death while laughing or was crushed by the crowd. No one really cares.

I love that no one cares, but wouldn’t it have been clear if he’d merely choked versus BEING CRUSHED TO DEATH. Those are two very distinct deaths.

Anyway, moving on.

An emergency election was thrown together and Paylor was voted in as president. Plutarch was appointed secretary of communications, which means he sets the programming for the airwaves.

Well…that’s nice, right?

The first big televised event was my trial, in which he was also a star witness. In my defense, of course.

And now comes my gigantic, huge complaint: WHY WASN’T KATNISS A WITNESS AT HER OWN TRIAL? It doesn’t even make any sense:

Although most of the credit for my exoneration must be given to Dr. Aurelius, who apparently earned his naps by presenting me as a hopeless, shell-shocked lunatic.

That’s it? So no one ever thought, “Hey, why don’t we let Katniss explain why she did it and she’ll tell everyone Coin murdered children and then that would be a much better defense than what we just gave”?

I mean…in terms of what these characters did to Katniss, it’s pretty fucked that they don’t even think she’s capable of defending herself. But that’s not my complaint. A lot of characters make poor decisions in this book and it honestly adds to the realism of it all. What I don’t like is that a moment so potentially huge for Katniss (her trial) is completely ignored. This feels sooooooooo lazy to me. I’m curious to know how all of you feel about this, since apparently the ending of this book is a bit contentious in the fandom.

But further on the point, I simply don’t get how they can all ignore the obvious. I would understand Plutarch not wanting to get involved in going after Coin’s reputation, so it makes sense that he’d step in to defend Katniss in a different way. But no one else thought that it might be good to say, “HEY THIS IS WHY COIN IS DEAD, MAYBE WE SHOULD LIKE NOT DO THIS AGAIN”?

Ugh. So yeah. I AM NOT A FAN OF THIS.

We learn Katniss is supposed to stay in District 12 for the near future as part of a condition of her acquittal, though others from the rebel team have jobs to do, which makes Katniss wonder if there’s more war coming.

“Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says. “But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.”

“What?” I ask.

“The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.”

Well, christ, we can ONLY HOPE SO at this point. This book, guys. This book.

After dropping off Plutarch, Katniss wonders why Haymitch is coming back with her to District 12, worried that Haymitch is meant to watch over her.

“You have to look after me, don’t you? As my mentor?” He shrugs. Then I realize what it means. “My mother’s not coming back.”

Oh, fucking hell. I CANNOT TAKE ANYMORE SAD.

He pulls an envelope from his jacket pocket and hands it to me. I examine the delicate, perfectly formed writing. “She’s helping to start up a hospital in District Four. She wants you to call as soon as we get in.” My finger traces the graceful swoop of letters. “You know why she can’t come back.” Yes, I know why. Because between my father and Prim and the ashes, the place is too painful to bear. But apparently not for me. “Do you want to know who else won’t be there?”

“No,” I say. “I want to be surprised.”

It doesn’t matter that they war has been won. These people cannot win, and they’ll be haunted by the brutality on both sides for the rest of their lives. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Collins isn’t willing to ignore that the events of this series have ramifications that are permanent. I don’t imagine there’s going to be a happy ending to this.

When they land in the Victor’s Village in Twelve, Katniss’s house is the only one with lights on inside of it, so I feared the worst: Peeta had stayed behind. Katniss, completely alone, heads inside to discover a fire built by…well, we don’t know until the next morning, when Greasy Sae wakes up Katniss while she’s making breakfast. Katniss doesn’t know if she’s being paid to do this or if it’s out of the kindness of her own heart, but Greasy Sae seems to come every breakfast and dinner for Katniss.

I have no idea how much time passes, but since Coin’s murder was during the winter, when Greasy Sae says that “Spring’s in the air today,” to Katniss, I have to assume that months just went by. Months entirely by herself. No mother, no Gale, no Peeta, no Haymitch, no one but Greasy Sae and her granddaughter. This may be the saddest ending to anything I have ever read. (Well, I can think of one book sadder than this, but I don’t even want to recommend it because then I’m technically spoiling it.)

When Katniss denies the chance to leave the house because she doesn’t have a bow, Greasy Sae directs her to the study. Hours after Greasy Sae leaves, Katniss’s curiosity gets the best of her:

In the study, where I had my tea with President Snow, I find a box with my father’s hunting jacket, our plant book, my parents’ wedding photo, the spile Haymitch sent in, and the locket Peeta gave me in the clock arena. The two bows and a sheath of arrows Gale rescued on the night of the firebombing lie on the desk.

I’m reminded of the opening of Deathly Hallows when Harry goes through all his possessions before he decides what he’s going to leave behind. These are pieces from all three novels, physical reminders of the journeys she has been on. And goddamn it, I WILL NOT CRY. I WILL NOT CRY.

I wake with a start. Pale morning light comes around the edges of the shutters. The scraping shovel continues. Still half in the nightmare, I run down the hall, out the front door, and around the side of the house, because now I’m pretty sure I can scream at the dead. When I see him, I pull up short. His face is flushed from digging up the ground under the windows. In a wheelbarrow are five scraggly bushes.

“You are back,” I say.

WHAT.

“Dr. Aurelius wouldn’t let me leave the Capitol until yesterday,” Peeta says. “By the way, he said to tell you he can’t keep pretending he’s treating you forever. You have to pick up the phone.”


oh my god OH MY GOD!!!!

He looks well. Thin and covered with burn scars like me, but his eyes have lost that clouded, tortured look. He’s frowning slightly, though, as he takes me in. I make a halfhearted effort to push my hair out of my eyes and realize it’s matted into clumps. I feel defensive. “What are you doing?”

“I went to the woods this morning and dug these up. For her,” he says. “I thought we could plant them along the side of the house.”

My heart has just exploded. Peeta. Peeta is back. PEETA IS BACK.

I look at the bushes, the clods of dirt hanging from their roots, and catch my breath as the word rose registers. I’m about to yell vicious things at Peeta when the full name comes to me. Not plain rose but evening primrose. The flower my sister was named for. I give Peeta a nod of assent and hurry back into the house, locking the door behind me.

I’m speechless. Not only is Peeta back, but he seems to be healing, as evident by his completely gutting act of creating a memorial to Prim. I can’t. I CANNOT. Don’t fucking cry.

The smell’s very faint but still laces the air. It’s there. The white rose among the dried flowers in the vase. Shriveled and fragile, but holding on to that unnatural perfection cultivated in Snow’s greenhouse. I grab the vase, stumble down to the kitchen, and throw its contents into the embers. As the flowers flare up, a burst of blue flame envelops the rose and devours it. Fire beats roses again. I smash the vase on the floor for good measure.

It doesn’t really need to be said again that Collins is heavy-handed with her metaphors, but at this point, I plain don’t care. This scene is so necessary for Katniss, to provide her with a physical catharsis for the way that Snow has ruined her life in so many ways.

Fire beats roses again.

That night we learn more about what’s happened since the end of the war from Greasy Sae.

Over the eggs, I ask her, “Where did Gale go?”

“District Two. Got some fancy job there. I see him now and again on the television,” she says.

I dig around inside myself, trying to register anger, hatred, longing. I find only relief.

Wow. So that’s it? Gale’s gone. And he’s not coming back. THIS BOOK IS SO SAD.

But it only continues to get sadder, despite that Peeta has returned. (Where is he right now, by the way?) Katniss finally decides to head out to hunt. On the way out to the meadow, she passes the mayor’s house, which has been reduced to rubble, and she asks if anyone was found.

“Whole family. And the two people who worked for them,” Thom tells me.

Madge. Quiet and kind and brave. The girl who gave me the pin that gave me my name. I swallow hard. Wonder if she’ll be joining the cast of my nightmares tonight. Shoveling the ashes into my mouth. “I thought maybe, since he was the mayor…”

“I don’t think being the mayor of Twelve put the odds in his favor,” says Thom.

Realistic, sure. Utterly depressing? Unbelievably so. But, yet again, as you all told me, I am perpetually unprepared.

The Meadow’s gone, or at least dramatically altered. A deep pit has been dug, and they’re lining it with bones, a mass grave for my people.

Seriously, Collins, what are you doing to me. After everything that’s happened, I feel as if Collins is giving us the pieces to understand how permanently these people have been changed, how their home was taken away from them and destroyed, and how war will live on in their lives. I felt stronger about this idea as Katniss heads out to her meeting spot with Gale, but knowing that he’ll never show up again. Even though I feel better about Peeta being around Katniss, I’m still sad for the way things have turned out.

There is a brief moment of joy here, though:

My head snaps around at the hiss, but it takes awhile to believe he’s real. How could he have gotten here? I take in the claw marks from some wild animal, the back paw he holds slightly above the ground, the prominent bones in his face. He’s come on foot, then, all the way from 13. Maybe they kicked him out or maybe he just couldn’t stand it there without her, so he came looking.

See? I told you that Buttercup was a thousand times better than you’ll ever be. Still, it’s a moment that is then completely sideswiped by the sadness of it all.

“It was the waste of a trip. She’s not here,” I tell him. Buttercup hisses again. “She’s not here. You can hiss all you like. You won’t find Prim.” At her name, he perks up. Raises his flattened ears. Begins to meow hopefully. “Get out!” He dodges the pillow I throw at him. “Go away! There’s nothing left for you here!” I start to shake, furious with him. “She’s not coming back! She’s never ever coming back here again!” I grab another pillow and get to my feet to improve my aim. Out of nowhere, the tears begin to pour down my cheeks. “She’s dead.” I clutch my middle to dull the pain. Sink down on my heels, rocking the pillow, crying. “She’s dead, you stupid cat. She’s dead.” A new sound, part crying, part singing, comes out of my body, giving voice to my despair. Buttercup begins to wail as well.

JESUS. CHRIST. NEVER. PREPARED. FOR ANY OF THIS. Ugh, I had tears in my eyes reading this part. THIS IS POSSIBLY ONE OF THE MOST DEPRESSING SCENES EVER. I am still shocked that this is a YA novel only because most things ever are not this sad. Collins has crafted a story about the horrors of war and she didn’t refrain from making it as uncomfortable as possible.

But this moment, beyond just being depressing, is a sign of a shift for Katniss. Well, for our characters in general, too. For Katniss, it’s a time to start healing herself, to accept those who are remaining in her life as people who can help her begin to feel better and move past the terrors of the war against the Capitol and the absurdity of the Hunger Games.

In the morning, he sits stoically as I clean the cuts, but digging the thorn from his paw brings on a round of those kitten mews. We both end up crying again, only this time we comfort each other. On the strength of this, I open the letter Haymitch gave me from my mother, dial the phone number, and weep with her as well. Peeta, bearing a warm loaf of bread, shows up with Greasy Sae. She makes us breakfast and I feed all my bacon to Buttercup.

In the series’ most evocative and heartbreaking scene yet, we get the absolute sign that Katniss has begun to heal when she speaks to us about the book she is putting together. It becomes a form of therapy for her, and a rather brilliant one at that, a way of her doing exactly what she did with Buttercup: it’s a way to realize history and to face what has happened.

The page begins with the person’s picture. A photo if we can find it. If not, a sketch or painting by Peeta. Then, in my most careful handwriting, come all the details it would be a crime to forget. Lady licking Prim’s cheek. My father’s laugh. Peeta’s father with the cookies. The color of Finnick’s eyes. What Cinna could do with a length of silk. Boggs reprogramming the Holo. Rue poised on her toes, arms slightly extended, like a bird about to take flight. On and on. We seal the pages with salt water and promises to live well to make their deaths count. Haymitch finally joins us, contributing twenty-three years of tributes he was forced to mentor. Additions become smaller. An old memory surfaces. A later primrose preserved between the pages. Strange bits of happiness, like the photo of Finnick and Annie’s newborn son.

THEY HAD A SON?!?!?! Oh god, it doesn’t end, does it? I did expect for a moment that Collins was going to reveal that the whole series itself was the “book” that Katniss put together, but I’m glad that she didn’t. It preserves the urgency of the experience for me and saves it from feeling gimmicky.

Peeta and I grow back together. There are still moments when he clutches the back of a chair and hangs on until the flashbacks are over. I wake screaming from nightmares of mutts and lost children. But his arms are there to comfort me. And eventually his lips.

You know what I love most about this? That Collins simply doesn’t say, “WELL WE GOT BETTER AND EVERYTHING WAS OK.” They are both suffering the emotional and mental effects of their pasts. She doesn’t erase it. She simply says they learn to cope in their own ways. Thank you for this, Suzanne Collins.

On the night I feel that thing again, the hunger that overtook me on the beach, I know this would have happened anyway. That 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. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.

So after, when he whispers, “You love me. Real or not real?”

I tell him, “Real.”

Even after all this time, Peeta may still need to use this device to handle what happened to him. Regardless, it’s a way for Collins to communicate to us that this doesn’t disappear, that this world was ruined by human greed and sadism, and that the people who fought against it were harmed in ways we couldn’t imagine. It’s one of the most powerful statements, despite its pervasively depressing tone, because it doesn’t invalidate the story that came before it. If anything, it gives a legitimacy to the experiences of these people because Collins turns the story over to them. What happened to them, and all the people they lost along the way, is the most important thing about this all.

Ugh, only one more of these left. Excuse me while I cry myself to sleep tonight.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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