By Lisa T. Bergren

WARNING: MAJOR spoilers ahead. Come back later if you want to read the series and then engage in the discussion! I finished the Hunger Games series a couple of days ago and have been ruminating over it ever since. Maybe because I’m about to begin the last (?) book in my River of Time series, or maybe because it was one of the most haunting, emotionally resonant books I’ve read in quite some time.

Olivia, my daughter, didn’t like the ending, primarily for two reasons: the heroine didn’t end up with the “right” guy and her sister, Prim, died—and protecting Prim was the whole reason Katniss began the journey in the first place.

Now romantic triangles are bound to disappoint some readers of any series—look at the big Team Edward/Team Jacob debate for Twilight et al. And while I see Liv’s point that Katniss was somehow always destined for Gale, that they were best friends, what they shared was really from her past. The Games had so altered, so damaged the present- and future-Katniss, I believe she needed someone who could understand her…and the man who had loved her and protected her through it all, was Peeta.

I didn’t mind the ending, other than the fact that it is so horrifically tragic and empty of any real hope. In the end, even the “good” guys are suspect, and arguing to begin the Games again as retribution. I believe what the author intended was to create a cautionary tale, a vivid picture of a dystopia, a place none of us ever want to experience. And she’s successful in creating an ending that is the logical conclusion for this sorry state of humanity.

In this world, it’s all about power, and appearance, and there’s obviously a serious lack of respect for human life. Many districts are on the verge of disappearing altogether, their populations so decimated by war and disease that they cannot survive without “new blood.” Out of this comes the horror that is the Games, echoing the cries of Rome’s own arenas and gladiators, fighting to the death for the rubber-necking, sick pleasure of the masses. And part of the haunting quality of the trilogy is that it isn’t so big a leap to think that our world might degrade to such a place again.

Katniss and Peeta go on to live, and reclaim love and hope in some small measure (referenced in a couple of pages of epilogue), but their lives are devoid of any Real Hope. Gale lives apart from his best friend, apparently condemned to find satisfaction in some “fancy job” in another district. If Katniss could’ve saved her sister in the end, she would have succeeded in her epic struggle, even after sustaining incredible wounds—physical, emotional, mental. But she cannot. If she could’ve rediscovered some sense of home, and security and peace, it would’ve been highly satisfying. But she really doesn’t. What she finds is only a measure of all of that.

I understand why the author didn’t go the “tidy ending” route. The characters’ lives and choices are incredibly hard and real, and the tragedy resonates because we believe it could’ve gone that way. Left to our own devices, without God, we might well end up in such a hellish world, striving to make due with what we have at our disposal. What we can control, define, manage. But the ultimate hunger for me, as a reader of an epic trilogy, is for characters to find fulfillment, satisfaction, after so much struggle and strife. Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, finally destroys the ring and makes his way “home,” and then on to Home. Luke, in Star Wars, confronts the dark—within and without—and finds his way to light.

As I turned the last page of Mockingjay, I think I’m glad I shared their journey. It pushed me, as a reader. But I feel like a little shell-shocked, like I’ve sustained some damage. And I’m sad that after all that time spent with the books and these characters, that I feel the weight of tragedy, the utter depravity of the human condition—now or in the future—rather than hope. *sigh*

I loved this series, and these characters. I believe Collins is masterful in her craft. But this hollow ache inside me, felt days after turning the last page, is why I always want to include hope and God—in some form, at least—in my books. I want to encourage readers to go for all that their Creator has offered them, to be their best selves. If you’ve read my books, you’ll know I’m not afraid of the dark/evil/sin and the grisly, tough stuff of life. But when you turn the last page of the last book in one of my series, I want you to feel like you’ve not only learned more about the characters and their world, but yourself as well, and be glad that you shared in the journey, be encouraged onward, on your own. That’s why Kaatje in The Northern Lights Series finds love she can trust; Nic in The Homeward Series finds Home in the truest sense; Daria in The Gifted fulfills her mission and bears the child she thinks she’ll never have. None of their lives are perfect, just as none of ours is. But there is a sense of satisfaction and completion.

So, what about you? What did you think of the Hunger Games trilogy? And in particular, what do you look for in any last book of a series when you’ve invested that much time and energy?