Now that it comes down to it, I find I don't actually have as much to say about this book as I thought I did. Essentially, I thought it was a terrible book with a beautiful ending. I'll try to briefly sum up why I feel this way:
1. Although Collins claims she's trying to portray the true horror of war, her violence is video game violence. Machines spit out deadly things and slaughter characters in excessively gory ways. Over and over and over. It's simultaneously revolting and boring. And because she dwells on the sci-fi gore rather than the human element, I have difficulty making a connection between the book and the real wars going on in our world right now. (For example, she does a wonderful job developing Finnick's character - I really cared about him. But he died in two lines, and Katniss never has an extended moment of reflection on what that means. Because she never has to deal with her grief, we, the readers, never deal with it. And shouldn't that be the point of a didactic fictional book on war? To point out how many people die and are never mourned, and then show the terrible waste of those lives and teach us how we should mourn and, ideally, reform?)
2. Collins switched boats mid-stream. I don't know this - it's just a hunch - but I feel as though after book two, Collins suddenly looked at what she'd done and wanted to make the series more meaningful, more emotionally wise, more profound. But because the first two books were pretty basic thriller + satire (the Juvenalian kind that runs on anger rather than laughter). I found them both highly entertaining, and I thought they had some good things to say about reality tv. But I didn't find them profound. I don't think it would have been impossible to make book three profound, but I think it would have been very hard. And I feel like Collins kept shooting herself in the book. For the aim of the series to change, Katniss needed to change. As I see it, there are two characters who could have helped Katniss grow - Cinna and Peeta. Cinna, she killed in book two. And Peeta, she used as a tension heightener by making him lose his mind for most of the book. Again, this could have been the key to Katniss's FINALLY maturing emotionally, but instead she reverted to the old survival instinct, and learned nothing.
(One side note: I will say I thought she closed the love triangle perfectly. Of course it had to be Peeta. And making Gale the inadvertent cause of Prim's death was the perfect way to get rid of him. Of course, I was so emotionally detached from the book at that point that I felt almost nothing when Prim went up in flames, but that's a different issue.)
And YET, that ENDING! That beautiful, sad, eloquent ending. I wish the book had made the ending inevitable. Instead, I feel like the ending was a glimpse of what the book COULD have been. As it is, Katniss's character development simply couldn't support it. But, it made reading the book almost worth it. So, I will end on a happy note by quoting the final paragraphs where Katniss contemplates how she will explain her violent past and its memories to her children, an ending I wish I had written:
I'll tell them how to survive it. I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.
But there are much worse games to play.