April 2012: So I pretty much almost exploded from conflicting emotions the last time I read this book. I was torn between liking/loving certain things and being SO UPSET and BETRAYED about others, and also the rational part of my brain that isn't affected by feelings (so, the small part) realized that there was a reason for the way things turned out, but the majority of my brain was like FUCK YOU, BOOK. It was extra upsetting being so conflicted, so basically I was upset about being upset. It was just a fuckstorm of emotion*, I'm telling you. Thankfully, this time through, I was way less conflicted, and I'm glad to say I was actually able to enjoy myself.
*I am copyrighting this phrase and am now going to use it at all times.**
**You know what else is a fuckstorm of emotion? The season four finale of Doctor Who, which I spent all of Friday night watching for the millionth time, and you probably don't care, but I don't care that you don't care. Watch Doctor Who, motherfuckers.
One of the reasons, probably the main reason, that I was so upset the first time through is that I was under the very wrong impression that just because this was a YA book, that meant it was going to have a YA ending. Instead, Collins goes to the dark place and she doesn't back down. This series is a story about war and how war is always always bad and does terrible things to people, whether it's making them into victims or unwillingly participants, or making them do awful things in the name of justice and victory. This is a story about how people in power will always, always use the people underneath them, for good or evil. Collins' whole thing is that war makes people forget about the humanity of it all, which is what the Hunger Games was about: keeping the people of the Capitol happy like fat little sheep, providing them entertainment and dehumanizing the rebellious districts to the point where the people of those districts weren't real. So of course, yeah: that kind of story isn't going to have a happy ending. It's going to have an ending that enforces all the above points, and it's going to kick all of its characters when they're down, maybe even after, because otherwise the spectacle of this series would end up just being as cheap and awful for us as the Hunger Games are to the characters in this book.
So yeah, all the crap that happens in this book is still awful, and it still hurt to read, but the pain was a dull one, and the betrayal I felt over what I thought Collins had done to her characters turned into this sort of awful sadness about why she had done it in the first place. Yeah, she corrupted Peeta, ruined something pure, but war ruins beautiful things. That real/not real game he and Katniss play near the end (that they inherited from Finnick and Annie)? It's representative of that very thing, that the two of them have seen so many horrible things that they're not even sure what's real anymore. Just awful. And yeah, she killed Finnick for practically no reason. That journey in the sewers, that mission, it had no real purpose, and it's only REAL consequence was the death of Prim. Yeah, she killed Prim. Prim needed to die for Katniss to realize that Coin was just as bad as Snow in her way, that Katniss's real enemies are those who take her choices away from her, who take people's humanity as their own possessions and use it to move them around like chess pieces, as if it were some game at stake and not real life.
And I genuinely enjoyed some stuff: Katniss assassinating Coin instead of Snow, that last scene with Buttercup (heartbreaking as it is), Katniss's reasons for being with Peeta . . . and of course, "Well, don't expect us to be too impressed. We just saw Finnick Odair in his underwear." They better not cut that part out of the movie; I'll boycott, I swear! (No, I won't.)
September 2010: I might revisit this one later. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I mean, I get why Collins wrote it this way, but I kind of can't forgive her for what she did to these characters. (It was also sort of rushed and confused in parts, particularly the ending. She's not so good at those.) I'm giving it the fourth star because it was obviously engaging enough so that I stayed up all night to finish.