I also mourned Finnick. His male prostitute past fit the books' internal logic while providing one of the series' more adult moments, which made me worry a little about what younger readers would make of it. I think you're right, Nina, that it's for their benefit that we don't get more details about the Capitol secrets he gleaned.
I also think that Finnick makes it onto the canvas of big ideas, which you've both filled in so vigorously that I feel bad about my earlier scoffing. In Finnick, Collins shows us the complexity of mental illness. The book is frank throughout about the mental toll that trauma and loss takes on its characters. Haymitch becomes an alcoholic because the Capitol zaps his family and his girlfriend. Peeta loses control of his memory and, with it, his psyche. Johanna Mason struggles with morphling (morphine) addiction. The flip side of Katniss' enormous stubborn strength is her breakdowns, which land her in the hospital or the District 13 storage closet. And Finnick and mad Annie, who covers her ears when conversations frighten her, especially push us to think about how people flit back and forth across the line of sanity. Through them, Collins shows the wounds of PTSD. I especially liked the image of Finnick tying knots to keep himself barely under control and the frayed rope that passes from him to Katniss to Peeta.
David, I love your inspired comparison of District 13 to Israel. It's pretty great that Collins makes Coin almost as dastardly as Snow—fulfilling Katniss' every paranoid adolescent expectation—while also leaving herself the wiggle room to redeem District 13 once Coin is out of the way. Plutarch's few lines promising a republic give us a democracy to root for. Maybe that's my problem with the ending. Gale is scorned for taking a fancy job in District 2 (purveyor of evil Career Tributes) while Peeta and Katniss virtuously retire to the old 12 to live off the land, and off the grid, while they're compatriots turn Appalachia into a pharma corridor (i.e., "make medicines").
This is the future of civic engagement? You're right, Nina, that Peeta could have had a starry political future ahead of him. But here I'm the one who is being didactic. It makes enough sense that Katniss would never entirely trust her government, no matter how old she gets, and Peeta is scarred enough to crave obscurity, too. If Collins wants to end on a Tea Party vision of the future, then she has earned it. As long as Katniss and Peeta pay their taxes.
Nina, I'll see your Minotaur and Henry VI and raise you a few titles. For graduates of The Hunger Games, I'd recommend The Magus, by John Fowles, which is about an elaborate psychological game concocted by a sinister trickster. Fowles also wrote The French Lieutenant's Woman—another keeper—but seems to have fallen out of the canon. Give him a try, Collins fans, and let me know if you agree that he deserves a comeback. A second obvious pick is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: all the creepiness of a fully realized post-apocalyptic future in the form of a feminist nightmare. And a third wild card recommendation: The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel. I may be out on a limb here, since when I mentioned to a friend recently how much I liked this book as a teenager, she called it soft porn. But I think that's much more true of the rest of Auel's Earth Children series than this first one. Readers, let me know?
Also, has anyone come up with a recipe for Capitol lamb stew or District 4 seaweed rolls? I see a Hunger Games bake-off in the future. David and Nina, I'll host if you shoot the squirrels and decorate the cake.