Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Today is the last day of July, and the heat cannot leave soon enough for me! It’s been an unusual but generally enjoyable summer, but I am completely ready for cooler temperatures, cozy aesthetics around town, pumpkin spice, and school. I don’t think I have ever been this excited for school to start – almost ridiculously so! I suppose that is the difference in graduate school. We’ll see how I feel after (virtual) orientation tomorrow, and then when classes actually kick in.

This leads to an important little news brief: once school starts, I’m planning to cut back my posting to just twice a week for the most part. I’m sure that I could keep up my current posting schedule, but I think it will be helpful to have just that much less on my plate while adapting to a new program.

Today, I’m sharing my (somewhat messy) review of a highly anticipated book: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. Having read The Hunger Games in high school, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but as I read I remembered that you really never know what you’re getting into with a Hunger Games story. This one is certainly unique…

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51901147. sx318 sy475 About the Book

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Hunger Games #0

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Science Fiction

Synopsis (from Goodreads): It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

Content to be Aware of: Violence, death, minor blood, psychological manipulation

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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My Thoughts

I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and the way they are coming together isn’t entirely coherent. So, to start with, I’ve decided to share my stream-of-consciousness, bullet-pointed notes in order to just lay everything out:

  • Wow what an ending
  • As a former debate kid I really like the way the discussion of the concept of social contract is woven in
  • Lucy Gray is a wonderful character, but I have a lot of follow-up questions about her
    • don’t they say in THG that Haymitch is District 12’s only victor, like, ever? Or is he the only one still living?
    • the idea of the Covey is ingenious and I want to know what happens to each of them
    • What happens to her in the end???
    • Seriously, what is the deal with her and snakes?
  • the jabberjays are a nice side-plot but don’t really add much except to expand on Snow’s hatred of them
    • actually, I guess they give an opportunity to demonstrate his thinking about all things Capitol and how ingrained in him his thought processes are
    • but he’s such a jerk
  • As much as I hate endings that don’t have everything wrapped up neatly and happily, I’m glad that the ending is how it is…even if it’s kind of terrible?
  • surprisingly easy to get back into the world
  • good pace, although the last section was a bit…jumpy? bulky? Nothing flowed smoothly, but I think that demonstrated Snow’s mental break between what he thinks he wants to do/value and who he really is becoming (or has always been?)
  • I hated Mockingjay when I read it but now I want to re-read it because I remember Tigris is in it but I don’t clearly remember what all she does or what kind of a character she is
  • Snow lands on top.

Now that you’ve run through that muck, let’s see if I can get things put together a bit better.

I was surprised at how easy it was for me to slip back into the world of Panem. I thought it would be difficult to remember how everything works, but it wasn’t. At the same time, this is not the same Panem that Katniss experiences. This Panem is the reason for the Panem that she lives in, but it is not exactly the same. I liked getting to see the world a little messier. It’s a half-formed Panem; we get a clear view of the tension between what people want the country to be, what it still is, and what their decisions lead it to become even when the consequences are not what was intended.

From a literary perspective, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is truly remarkable. We don’t just watch Snow descend from desperation to utter madness, we experience the effects alongside him. The beginning is full of reminders of the past, the middle of desperate striving for something better, and the ending…well, the last third of the book is such a roller coaster of hope, fear, uncertainty, and shock, and by the end of it he is galvanized into the monster we knew he would become.

One of the effects of this kind of writing is that there are several people whom I would like to know more about, but since Snow does not care about them, the reader is incapable of knowing anything more. That said, I would love to read a spin-off series about Lucy Gray’s family, and learn more about some of the other side-characters.

I appreciate how Collins undergirds her stories with philosophical considerations of war, humanity, and politics. She weaves these things into the plot so seamlessly than many people don’t even realize what they are learning (which could be a topic for another blog post in itself). The stories are not entirely to my liking due to the violence and the endgame of some of the philosophy, but the craftsmanship in her writing is certainly impressive.

If you like action stories with a philosophical bent and don’t mind the violence, you will probably enjoy The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. That said, in the few months that this book has been out, I have already been appalled by the number of people who complain that the actual Hunger Games action gets so little first-hand attention. It’s always in the background, but this isn’t constantly an immanent fight to the death like the majority of the other books in the series. This is more about the mental strategy, philosophy, and “why” behind the Games. It’s also about insanity masquerading as brilliance, and an example of just how far humanity could fall without a stable moral compass.

 

The Verdict

I cannot recommend this for anyone who isn’t already into The Hunger Games. It’s disturbing, but not gross or vulgar. It can be a conduit for serious thinking about politics, values, and responsibility, but those aspects can also be overlooked relatively easily in favor of a mere story of a young man’s descent into cruelty and tyrannical egoism. As with the original trilogy, the deeper meaning behind the story could easily be overlooked by someone who just wants to see drama and action. The shock factor is high, and it takes a discerning reader to sift out what Collins really wants you to hear. I’m still not quite sure that I am there.

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Have you read this much-hyped book? What do you think of it? Perhaps more importantly, what do you think happened to Lucy Gray in the end???

Have a wonderful weekend, Readers!

Until the next chapter,

Jana

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Add yours

  1. I love this review. I just went through all of the Hunger Games again on audiobook (excellent) and rewatched all the movies and then I balked at buying the book for some reason. I keep going back and forth on this but after your review I really will go ahead and read it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review!

    Maybe Lucy hung around and is Katniss’ grandmother…? 😄 That would explain how Katniss knew the songs. 🤔

    Also, I think Haymitch is the “only” winner because I gathered from the end of this book that they “lost” any and all footage of that year’s games.

    Like

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