[REVIEW] “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” By: Suzanne Collins

Official Synopsis:

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.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Review:

The only person, aside from Snow that is, that I recognized as appearing in the trilogy is Tigris. I think there’s potential for her to have her own book too, to explore the breakdown of her and Snow’s relationship that inevitably occurs. The bond between the two of them appeared strong, and they seemed to share some of the same morals at the beginning. However, as Snow starts to lose his morals, or perhaps the more accurate term is to redirect or justify his morals in a different way, they grow further and further apart, even if no one acknowledges it.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is brilliantly written. So many times I caught myself thinking of all of the connections between Snow’s past, especially small details, and then I had to remind myself that it’s a book, not real life, so all of the connections had been expertly crafted by Collins. His vendetta against District 12, Katniss’s name, Katniss herself, not to mention her braid and the mockingjays — all of those roots take hold in this book. Snow hates whatever he deems to be unnatural, aka, what he cannot control, and mockingjays check all of those boxes. The explanation of the Hunger Games, especially how the tributes were treated (no food, put in the monkey enclosure at the zoo), because that is so unlike the treatment of the tributes that we see in the trilogy. Granted, the fancy treatment is likely just all a part of the show, but it could show a tiny (very tiny) shred of Snow’s morality when he first started mentoring Lucy Gray.

But one of the most striking things is that, as dissimilar as the post-war Panem seems from our current world, it’s not all that different. Not really. We see the Hunger Games as being grotesque and cruel, just as the Capitol kids do at first. With the exception of one character, everyone else is almost completely complacent in the carnage. Now, I’m not saying there are any direct comparisons between America and this behavior, but when you look at wartime behavior, or ICE locking up children in cages, there is a lot of outrage, but there is also a lot of complacency. The brutality of the Peacekeepers towards District residents looks the same to me as the police brutality that plays out across our social media screens every day.

Snow justifies all of his actions, big discretions or small. From his actions to help Lucy Gray in the Hunger Games, to the bigger decisions he makes as the story progresses, he’s always justifying that his decision is the right or best decision. His justifications, fear, and innate drive for self-preservation (and, I would say equally as important, public appearance) are the threads that make up who he is. Even though he becomes more sinister as the books go, once you think of these threads, his actions make more sense.

As part of his justifications, he engages in “othering.” He is constantly trying to convince the Capitol, and, I’m sure, himself, that Lucy Gray is more Capitol than District, and being Covey makes her not quite either. Lucy Gray represents everything that Snow thinks he wants, but he doesn’t really want freedom. He wants power, control. He has the chance to do the right thing multiple times, and chooses the wrong thing, even though he justifies and convinces himself that he’s doing the right thing. Relatedly, the “us versus them” mentality that only grows after the war ends is a very dangerous one, and one that we see a lot today in many aspects of American society.

The Games not having the glitz and glamour that we’re used to actually seemed to make them more disturbing, in a way. Stripping it of the bells and whistles, of the entertainment, stands to show how messed up they really are. A central theme is the true nature of human beings — if left on their own, will they kill each other, and commit horrible acts of violence, or are they inherently good? Circumstances breed people, for sure. There is a point where Snow is thinking about the Games, at the actions of his tribute, Lucy Gray. To place people in situations of horrible oppression — and an arena where they have to kill other kids to survive — and then to place blame on them for doing just that and seeing it as a justification, proof that people are inherently bad, is not only wrong, but extremely dangerous and disturbing. Commenting on the weakness and youth of the tributes that had to be killed while placing the blame on the other tributes, not on the Capitol who was forcing it to happen, who was really at blame…well, I can’t say I’m surprised. One tribute lined up the bodies of the killed tributes and tried to cover them up, reminding me of how Katniss treats Rue’s body in The Hunger Games. . I’d say that shows a lot of humanity in a situation where the inhabitants of the arena had been quite stripped of it.

The whole book is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop, essentially. I couldn’t help but want Snow to succeed, and for Lucy Gray to survive, even knowing that if everything had worked out right, the trilogy would never have happened, and Snow wouldn’t be the cruel person that we meet 64 years later. Watching Snow transition into the type of person that he hated at the beginning of the book happened so gradually, so subtly, that it was almost hard to pick up on.

Lucy Gray was such an interesting and exuberant character. To only give a short paragraph of this review to her definitely does not do her character justice. She was so full of life and spirit, even after being forced into a life that she neither wanted nor was responsible for. Her music, particularly the “Deep in the Meadow” and “The Hanging Tree” are ones that readers will be familiar with, from the trilogy. Her ‘family,’ the rest of the Covey, are likely responsible for that.

I do think that the romance between Lucy Gray and Snow could have been developed more, but I also don’t think that they were as in love with each other as they thought that they were. Lucy Gray and Snow went through traumatic experiences together in a very short time period, where emotions were running extremely high.I think they were both drawn to each other, attracted to each other, but at the end of the day, Snow sees love as a sign of weakness, and he really only seems to be capable of loving himself, and maybe not even that.

Snow’s moment in the arena only served to strengthen his view of the Districts being savages; after all, they’re often described as being animalistic, not fully human like the Capitol citizens. Instead if looking at the Capitol as the enemy and completely at fault for making the tributes act the way they do, he doesn’t completely place the blame on the Head Gamemaker, when it’s all her fault. After all, the tributes had nothing to lose.

The Games beginning as a school project, and evolving as a school project, was especially intriguing. As a college student, and a student in general, we often have projects and exercises that ask us to think outside of the box, expand on entertainment campaigns, etc. The subject and topics that are asked of Snow and his classmates are much different, obviously, but the structure of inquiry is the same. Children are chosen for the Hunger Games because they are seen as being innocent, but it was actually children (or, young adults) that were perpetuating the demise of the other children. Granted, adults were the ones officially making it happen, but had Snow not made the decisions that he did, I don’t think the Hunger Games would’ve lasted too much longer.

Overall, this was a phenomenal book, I only wish that there would have been more closure as the the fates of one of the characters at the end. I doubt we’ll ever get an answer, but maybe someday. It’s very long, and drags at times, but I think fans of the trilogy will enjoy it. I’m excited for the movie adaptation, and hope that casting is done in a different way than it was for the trilogy’s adaptation — these are children, and the actors need to look like children. If you lose that, you’re really losing the core aspect of the series as a whole.

Note: I read and wrote the review of this book back in August 2020 — I’m posting updates on the film adaptation whenever they become available, too! 

***

“The Hunger Games” – REVIEW

“Catching Fire” – REVIEW

“Mockingjay” – REVIEW

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