The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games; 0)

Book Blurb:

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.

I read this book of my own accord. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Review

This was one of those books that I never knew I needed until I read it. I read The Hunger Games series years ago, loved it, had a few lingering questions that I just attributed to it being a dystopian novel, and left it at that. I was so wrong.

Let’s start with one of the more controversial points of the book – Coriolanus Snow. I was a bit disappointed when I first saw that this book was about him. I had flashbacks to when I read Paradise Lost in high school, where I spent the whole time feeling sorry for Satan, and then remembered that he was Satan and no longer felt sorry for him – at least until the cycle started over. While that did happen a bit, telling Snow’s story was a stroke of brilliance. I had always liked him to an extent (as much as you can like the villain who is trying to kill your protagonist). He intrigued me. I didn’t agree with most of his decisions throughout the trilogy, but he definitely put thought into his actions, which I respected.

Here’s why this book worked. When we are first introduced to Katniss, we are in Panem, which is what used to be the United States but is actually so different that there is little, if any, resemblance. While I didn’t know I needed to know how we got from our present society to the 74th Hunger Games, the details and history that this book provides were fascinating. There were so many things that explained parts of the original trilogy, and they were all golden.

On a more literary note, the parallels and symbolism in this book were incredible. I’m honestly kind of upset that I finally found a book that I could write a solid literature analysis paper on, and not only am I not in an English class, but even if I were then this book would most likely not be a part of the curriculum. Seriously, though, it’s no wonder that Snow panicked when he met Katniss. Collins did a phenomenal job subtly making her point through these means. Which leads me to my next point.

Many of Suzanne Collins works focus on war, and I think that to complete this discussion, we needed a book about the other side. So often it is easy to dehumanize villains – Harry Potter fans hate Dolores Umbridge (often even more than they hate Voldemort), Marvel fans hate Thanos, Disney fans hate Hans, I could continue. We don’t care who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing, we just hate them. For the purpose of discussing war, though, you can’t dehumanize the other side. This book does a phenomenal job of explaining how Snow ended up where he did – all of the social, cultural, historical, and psychological reasons behind his worldview. It transformed him from a heartless villain into someone who was doing what he thought best for the survival of the human race. While he definitely made some wrong choices, this book enables readers to at least understand where he’s coming from. War is not black and white, good versus evil, but gray and complicated. Good guys make bad decisions, and bad guys make good decisions. There is no easy answer.

Overall, my only complaint is that the ending was a bit ambiguous and not at all happily-ever-after. I completely get why she ended it the way she did, I just really wanted answers to a few burning questions. This was an incredible book, and it made me think about politics, ethics, friendship, and a whole lot of other deep topics I usually don’t think about when reading a book for pleasure. I would highly recommend it!

Read our review of The Hunger Games!

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