Book Review: Champion of Fate by Kendare Blake
Book Review: Starling House by Alix Harrow

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

But no peace will exist while this disease eats away at all that is good and noble in our country. Today we honor her sacrifice with a reminder that while evil exists, it does not prevail.

(Next to this in my copy of the book I wrote “this reminds me of the current trump propaganda” and I stand by that. Can’t you hear that in the racist, idiotic tones of a maga-hat-wearing insurrectionist?)

Back in August or September of 2008, when I was a brand-new librarian, when book blogs were THE WAY to find out about new books, when I was deeply invested in YA lit, one of the book bloggers I followed wrote a review of book she’d gotten as an ARC: a tale of a dystopian world where, once a year, every district had to send two teenagers to a publicized “games” wherein the last kid living was the winner.

My first response was I must read this book right now and my second was wait, is this really a YA novel?

So I talked it over with my new librarian friend, Lanell (who I much later found out was instrumental in me getting my job), who ordered all of the young adult books for the library. Her first response was, “Hmmmmm, that might be too violent for our readers.” But I convinced her to order a copy. I’d read it first and tell her what I thought.

By the time the book came in and my hold showed up on the shelf, though, it was already getting tons of buzz and it wouldn’t have mattered what my reaction to it was: all the libraries would order it.

But I still read that first library copy of The Hunger Games before anyone else.

All of which is to say: I’ve been invested in the series since the very beginning.

Ballad of songbirds and snakesBut when I read about Suzanne Collins releasing The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy that tells the story of Coriolanus Snow, I was a little bit annoyed. It seemed like an apologetic to me: here’s why Snow turned out like he did. Do we really need to understand that? Is there compassion to be found for the person responsible for so much death?

So I didn’t read it.

But then, this December’s city holiday party was a ticket to see The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. And I decided I HAD to read it before I saw the movie. And since all of the library copies were checked out, I bought a copy.




Not because I need a happy book or a clean ending or don’t understand dark stories. (“Dark and twisty” is basically the genre I read, no matter the genre.) (And really: So many people hated the ending of Mockingjay because it wasn’t hopeful, but I thought it was perfect. Life doesn’t usually give us “hopeful.”)

Partly I hated it because the pacing of the last third was horrible. It felt like a draft of a story rather than a finished one: On Thursday Snow does this, and on Friday he does this, and then it’s August 24th and he does this…

Partly because I couldn’t click with any character. Snow is obviously a jerk throughout (more on that in a sec). I probably could have liked Lucy Gray but this isn’t really her story. Ditto Sejanus. Ditto Tigris. I know many readers love books with detestable characters, but I don’t.

Partly, yes, because of the ending. Not because I’m not experienced with ambiguous endings. (Ambiguous endings are, in fact, why I will forever be mad at Margaret Atwood for writing The Testaments. The ambiguous ending of The Handmaid’s Tale was perfection. Perfection that did not need a sequel. Perfection that was the whole point of the book.) Not because I need neat and tidy. But because the switch was too sudden. I mean, of course Snow was never going to head out into the wilderness with Lucy Gray. But he had at least seemed to have affection for her, and then, BAM, suddenly he’s hunting and killing her? And since we are never inside of Lucy Gray’s head we never know how she really feels at all.

But mostly because of something Suzanne Collins says in the interview that’s in the back of my copy of the book. She’s discussing her use of the quote from Frankenstein that starts the novel (“I thought of the promise of virtues which he had displayed on the opening of his existence, and the subsequent blight of all kindly feeling by the loathing and scorn which his protectors had manifested towards him.”) Of course since I read and delved deeply into Frankenstein this year, this grabbed my attention anyway. Is Snow a monster that society created? In the interview, Collins says “She [referencing Mary Shelley] seems to be saying that naturally good creatures exposed to an abusive world result in monsters.”

No, wait. So we are supposed to feel some sort of pity for Snow? Because the thing is, Sejanus is also exposed to an abusive world. So is Lucy Gray. So, for that matter, was Katniss Everdeen. Yet Snow is the one we know without doubt turns into a monster. Chooses to become one, because he doesn’t like feeling unimportant to the Capitol, really. He has a very few moments of being motivated by anything other than saving himself and his social standing…but not enough to redeem him.

So, to me, the impulse behind this book is to show readers that Snow went through some hard stuff during the war and, yes, he really did turn out awful. Here are the awful things he experienced on his journey towards true awfulness.

Except I didn’t find any understanding for why HE turned out so awful.

(Tigris, for example, did not, but as a Snow she experienced many of the same humiliations and fall from grace, and all of the horror of the war.)

It says a lot about the power of propaganda (change some of the wording and some of what is said in the Capitol could come right from the lips of maga proponents). And the devastating impact of war on individual lives even if they don’t experience the actual horrors of war. (And reading about war while the war against Palestine is raging was interesting.)

But finishing it and still not really understanding why Snow became Snow, other than he was a wealthy, entitled jerk from the beginning, which we could surmise from the other books—

I think in the end I despised it because I don’t know why it was even written in the first place. Other than going back into the world of Panem, WHY? What was the point?

I honestly wish I hadn’t read it and just continued on loving The Hunger Games like I did.

(I ended up not seeing the movie. Kendell was recuperating from a surgery and he was not doing well that day. I couldn’t leave him just for a free movie ticket. Maybe I will go see it with him in January.)


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