Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (spoilers!!) book review

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes cover

title: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

author: Suzanne Collins

category/genre: YA dystopian

book depository* // barnes & noble // amazon

Whew! I can’t even begin to say just how much I prepared for this book. If you didn’t read my last post, I rewatched all the movies and re-read all the books in the week leading up to BALLAD OF SONGBIRD AND SNAKE’s release date. I hadn’t read the books since 7th grade, and I am really glad I re-read the books prior to reading the prequel. That has been my number one recommendation for anyone who says they are going to read the prequel. Make sure to revisit the world and characters before diving into this prequel.

In the prequel, I legit gasped after reading the first page. We discover Tigris is the cousin to Coriolanus Snow (I’ll be calling him Snow), and I was intrigued to see just how Tigris ended up hating Snow by Mockingjay. We don’t get to see the shift, but I now know whatever Snow does is big enough to destroy his relationship with his cousin. That’s an entirely different level of villain if Snow can turn his adoring family against him.

Speaking of Snow’s family, I began to understand where Snow learned a lot of his beliefs and tendencies when introduced to his grandmother. His grandmother clung to pre-war beliefs which I saw mirrored in Snow’s behavior. Obviously this does not make anything he does in these books forgivable. He takes his grandmother’s beliefs and twists them from terrible to a real-life nightmare. I went through this entire book reminding myself just how terrible Snow acted in the trilogy. Since the book is in third person limited, we get to see Snow’s rationale for his actions. This is where I saw the connections between his upbringing and his beliefs.

Moving on to the romance in the book, I had troubles with Snow’s relationship with Lucy Gray. Their relationship was pitched as romantic. I would categorize it as obsessive and manipulative. I don’t believe Lucy Gray ever loved Snow. Perhaps a crush prior to the Games, but she thought she was gong to die and never have to deal with him again. Snow’s behavior from the very beginning before he ever met Lucy were obsessive and possessive. (Yes, that rhymes, and I’m proud of it.) He keeps referring to Lucy as ‘his girl’ during the process before the Games and afterwards. Snow assumes Lucy is in love with him and gets jealous way too easily. He assumes the worst of her when she discusses her ex-boyfriend or has any interaction with other men. I quite frankly did not like this relationship.

Once Snow becomes a Peacekeeper and heads to District 12, I knew things weren’t going to go well. I hated how Snow assumed Lucy would be overjoyed by his appearance in her District. At the end of the book, Lucy runs away from Snow in the woods. At this point, I brushed over all of their interactions. I did not like their encounters or how things played out. Once Lucy runs away, all of the obsessive behaviors I saw in Snow became magnified. He did not hide any of it. I am surprised Snow just left the woods assuming Lucy was dead, and I’ll share why in a little bit.

Most of this book dragged for me. I sped through each of THE HUNGER GAMES’ books in the days before jumping into BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES. I prepared myself mentally for reading this book in a day, maybe two. Technically, I finished this book in two days’ span of time. I tried to spend an entire day reading this book, but the pace was too slow for my liking. I believe this book dragged since I wasn’t in first person point-of-view, and Snow wasn’t technically IN the Games (except for those few random moments). After re-reading the trilogy, I did not prepare myself for the density of this story.

I loved seeing Snow’s hand in developing the Games into what it is in the trilogy. The Games prior to Snow are unrecognizable. I would even go out to say Snow made the Games more humane in some ways while dehumanizing it in many many ways. Since BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES only goes up to when Snow becomes a Gamemaker, I would like to read another installment of Snow’s history solely to see how he develops the Games more and actually becomes president of Panem. I was hoping for more of a direct connection with this book and the trilogy. Another installment would do that for me.

Okay, time for my theory as to how Snow’s hatred of Katniss and obsession with Lucy Gray are connected. In this book, we see Snow’s hatred for mockingjays develop in the hangings. The mockingjays echo the screams of the dead which would be traumatic for anyone. We also learn the origin of The Hanging Tree (which Katniss learns from her father and sings in a propo for District 13) comes from Lucy Gray’s ex-boyfriend. Lucy Gray sings it multiple times at concerts and the such. Snow hates it from the beginning, but Lucy Gray uses it as a signal for Snow to meet up with her towards the end of the book. Snow mentions in the book how the mockingjays stop singing when Lucy Gray starts singing. Peeta says the exact same thing about Katniss and her father in the trilogy.

Are you ready for this?

I don’t think Lucy Gray died in the woods. Snow never looks for her body. No, she survived. And she continues to live in the Seam. She lives a low-profile life as Snow rises in ranks in the Capitol. Perhaps Snow even keeps tabs on Lucy, but who knows? What I do think, however, is that Lucy Gray is Katniss’ ancestor. Maybe a grandmother, perhaps a great-grandmother. I think Lucy Gray is Katniss’ father’s mother. The mockingjays stop singing for all of them. They all lived in the Seam of District 12. The timing would be accurate for Lucy Gray to be Katniss’ grandmother. Katniss and her father are, at the very least, somehow connected to the Covey clan. But this is also why I need a second installment of Snow’s books. I need to see if my theory is true.

Phew! Okay, I did it. I struggled so much to write this review, but I think I laid it all out well. If you’ve read this far, let me know what you think of my theory. If you haven’t read the trilogy in a while, I recommend revisiting! Nostalgia has powered me through this quarantine, especially with all my favorite middle school authors releasing new books this year.

xo,

Charley

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I Rewatched/Reread ‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy in a Week

Welcome!

I want to preface this post by saying I LOVED THE HUNGER GAMES books and movies in middle school. I only read THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy once in sixth grade (nearly a decade ago!!) and never picked it up again. Only recently did I begin re-reading books (see my Sarah Dessen Summer Readathon). I have seen the movies numerous times, but only when they first released in theatres. I may have watched my DVDs once or twice, but I have not watched any of the movies since my junior year in high school (four years ago!). Needless to say, I have not consumed HUNGER GAMES content for more than a few years.

rewatching the films

With quarantine draining my motivation, I decided to watch the movies after I finished my finals’ work for the day. I completely spaced on the fact BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES released within the week. I had not watched the first film since seventh or eighth grade, so I had a general sense of what happened. I forgot a lot of the details, though.

In the first movie, I could tell the budget was lower than the rest of the films because people weren’t sure how well it would do. I forgot how bad Peeta’s hair looked. His hair is so stiff through the entire movie. I also forgot how sassy Peeta was in the movies. As I re-read the books, I laughed at his sass 1000x more. The first scene I cried at with THE HUNGER GAMES movie was Katniss volunteering for Prim. I know, it’s literally less than 30 minutes into the film. This became such a common reoccurence.

I fell in love with Katniss and Peeta all over again. As I watched the first film, I truly appreciated Haymitch and Effie more than I did as a middle schooler. Perhaps that’s a sign that I’m truly an adult. I don’t know. Haymitch’s relationship with Katniss made me cry because he became like a father figure to her through the films. He took care of her but also pushed her in the arena. Effie became just as attached.

By the end of the first film, I was pretty sure I had felt all the emotions and could not cry anymore. I was wrong. Within a few minutes into CATCHING FIRE, I was a mess again.

I knew where the movie ended, so I was prepared for those emotions. For the majority of CATCHING FIRE, I was frustrated with Katniss being blind to her emotions. Actually, I think she just wouldn’t allow herself to truly feel her emotions towards Peeta to protect him from herself. She saw herself as broken, but Peeta helped Katniss see herself as whole again. Katniss helped Peeta, too, in numerous ways.

The scene that got me crying in CATCHING FIRE was when Katniss asks Peeta to stay with her on the Victory Tour. I was not prepared for that scene to bring up so many emotions. I loved everything between them in this film. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson truly brought these characters to life so well. When they kiss in the arena on the beach, I could see the moment in Lawrence’s eyes that Katniss realized how much she loved Peeta. CATCHING FIRE truly did a wonderful job of developing their romance in the film. And, yes, I bawled at the end even though I knew how it ended.

MOCKINGJAY PART ONE was frustrating for me with how much Katniss relied on Gale. What really made me frustrated was how much the film has Katniss and Gale kissing. They kiss way more in the movies than in the books. Perhaps this it to play up the love triangle, but at this point in the films everyone knows Katniss will end up with Peeta. CATCHING FIRE made that obvious. Gale as a whole made me upset. This is how I feel about Gale:

I started crying when Katniss first sees Peeta. In MOCKINGJAY PART TWO, I bawled at the first sight of Peeta. I basically cried any time Peeta was on screen for the last two movies. For PART TWO, I cried five minutes into the film all the way to the meadow scene. Josh Hutcherson did a phenomenal job acting as hijacked Peeta. Rewatching these films reignited my love for Peeta but also Josh Hutcherson. I even made a TikTok about Josh Hutcherson.

I don’t know how much else I can speak about the films because I basically cried through watching all of them. By rewatching the films, though, I realized how much I missed THE HUNGER GAMES. This led me to listening to the first book on audio while working. Once I reached the halfway mark of the audiobook, I realized BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES released the following Tuesday. At that point, I figured out I could actually reread the entire trilogy before the prequel released if I read a book a day.

rereading the books

While listening to THE HUNGER GAMES audiobook, I was surprised by my enjoyment of the first six chapters. I know this is odd, but I specifically remember my entire friend group (myself included) discussing how slow the first six chapters of the book were in middle school. While I was listening, I appreciated how well Suzanne Collins wove in history with action. She did a great job of keeping the pace of the book moving while explaining the intricate history of Panem.

Peeta and Katniss’ connection in the books is more obvious than the films. Gale truly never stood a chance to book Peeta. He has sass, can bake, and helps Katniss see the best parts of herself. Gale meets Katniss where she’s at, but he was just someone who helped her through a tough part of her life. He was never meant to help her grow as a person. The intimate moments between Peeta and Katniss made me cry. I even knew what a majority of those moments were going to be from watching the films, but I still cried!

I finished the audiobook in less than two shifts at work. I even started the first few chapters of CATCHING FIRE, but I finished reading it physically. I read CATCHING FIRE in an afternoon, and I loved how Peeta is rebellious in his thinking. He is more subtle than Gale, though, which I appreciated. He knows how to work the crowd into seeing it as compassion instead of a direct rebellion against the Capitol.

When Peeta brings up a baby, I was confused at first as to how anyone could think Katniss got pregnant. Then I remembered from the train on their Victory Tour and the time before the Games in the Capitol where they slept in the same bed. Naturally, everyone else thought they were having sex, but they weren’t. Peeta is quite something in CATCHING FIRE.

On another Peeta note, I love how Suzanne Collins develops his character more by showcasing him as more than just a baker. I got more glimpses into Peeta’s life pre-Games in CATCHING FIRE. Everything made me fall in love with him more. Katniss also fell in love with him more. The beach scene in the book confirmed my movie suspicions where Katniss truly knows she is in love with Peeta at this point. She doesn’t outright say it, but she describes it as more of a warm feeling when she forgets about the Games. This is where I get the idea she’s trying to protect Peeta from herself since she won’t acknowledge her love for Peeta. But I also have to remember she’s only 16/17 in these books.

When I finished CATCHING FIRE, I forgot Katniss actually saw Gale and was in District 13. The film ended earlier than the book did for dramatic effect. When I started MOCKINGJAY, I knew I had to finish it that day since BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES came out the next day. While I flew through the book, I still cried numerous times. I took a TikTok break or two to control my emotions. In the book, I got so frustrated with how clingy Gale was to Katniss. The scene where they makeout in District 2 got my blood boiling. He KNEW at this point how in love Katniss was with Peeta. Gale literally says he will never be with Katniss while Peeta is around because she loves Peeta. Gale just needed to let her go, especially when he got jealous of Finnick simply talking to Katniss. Like, Gale just… he just needs to stop.

MOCKINGJAY really brushed over a lot of the deaths, too. I nearly missed Finnick’s death (I KNOW!) since I was reading so quickly. Prim’s death is seen more through Katniss’ grief than in action. Suzanne Collins brilliantly showed Katniss’ grief in the following months. I loved how well everything flowed together and emphasized Haymitch’s importance in Katniss’ life. He understood her on a new level after Prim’s death. I appreciated their relationship developing after the Games.

Peeta returning to District 12 made a bigger impact on me than in the films. Obviously, I cried during the movie. But in the books, Peeta is literally planting bushes in memory of Prim when Katniss catches him outside. I love Katniss’ reaction of finally taking a shower, getting dressed, and eating once Peeta returns. He really brings her to life again. But she also anchors him at the end of MOCKINGJAY. Together they are literally unstoppable.

I would also like to take a moment to appreciate how Suzanne Collins foreshadows the end of MOCKINGJAY in CATCHING FIRE. This queen has Katniss talking about seeing Peeta with his future children playing in the meadow in a world free of the Capitol and its Games. Like… let’s just take a moment. There were multiple other moments of foreshadowing throughout the books. I could never have truly appreciated these books without re-reading them at least once. I can see myself reading these books numerous times in the future. I can only imagine what more I can notice with every reading.

If you made it this far, please comment below your thoughts! I feel like I ran a marathon writing all my reactions and thoughts to the movies and books in one post. I am currently reading BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES, but I will be sure to write a (probably spoiler-filled) review within the next week.

xo,

Charley