the ballad of songbirds and snakes, a review

My dear friend Zain took this photo for the blog since I forgot to take one before lending it to him!

I loved the Hunger Games trilogy. I mean, I used to book out the VIP movie theatres for my friends and colleagues to watch the films together each time they premiered. My co-worker Lyna and I would organize everything: we’d arrange drink and snack deals for everyone, we’d make a big Hunger Games speech at the beginning of each film, and we would wear printed out “district passes” around our necks based on our Buzzfeed quiz results. You don’t need to tell me I’m a dork…. I’m fully aware.

So you can imagine my excitement when Suzanne Collins announced she would be writing a prequel entitled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I preordered it right away, trying to taper my expectations as I knew it was about President Snow’s adolescent years. Snow isn’t likeable, so I was intrigued how Collins would write his story in a way that would be compelling for the audience.

I wasn’t disappointed! Snow didn’t start out as evil, and I loved how Collins painted his character trajectory. He constantly weighed decisions of good vs. evil. And although he often had selfish, malevolent motives for the decisions he made, Collins expertly wrote examples of how a few kinder decisions could have ultimately paved a different path for Snow.

Spoilers Below- Beware! :

The shining star in this book, for me, was Lucy Gray Baird. She was bold, smart, talented and unique. She was from outside District 12 and considered somewhat of a vagabond- so different than the character of Katniss in the trilogy. I have many questions surrounding her character’s end result. What happened to her? Did she make it to District 13? Will we ever find out? Or did she head back to 12 and is potentially someone from the Hunger Games Trilogy’s ancestor? At what point did she realize Snow wasn’t going to come with her? That he wasn’t going to chose love over power? When did she realize he may kill her? And did he kill her? (And other questions I have that don’t involve Lucy Gray Baird are: What was the fallout between Snow and his cousin (who we later see in the Hunger Games trilogy)? Will we learn more about how their fallout transpired?)

I often don’t like it when books finish with so many open-ended questions around the ending, but because The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was a prequel (and potentially leaving room for a novella from someone else’s perspective… or even another novel!) I was okay with not having everything answered. Especially because Collins dropped the perfect amount of tie-in’s to the original trilogy.

In my opinion, it’s difficult to write a prequel; a story about a character and an end result you’ve already read or witnessed in books that occur later in the timeline. But Collins made it work: she left me on the edge of my seat as Snow navigated himself: how to be the Snow heir, how to be oppressed, how to be a friend/lover/student/soldier, and how to be a foe.

As Collins confirmed in April 2020, the prequel will be made into a movie with Francis Lawrence once again attached, and it will be exciting to see how the actor chosen to play a young Snow will appeal to a film audience. Will the screenwriting and the selected actor bring the same amount of depth to the character as Collins wrote in the novel? Who will be cast as the altruistic Sejanus Plinth, and the charismatic Lucy Gray Baird? Regardless, you know I’ll be at the theatre to watch with popcorn in-hand and my district badge around my neck.*

* (Fingers crossed COVID is managed by the time it comes out!)

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