Tuesday 7 July 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, (Scholastic), 2020, RRP $20.99 pb ISBN: 9781743836811

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking
This is a prequel to the original Hunger Games books. The Games were devised by the Capitol of Panem to punish the Districts for starting a war. A boy and girl tribute from each district is sent to fight in an arena until only one remains alive. Now it is time for the tenth Hunger Games and already the population’s interest is waning. It isn’t the full bells and whistles event it will eventually become.

The main character is teenager Coriolanus Snow, the notorious President Snow of later books. The Snow’s, once an influential family, have fallen on hard times and are living in barely concealed poverty. Coriolanus is chosen to mentor one of the tributes for the Games. If his tribute does well, Coriolanus will win prize money and be able to afford to go to university.

He is assigned Lucy Gray Baird from District 12, who has made her living from singing and composing songs. Initially he is bitterly disappointed, but Lucy has charisma and he begins to see her as a person and not a means to an end. In fact, he becomes infatuated and cheats to help her win the Games. The second part of the book concerns what happens next. 

The question is posed: how much of Coriolanus Snow’s character was he born with and how much is shaped by the events he lives through? Coriolanus is certainly changed by his experiences and it is possible to see the monster he will ultimately become.

The Hunger Games trilogy were compulsive reading when they first appeared in 2008, and many will know the story of Katniss and Peeta through the movies. This new addition does not disappoint. It is written in the third person (the first three books were in first person) which gives Suzanne Collins space to draw parallels between dystopian Panam and present-day society, especially the use of media and spin.

Are people ultimately evil and must be controlled?  Or is there natural goodness as Lucy hopes? She is an enigmatic character. Readers must decide for themselves whether she is as honest as she appears. Perhaps she is simply a very talented performer. 

Compelling, well crafted, full of powerful social commentary and great characters, this is a book YA and confident middle grade readers will love. Hopefully, it is the first in a new series about Panam.

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