The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: A Book Review For Parents
Updated November 30, 2023
Everybody loves a good prequel to their favorite book. The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes is the prequel to The Hunger Games, one of the most beloved young adult series to date. The Hunger Games books and subsequent movies led the charge in making young adult novels stories a mainstream genre.
With all the excitement around this book (and the movie adaptation of it), parents will probably want to know what to expect before their kids buy it off the shelf. We’ve got all the details right here, including harmful content, language, sexual content, violence, and more. But first, a quick plot recap!
Most people will remember that the basic premise of The Hunger Games was a nationally televised event where chosen kids from each district (or state) had to fight to the death in the name of keeping political peace. The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen, a contestant in the 74th annual Hunger Games. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, however, follows Coriolanus Snow, a mentor in the 10th annual games — the same Snow that becomes the bad-guy president during Katniss’s time in the games 64 years later.
As a mentor, Snow’s task is to get his assigned tribute to win the Games, or at least be the fan favorite of Panem. The stakes are high for him — winning means the chance of a scholarship that will take him to college. What his classmates don’t know is that his family still has no money from the previous war. But his assignment is Lucy Gray, the girl from the least desirable district. He decides he has to help her live for his own sake — no matter what it takes.
Harmful Content ❗️
Just by reading the overview, it’s clear that this series relies on a somewhat disturbing plot. The idea of kids killing each other is already hard to stomach, let alone conjuring up the idea as a way to avoid a civil war.
Some readers may even find this one a little more intense than The Hunger Games books. You might remember Katniss and the other tributes were treated like celebrities before entering the arena. Luxurious living, delicious food, and protection from other tributes. Such is not the case during the tenth annual Games. The tributes are treated like animals — literally. After the reaping, they’re taken to the Capitol and made to stay in an enclosure at the zoo. They’re not given food or taken care of at all. This kind of poor treatment of other humans might make readers feel deeply troubled, but the inclusion of these scenes is purposeful in understanding the dynamics of Panem at the time.
One particularly cruel character in the book is Dr. Gaul, the Head Gamermaker. In one scene, she purposefully allows one of her genetically mutated snakes to attack Coriolanus’s classmate. The attack is gruesome and sends her to the hospital for weeks. Her character frequently makes comments about the need to control the districts and the necessary evils it takes to do it.
The book also has depictions of drug use, particularly by Dean Highbottom, a professor at Coriolanus’s school. He is constantly medicating with the drug Morphling, an addictive painkiller.
The book doesn’t have any explicit or adult language. Though some of the language is graphic when describing the violence.
The book does have some romance between the main characters Snow and Lucy Gray. They kiss a couple of times and there is no other mention of sex or romance.
It goes without saying this book has tons of violence woven into the plot. Aside from the Games in which many of the tributes are brutally killed, there are other instances of death and violence. Many of the deaths are described in much detail, but it’s worth noting it’s not as graphic as it could be. There are mentions of blood and deaths that include stabbing, gunshots, hanging, disease, and starvation.
Positive Value 💫
Despite its violence, this book tells an intriguing message about the lengths one is willing to go for power. Both through the lens of the Capitol oppressing the districts in the name of peace, as well as Coriolanus’s betrayals of those he cares about to get himself on top. Dystopian books often have this effect — by creating a world that seems unrelatable on the surface and yet forces us to ask certain questions about ourselves and society. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes asks, what is the cost of power and is it worth it? These questions can be instructive thinking exercises for teens to get them to think critically about the world around them.
Aside from philosophical questions, this book is an excellent story to captivate your teen! Suzanne Collins brings her familiar writing with a twisting plot and dynamic characters. Especially if your teen was a fan of The Hunger Games movies or books, this book will take them right back to what they loved from the original series. Not to mention the easter eggs fans will find in the story that foreshadows the later books!