Psychology Student Reviews The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

As a Psychology student, it was compelling to dive into this prequel already knowing who Snow will become. This was a chance to use a retrospective look to see what happened in someone’s past that led them to become the person they are today. Oh, Dr. Gaul.

I’ll dive right in with a number of things that planted red flags along the way:

  • How Snow views Lucy Gray as his creation, his possession. His. Be prepared to riot at this next line:

“In some ways, it had been better to have her locked up in the Capitol, where he always had a general idea of what she was doing.”

  • His suspicions of everyone can turn a simple person into the devil by his overthinking. People with anxiety tend to interpret negatively things that aren’t quite clear. He takes that anxiety and turns it so much so that it can almost be painted as paranoia.
  • His lack of empathy when people suffer. Biggest red flag: his friend gets hurt and his main worry is getting blamed and punished if something worse happens. And when the parents of the friend rush in, which is when most people would go to reassure them, Snow is thinking first and foremost of himself:

“He didn’t know what the Dovecotes had been told, but he had no interest in talking to them, especially before he’d worked out his story.”

Big red flag. Huge.

  • He imitates emotions he thinks people expect him to feel in that moment, instead of sitting to uncover his real emotions. This is especially evoked in front of the cameras where he can make up a whole new persona.
  • He excuses his actions to clear himself of all guilt. He’s a great lawyer; the devil’s advocate. I was especially shocked when he dared to say this next line after the unthinkable happened to Sejanus: “And who knew? Maybe the cookies would keep coming.”

We’re rioting.

It was equally concerning to read the class discussions like, “How do we get more people to watch the Hunger Games?” And the one voice of reason, Sejanus, is being pushed aside like a madman. I had to actively remind myself that Sejanus is the good guy in a sea of bad. It’s all about who controls the narrative. This story is being told through Snow’s eyes. Don’t get distracted.

It’s disconcerting that the message of this book is either you riot against someone like Dr. Gaul and end up [redacted] like Sejanus, or you become her pet like Snow.

Which brings me to the point that we’re here for characters like Lucy Gray, not for Snow’s class homework 101 on how to be a dictator.

“Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life . . . then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure. And if you couldn’t trust them, who could you trust? All bets were off.”

More point on the other characters:

  • The one thing that kept circling around in my mind was how Tigris would view Snow’s presidency. We see how much she sacrifices of herself for her cousin Snow. Yet in the end, we’re left with barely any mention of her. Unfortunate. I have a tiny sliver of hope that she would actively disapprove because she was always the voice of reason when he talked badly about people.
  • Lucy Gray is like a poor Disney princess who has to act graceful with the Capitol’s children even though she’s starving because of their families. This book should’ve been from her perspective. She deserved more page time, or at least her own POV. Her games were so rushed over, especially the ending. She deserves better.
  • Oh, but the loveliest moment of them all: “Hey, you found some katniss.” “Some people call them swamp potatoes, but I like katniss better. Has a nice ring to it.”

I do have to say after a certain point in the book, I couldn’t wait to finally escape the boring everyday routine of academic life. Luckily, the author immediately replaces it with everyday military life… Help. I can’t read any more details of the meals they ate and how everything had to be organised. Oh, and the amount of songs featured in this book? No, thanks. I’m good. It was like each chapter featured at least one, if not four. But I do have to add, the history on The Hanging Tree song was a nice touch.

All in all, I do appreciate that the author returned to this world. Now, when I catch Catching Fire references on my timeline or any talks about the Capitol or the games, I feel like I have insider information thanks to this prequel.

Midnight Sun might be next on the list.

Check out the prequel to the Hunger games through this excerpt:

Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

If you needed any convincing to read this book, take this next passage as your sign:

(it’s a bit long but so worth the read)

“Mothers were the measure of safety, which meant that I was safer than Maeve. After our mother left, Maeve took up the job on my behalf but no one did the same for her. Of course Sandy and Jocelyn mothered us. They made sure we were washed and fed and that our lunches were packed and our scouting dues paid. They loved us, I know they did, but they went home at the end of the day. There was no crawling into bed with Sandy or Jocelyn when I had a bad dream in the middle of the night, and it never once occurred to me to knock on my father’s door. I went to Maeve. She taught me the proper way to hold a fork. She attended my basketball games and knew all my friends and oversaw my homework and kissed me every morning before we went our separate ways to school and again at night before I went to bed regardless of whether or not I wanted to be kissed. She told me repeatedly, relentlessly, that I was kind and smart and fast, that I could be as great a man as I made up my mind to be. She was so good at all that, despite the fact that no one had done it for her.”

This rings so true.

The feelings evoked in me while reading The Dutch House were reminiscent of my reading experience with books like The Great Alone, Little Fires Everywhere, and A Spool of Blue Thread (they even have the similar “Oh, Danny”). That is to say, what a journey would await. Maeve was someone to behold.

“Five whole days with you at home,” she said, blowing smoke out the open window. “The best five days of the year.”

On another note, we’re diving right into spoilers from here, it showcases the author’s talents that within one page I can hate a character and yet know nothing substantial about them. Ahem, Andrea. You can just tell, like with real people, who spells trouble. Translating that feeling on paper? That’s a magical writer right there.

the office

But back to reasons why I love Maeve:

“Maeve was pretty enough and popular enough that she would never have had to stay home on Saturday nights, but for the most part she did, and for the first time I realized it was because of me. She would never have left me alone in the house.”

Big sisters. That’s it.

“and the way the last bit of light fell over her, she looked like a painting.”

She looked like a … painting!! She has long black hair! The painting of the girl on the cover is MAEVE. I knew it held something more about it.
the dutch house bookspoils
I couldn’t stop staring at the cover when I first got my hands on the book. And so I kept feeling drawn like a magnet to it until I finally caved in and picked the book up. Like, it wouldn’t leave my head until I had it in my hands. This book was calling to me. Or rather, Maeve was calling to me. I was intrigued.

“Now that she wasn’t around to help me with my homework, I wondered for the first time who had ever helped her when she was young.”

I never realized just how much my soul needed to read a book about appreciating older sisters as stand-in mothers until I stumbled upon The Dutch House. This is healing. It’s the little things no one notices when it comes to taking care of younger siblings, like helping them out with their homework, or those simple moments that arise to remind them of how good they are so those values are instilled from a young age.

“You only think you want to get rid of your sister,” Jocelyn said, clapping her hand on my shoulder in a firm manner so as not to embarrass me. “Then when she’s gone it turns out you miss her.”

I wonder if this feeling has a name. It evokes the most acute emotion.

Not only does this book represent the part of an older sister fully committed to her younger sibling, it’s the loss of a childhood home that cannot go by unnoticed. It reverberates throughout your life. The hurt these next passages encompass cannot be overstated:

“The idiocy of what we took and what we left cannot be overstated. We packed up clothes and shoes I would outgrow in six months, and left behind the blanket at the foot of my bed my mother had pieced together out of her dresses.”

“and there were some other things—yearbooks, a couple boxes of novels she’d already read, some dolls she was saving for the daughter she was sure she would have one day, all in the attic under the eaves and behind the tiny door in the back of the third-floor bedroom closet. Did Andrea even know about that space? Maeve had shown it to the girls the night of the house tour, but would they remember or ever think to look in there again? Or would those boxes just belong to the house now, sealed into the wall like a time capsule from her youth?”

You’ll forever think about the things you didn’t take.

“I always imagined the house would die without us. I don’t know, I thought it would crumple up. Do houses ever die of grief?”

The longwinded realization that at the end of the day a house is just that, a house, came to me after years and years. The house stays the same for the most part. You’re the one who changes through the years.

What a powerful story.

Like I said earlier, The Dutch House reminds me distinctly of The Great Alone. It’s that sense of togetherness and loyalty you feel as the reader to these book characters. Maeve was the star of this book for me. The quiet star that shines the brightest but is set aside too often. She never got quite what she deserved. She worked the hardest of them all and was never fully redeemed, especially with a character like Celeste to remind her of that. And who is Celeste to say those things? Her name says all you need to know about her character.

Celeste wasn’t listening. Where Maeve was concerned she didn’t listen. “At what point do you say to her, Okay, it was an awful childhood, it’s a terrible thing to be rich and then not be rich, but now everybody has to grow up?”

People like her are why people like Andrea exist.

Celeste never fully understands the sacrifice Maeve had to make to ensure Danny’s well being. Celeste never thinks about why Maeve took on that job she thinks is beneath her (to stay closer to Danny) or why she lives where she does (to stay closer to Danny). Maeve served everyone but herself, and it upsets me to think someone so privileged – so entitled to their privilege they aren’t even aware of it – has the audacity to judge Maeve. It reminded me of this brilliant line in the poem, To this day:

When a kid who could still go home to mom and dad
Had the audacity to tell him “get over it”

Though my hatred wasn’t Andrea-level, it felt pretty close. Why? This passage hits it right on:

“Those are my two choices? I love her or I hate her?”
“Well,” my sister said, “you’re telling me you didn’t hate her, so I just want to know what the parameters are. I think it’s a ridiculous conversation to be having in the first place, if you want my opinion. Say there’s a kid who lives next door, a kid you have no particular friendship with but no problems with either. Then one day he walks into your house and kills your sister with a baseball bat.”
“Maeve, for the love of God.”
She held up her hand. “Hear me out. Does that present fact obliterate the past? Maybe not if you loved the kid. Maybe if you loved the kid you’d dig in and try to find out what had happened, see things from his perspective, wonder what his parents had done to him, wonder if there wasn’t some chemical imbalance. You might even consider that your sister could have played a role in the outcome—did she torment this boy? Was she cruel to him? But you’d only wonder about that if you loved him. If you only liked the kid, if he was never anything more to you than an okay neighbor, I don’t see the point in scratching around for good memories. He’s gone to prison. You’re never going to see the son-of-a-bitch again.”

I love her.

I was so attached to Maeve that seeing her receive the bare minimum was beyond painful to read. Give her a break! Not only did Maeve have to deal with someone like Andrea in her youth, on top of taking care of her younger sibling, she now receives someone like Celeste in her adulthood to battle with. Needless to say she did not receive the ending I thought she deserved. This book is depressing, too much like reality. I’m already hurt in real life. Give me at least some semblance of a happy ending for characters that deserve it the most in books. This, too, reminds me of my experience with The Great Alone.

Join me and read the opening chapter for yourself. You’ll be hooked.

Similar books to check out:

 

 

Review: Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

“You are made of dreams and this world is not for you.”

Right when I thought my Ronan Lynch obsession had reached its peak, Call Down The Hawk comes out.

Please tell me how it’s been three full years since The Raven King came out and concluded one of the best series out there? It’s unreal. Time is just an illusion.

I still remember cracking open the first book, The Raven Boys, waiting to see if I’ll be impressed. I was completely hooked on the first line. And I sped through the series in a few days’ time. I lived with these characters for months after. I heard their lines echoed in my thoughts.

This new release couldn’t have made me happier. Having my favorite character grow alongside me is a perk granted to few. I don’t take it lightly. Having new iconic Ronan Lynch lines is a perk I don’t take for granted, as well. Having stories about his childhood? In love. Seeing his perspective on ground-breaking scenes in The Raven Cycle? Love. Seeing Declan Lynch break out of his mold? Give me more. G I V E   M E   M O R E.

Like my reviews for The Raven Cycle, I have to mention my favorite gems in here. Future me, this is all you need to know before you start on book 2 in this new trilogy:

Spoilers ahead

  • The main theme of Ronan’s conflicting thoughts on being left behind felt all too real.

“He loved the Barns, he was bored of the Barns, he wanted to leave, he wanted to stay.”

It’s truly heartbreaking to see a gang as tightknit as the gangsey all on their separate paths. From having late-night conversations in the bathroom/kitchen in The Raven Cycle to barely having once a week text contact was breaking me. This is the part of growing up that no one warns you about. So it’s no secret then that I didn’t take for Adam’s new friend group, and I was beyond glad that we didn’t have to spend more than one scene with them. They just don’t get it like the gangsey does.

  • Dauntless Declan. I am so utterly impressed with his character development. I always wanted to see more of him and Matthew, and I got just that. The dynamic between the brothers makes my heart shine.

“Thank God,” Declan said, retrieving his car keys.
“You can if you like,” Matthew said. “But I dressed myself.”
He shot a look at Ronan to make sure his joke had been funny.”

This is such a younger sibling thing to do that I can’t help but smile.

  • But then my mind always returns to that heartstopping moment when the Lynch brothers didn’t know if Matthew was safe. All you want is to know that they’re okay so you can breathe in relief. It showcased just how entangled they are.

“Ronan didn’t know who he would be without them.”

  • I highlighted so many Declan quotes because he just gets it. He understands how it feels to numb yourself so as to not feel anything until there’s a glimmer of hope for a better life.

“Because the safest shape was being both unknown and unchanging”

The Lynch brothers make me feel alive. They understand my deepest fears and most intimate thoughts. Whenever I have the chance to read their words I know I’ll feel a little less alone.

  • Ronan stepping up to help someone he doesn’t even know truly showcases just how much he’s grown. He’s become his own Gansey. He understands himself now better than ever, and it was refreshing to see him open himself up and be vulnerable to help another dreamer. The moment he revealed the significance of the leather bands on his wrist was another hit.

Again, it’s a Declan quote that tells it like it is:

“Declan hated that he loved someone who wasn’t real.” 

  • Besides, did anyone else perceive Bryde as a healthy Kavinsky? Both of them taught Ronan to take charge of his dreams. One did it a bit more provocatively, but still. I feel like he’ll have a big part in Ronan’s life. And I’m not sure, what with Declan’s proclamation, if it’s simply platonic: “Adam wasn’t really enough for him, either, but Declan knew he hadn’t gotten that far yet.”
  • The saddest part was feeling so good reading this book and taking my time with it but also knowing that with each chapter I enjoyed, it took me closer to the end. It came to an end all too soon. I was both happy and sad reading this.
  • Also, this is how you write a follow-up book after years. You don’t info drop everything that happened over the course of four books in the first chapter. You sprinkle it in when called for. So I immensely appreciated that little detail of not dropping everything on the reader immediately. (This is something that really bothered me when starting the third book of The Diviners, “Before The Devil Breaks You”.)
  • Oh, and I encountered the perfect song that captures the darkness and subtle movements in this novel:

The first few seconds of the music playing without any words really has it all.

What else is there to say but that I need the second book now more than ever. Anticipating this release was less gruesome because I had no idea what was awaiting me. Now I know and I want my daily dose of Ronan Lynch.

Check the dreamer out for yourself with my Amazon Affiliate link: