Tag Archives: Death

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (5 Star Review by Ritu B. ’24)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games, #0)The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a jaw-dropping, lip-eroding (from biting in constant anticipation), breath-snatching tsunami of a novel. After completing it, I guarantee that you will be unable to formulate a coherent sentence for the next few hours.

This stellar prequel addresses questions Hunger Games fans didn’t even know they had, like who really thought up the idea for the Hunger Games, how the eerie “Hanging Tree” came about, and what it’s really like to be a Peacekeeper. But for every question the novel answers, it creates ten more that go unanswered. I think that the reason the book lingered so long in my head is because it left so many roads open with the way it told Snow’s story.

With The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins proved that she doesn’t need Katniss Everdeen to weave a thrilling narrative—the entire book filters the world through the eyes of none other than eighteen year old Coriolanus Snow. (If you don’t recognize his name, does “creepy dictator with no morals but a heck ton of white roses” ring a bell?) Right from the first chapter, his narcissism and his willingness to do anything to get ahead stood out to me. Collins voices his thoughts incredibly so that we can see his callous calculation of every minute incident and the cogs in his brain revolving to warp it into a tool to augment his reputation.

Not only do we get a better understanding of Snow in the prequel, but we also see an older Panem up close. The initial war between the districts and the Capitol enormously impacted Snow’s childhood and the Capitol in ways we never could have inferred from just seeing the districts’ perspective on Panem’s history. Plus, it’s amazing to think about how the Hunger Games have evolved over time—the crude, primitive ones that occur in this novel (the tributes stay together in one cell of a zoo like animals!) are a far cry from Katniss’s flashy, spectacular games 64 years later. More interesting yet is the surnames of Capitol characters present in this book, including a Plutarch. I don’t want to spoil anything, but a Flickerman plays a role as a weatherman and games commentator!

I’m not going to say that after seeing Snow’s life up close, I think his actions in the Hunger Games trilogy are justified. However, I would argue that the prequel brings a touch of humanity to his character, or at the very least, elicits sympathy for him. The main reason that propels the reader to continue flipping the pages of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the question “How does Snow get from here to where he is in the trilogy?” Perhaps we receive a complete answer as to his mental and emotional frame, but Suzanne Collins does not provide a line-by-line list of the logistics of it. As a result, once I finished reading this book, I had no choice but to watch two hours of book nerds on YouTube discussing their reaction to the novel and popular fan theories out there. I don’t doubt that this prequel will draw in an abundance of fan fiction. (If you do write a Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes fanfiction, please send it to me—I would love to read it!) Lastly, Lionsgate announced last summer that a movie version for this prequel is in the making. I, for one, can’t wait. –Ritu B. ’24

Have you read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes? Let us know what you thought in the comments!

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Review by Alysa S. ’22)

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

TW for The Secret History: references to alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm, murder

In many ways, The Secret History was one of the most baffling, difficult, and frustrating books that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I’ve never read anything quite like this.

First, I’ll start with the good: Donna Tartt is a beautiful, sophisticated prose writer with a distinct style. The vocabulary used only serves to emphasize the academic, intellectual university setting of the novel and the exclusive, Classics-educated group of students that protagonist Richard Papen so desperately wishes to assimilate into. As a fellow Californian used to the fast-paced craze of the West, I see quaint New England as a fascinating wonderland through Richard’s fresh perspective: all falling autumn leaves, dusty and antique libraries, and elite, old-money academics.

However, the rest of the novel immediately takes a dark turn, exploring bacchanal, unthinkable concepts of evil in human nature. First of all, I consider myself sufficiently patient when it comes to arduously long books, but the sheer page count of this book became increasingly difficult to get through as each page revealed yet another shocking truth about the ostensibly perfect characters that grudgingly accepted Richard into their group: twins Camilla and Charles, Francis, and Henry (Yes, he is an enigma. Yes, I find his dark and brooding, extremely intelligent, unofficial leader of the group qualities extremely appealing).

Along with the dense chapters, I also think the emotional baggage is extremely heavy. This is not a book for light reading, nor does it have a definite beginning and ending that follow your usual story arc. As much as I enjoyed the detail and the moments of surprise, the evolving relationships of the six characters that catalyze a downward spiral of events dragged on too long for me, and the psychological thriller aspect of the book left me extremely depressed and upset with our reality. For anyone considering this book, I would probably ask you to reconsider. But if you’re into dark academia and extensive analysis of the depths of evil in the human soul, well, all I can say is brace yourself. —Review by Alysa S. ’22

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He Started It by Samantha Downing (Review by Anika F. ’21)

He Started ItHe Started It by Samantha Downing
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

October has officially begun, and it is finally socially acceptable to start sharing some mystery, thriller, and horror reads. To begin, here is a 2020 release: He Started It, by Samantha Downing, tells the recreation of a childhood road trip by adult siblings Eddie, Beth, and Portia, as instructed by their grandfather’s will. Although they oblige, their relationships reveal avarice, family tensions, and ongoing conflicts as the storyline progresses with the trip.

Personally, I have a criteria when it comes to thrillers. Firstly, and most importantly, the ending needs to be satisfying and make sense based off of the clues revealed along the way. Secondly, the plot leading up to the final twist needs to be captivating enough to hold my interest, maybe through small turns here and there that can introduce some shock value. And if I ever feel like putting the book down mid-read, it is not a good sign.

For these reasons, He Started It truly disappointed me. The events leading up to the final reveal were honestly underwhelming. I thought the ending might save the storyline, but once I reached it, I found myself slightly annoyed. The book provided me no way to piece together the preceding events and how each scene led to the resolution. Nothing made sense.

If you have the time to spare, I suppose you could give it a try. But if not, sit this one out and pick up My Lovely Wife, another one Samantha Downing’s works that will definitely be more worth your time. —Review by Anika. F ’21

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Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Review by Anika F. ’21)

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At this point in my fantasy journey, it’s hard for stand-alones to impress me. Some are too short and don’t allow for enough world building or character development. Others are large tomes (like The Priory of the Orange Tree) that are pretty much a full series condensed into a brick. Similarly, Young Adult fantasy is not something I reach for, since I prefer the depth and nuance of New Adult or Adult novels.

Yet, somehow, Gods of Jade and Shadow, clearly both a decently lengthy stand-alone and a Young Adult fantasy, surprised me. While the characters and plot are interesting, what really drew me to the book was the descriptions and the storytelling. Silvia Moreno Garcia creates these lush settings with hints of magic, crossing the boundaries between our world and mythology.

Even if you’re not a big YA fantasy reader, I still think there’s a lot to gain from this book. It discusses racism and discrimination, feminism and misogyny, and the importance of charting your own path, even when your family holds you back. —Review by Anika F. ’21

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We Were Beautiful by Heather Hepler (review by Hita T. ’23)

We Were BeautifulWe Were Beautiful by Heather Hepler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There had been traces of alcohol in her bloodstream when she was driving. The deer had just stood there in the middle of the road, and she hit it. Her sister did not come out of the crash alive, and one part of Mia’s face was severely scarred.

Ever since that fateful night, Mia Hopkins has been grieving, struggling to figure out what happened. She doesn’t remember what happened, or why it happened, but she only remembers one thing — she had been driving the car when it crashed; a fact she finds extremely hard to forgive herself for. In the midst of this chaos, her broken family sends her to New York to stay with her grandmother, whom she barely knows. She is forced to work a summer job in a cafe, and makes a series of friends, starting with the blue-haired, energetic Fig. Over the summer, Mia finally pieces together what had happened that painful night, eventually realizing that redemption and forgiveness, although seemingly impossible, is not out of reach.

We Were Beautiful by Heather Hepler is a stunning YA novel revolving around grief, self- acceptance, and forgiveness. Hepler intricately and sensitively draws the reader through Mia’s story and perspective, and it is a must read for anyone looking for a heavy, yet thought inducing novel.
-Hita T. ’23

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Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (review by Sofie K. ’20)

Girls Made of Snow and GlassGirls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If they love you for anything, it will be for your beauty.”

One kingdom, completely immersed in ice, the cruel outcome of an age-old curse. Two stories intertwined, each pivotal to the other. In one: a girl from the outside comes to power beside a widowed king, her glass heart colder than the eternal winter around her. In the other: a girl born and raised within the castle’s walls, created out of snow in the image of the late queen. Her only maternal influence has been her outspoken yet stoic stepmother.

And only one can be queen.

But Lynet doesn’t want the crown. Far from it, actually. She simply wants to find her own path instead of turning into the queen her father wants her to be. Besides, why would she want to take the crown away from Mina, who so desperately wants to rule over the warm, curse-free South she was raised in? Mina has everything: looks, power, composure. She makes a much better queen than the little girl who spends her free time climbing trees and stalking the new surgeon.

But life is never that simple, is it?

Girls Made of Snow and Glass takes the classic tale of Snow White and spins it in a completely new direction. For one, there are no dwarves, and Bashardoust gives Snow White–usually portrayed as a helpless child–a sense of empowerment that princesses in old fairy tales just weren’t given. It’s a fast-paced, emotional journey of self-reflection and learning what it truly means to love. – Sophie K. ’20

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What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi (review by Anya W. ’20)

What You Left BehindWhat You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ryden Brooks has a thousand problems. Soccer. Getting a UCLA scholarship. His not technically *together* relationship with his coworker at Whole Foods. His deteriorating relationships with his friends. The fact that his mom is dating again. Getting over his dead girlfriend, who he might as well have killed and finding the notebooks that he is absolutely certain she left him–even if no one else believes him. Making sure his six-month-old daughter, Hope, is being taking care of.

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi is good. It remains truthful. While often selfish and prone to questionable decisions, Ryden felt real. Authors often have a difficult time creating teen characters without making them far too immature, or irredeemable. He was just a kid who wanted a life, but life is forcing him to make adult decisions early, and sometimes, he has difficulty handling it. I would have liked a bit more depth to Jessica Verdi’s other characters, especially Ryden’s mother, Alan, and Joni. I love the way she wrote. –Anya W. ‘20

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (review by Ms. Stone, STEM teacher)

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When high school junior Lydia turns up dead in the lake, every member of her bi-racial Chinese-American family examines the events in their communal life leading up to that moment. Vis-a-vis this fictional family, author Celeste Ng explores racist stereotypes about Chinese Americans. She also sheds light on the devastating effects of parental pressures on student academic performance. – Ms. Stone, teacher

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a witch in the woods. Her name is Xan. Every year, in the same spot just outside of that town soaked in sorrow, a mother abandons her baby. The witch doesn’t know why, but every year she takes that baby across the bog to the Free cities where a loving family adopts it. Except one year, when instead of milk from starlight, Xan accidentally feeds the baby girl with stars in her eyes the moon, enmagiking her. Enmagicked children are a bit hard for normal humans to raise so, she decides to keep her and name her Luna.

There’s a madwoman in the tower. Many years ago during the day of sacrifice, she did something no one else has ever done-she tried to keep her baby with the starry eyes, the one chosen for sacrifice on that terrible day, when the townspeople do what they must to keep the Witch away. The woman has never been the same since.

Caught up in the story are also Antain, the nephew of the village’s Grand Elder, Fyrian, a pocket sized Simply Enormous Dragon, and the creature that is “the Bog, the Poet, and the World,” Glerk. And let’s not forget the (slightly trouble making) tween girl with stars in her eyes. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a poignant story of magic, madness, good intentions, friendship and sorrow–with an ancient witch or two sprinkled in. Barnhill weaves an alluring, complex tale that is well worth a read. – Anya W. ’20

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The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider (review by Arushee B. ’19)

The Beginning of EverythingThe Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

​​This beautifully-crafted, gripping novel follows the tragic life of a high school boy, Ezra, after an accident cripples him. Suddenly thrown out of his social circle and unable to fit in with anyone anymore, he returns to his unpopular childhood best friend to whom he had not spoken in years. He joins the debate team and joins a table of misfits to eat lunch with. He falls in love with one of these misfits, a girl on the debate team who is beautiful, but not in the expected way. Throughout the novel, Ezra discovers and learns to embrace this new version of himself. I really enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it to anyone who loves high-paced, realistic fiction.

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