Tag Archives: Dystopian

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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Allegiant: Book to Movie Review (by Ritu B. ‘24)

“I can’t believe that they have desecrated something so sacred!” I burst out as soon as the Allegiant movie credits flashed onto the screen. My family can attest to that.

Let me back up.

In fourth grade, I finished the sumptuous feast that is the Divergent series, books that were so important to me in my childhood. Having been pleased years ago by the first movie adaption of the series, I had high, high hopes coming into the Allegiant movie…that you can already guess were not fulfilled.

[Warning: Reading ahead will reveal spoilers for the Divergent series]

If you’re familiar with the book and you’ve seen the movie, then you already know my largest grievance. Come on, say it with me out loud, and let’s relieve our agony together: orange!!

In the book, the world outside of Chicago is described as gloomy and dark, but in the movie, we get Kraft’s mac-and-cheese-flavored radioactivity!

I have no problem whatsoever with producers taking creative rights with the storyline—if the movie were the same as the book, no one would want to watch it, right?


Little plot meanderings and trimmings here and there will make a movie more enjoyable to sit through, but when it’s obvious that a three hour film won’t do justice to such a heavy book’s plot, then the movie project must be split into two. (Think Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.) Allegiant undoubtedly fell under this category, and I’m devastated that instead of making two films, the movie cut out half of the book’s plot, half of the characters, and hacked away at Veronica Roth’s masterpiece until it arrived at a sloppy post-apocalyptic world.

Uriah who? Cara who? So many members of the crew that accompanied Tris and Tobias out of Chicago weren’t present at all. Instead, the movie blew 90% of its precious duration on slow camera pans to show off “breath-taking”—but really, irrelevant—technology.

However, I did appreciate a few parts—that is, when I wasn’t being blinded by the orange. In spite of the twisted storyline in the movie, the script stayed true to the main characters’ identities. Tobias was Theo James (sorry but I can’t find any flaws with that.) Evelyn, his dictator mother, maintained her redemptive arc in the end, giving up power to be with her son. Peter, the “bad guy” who hangs out with the “good guys,” was sharp, sarcastic, and self-absorbed. My favorite line of the movie was “[t]hat’s why you pick a guy like me for a job like this,” intended for his boss to hear, which he delivers after shooting Evelyn in the knee when she turns back on their dark plan.

But, ok, I’ve reached my last complaint: Tris didn’t die in her quest to restore goodness in the world. This movie doesn’t deserve the name Allegiant if the ending doesn’t plunge its claws into your chest, wrench your heart out, and render you a sobbing shell of a human being for the next week.

Have you watched Allegiant? Share your thoughts in the comments! — Ritu B. ’24

For those who enjoyed this book, Ritu has recommended The Lunar Chronicles series for you to check out!

Devolution by Max Brooks (review by Mrs. Vaughan)

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A small group of Seattleites populate a new community on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, enjoying both the beauty of their natural surroundings and excellent electronic connectivity. Necessities are delivered regularly by helicopter, which can also ferry them to first class medical attention if needed. Perfect, right? Not so much when Mt. Rainier erupts unleashing disaster and cutting off these pilgrims from their supply chain. Worse yet – the shrinking natural environment has precipitated a conflict between them, and folklore become real: a small but hungry band of Bigfoot.
Fans of Max Brooks’ World War Z may be a bit disappointed in his long-awaited effort – another fictionalized oral history of Armageddon, just a different setting. Still, this sophomore attempt is, like his first, cleverly written. Here the oral histories take backseat to the found journal of resident Kate Holland, creating a more consistent through line than Z. Brooks has done his legwork (again) and weaves in much historic, folkloric, and scientific research about the Yeti, the Sasquatch and less familiar versions of the oversized primate. Characterization is varied, dialogue rings true and the suspense is palpable. True, this is not World War Z, but Brooks’ fans and horror fans won’t want to miss it! — Mrs. Vaughan

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Nemesis (review by Sofie K ’20)

Nemesis (Project Nemesis, #1)Nemesis by Brendan Reichs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every two years, Min dies.

It’s always the same man, time and time again. He appears sometime on her birthday, kills her, then she wakes up the next day as if nothing happened. She doesn’t know why, or what Noah, subjectively the town’s most attractive (and rich) boy, has to do with it, but it happens. On top of it all, a giant asteroid called the Anvil is threatening to destroy Earth… in like a week.

I really wanted to like this book. I hadn’t seen this premise too often before in books, so it seemed that it would live up to the hype. But it just didn’t make sense. The twists came out of nowhere (they were barely hinted at), so they felt super jarring, and the storyline with the asteroid seemed really separated from the plot. When Reichs tried to tie it all together at the end, it just felt really forced. It’s overall not a terrible plot, it just seemed disappointing compared to what it could have been.

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Foundryside (review by Anya W. ’20)

Foundryside (Founders, #1)Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sancia Grado is quite possibly the best thief in Tevanne. Not in the least because of what exactly the metal plate in her head can do–but it’s safer not to talk about that. She’s still not quite sure how stealing a box from one merchant house turned her into the most wanted person in Tevanne, and the only one capable of communicating with the powerful artifact that has the entire city foaming at the mouth.

Gregor Dandalo is the only living son of the family controlling another one of Tevanne’s four merchant houses and trying his best to bring order and law to the commons: the only part of the city not controlled by the merchant houses. It seems like a stroke of excellent luck when he manages to find the thief who blew up half the docks stealing from a merchant-house safe. Then, he spots the assassins and well, things get complicated.

Orso Ignacio, employee of the Dandalo merchant house, might have made a mistake when he bought an artifact from an excavation site without his employer’s permission. Especially now that the key’s been stolen and he has no hope of learning from the scrivings it contains. Hopefully, the thief Gregor has ‘arrested’ can get the key back in exchange for her freedom.

Bernice is a gifted scriver, and has no idea how she got caught up in fixing her bosses stupid mistake. At least the scenery’s nice.

Bennett’s novel is a study in intricate world-building, and he crafts a diverse cast characters, from heroes to villains to antiheroes, with compelling backstories and motivations all the while seamlessly weaves in ethical quandaries that dissect the foundations of each character. Although sometimes his writing became unnecessarily wordy, this book is an excellent starting point to a very intriguing fictional universe. My main issue is with the side characters. While some are nicely fleshed out, the background villains seem flat and evil for the sake of evil. The romance is also lacking chemistry and feels shoehorned in for no good reason, which is a shame, considering the amazing characters involved in the relationship.
-Anya W. ’20

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Warcross by Marie Lu (review by Tasha M. ’20)

Warcross (Warcross, #1)Warcross by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marie Lu’s Warcross at first seems like an overdone virtual reality dystopia, but provides a somewhat original take on the topic. Emika Chen, a hacker barely able to pay rent, shocks the world by “glitching” into the international tournament of Warcross, the most popular virtual reality video game. The creator of Warcross enters her into the tournament to gain inside information on someone trying to infiltrate the systems.

Lu’s future world is believable and immersive. The description was well-mixed with plot that was engaging and moved at a decent pace; however, the ending confused me and seemed like it should have been the first chapter of the sequel.

The characters were incredibly well-developed, especially Emika. She comes off as a strong, knowledgeable protagonist, but later on, her vulnerable side begins to show. While I would have liked to know more about the supporting characters, they had unique personalities. Also worth noting is the characters’ diversity: along with the Asian-American protagonist, Warcross features a disabled character, a gay character, and a Hispanic character. My only criticism is that the romance seemed forced.

All in all, Warcross is an enjoyable but not spectacular read, especially for fans of YA or science fiction. – Tasha M. ’20

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Amatka by Karin Tidbeck (review by Sophia G. ’21)

AmatkaAmatka by Karin Tidbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck is a rare treasure that avoids all the cliches other modern dystopias tend to fall into. The world we are transported to is foreign and yet not so. We follow a woman who relocates to a foreign colony because of her job change. In her exploration of her new surroundings, she begins to question the order from which she came. The characters we are introduced to are real in an almost literal sense, the book makes you take a different look at both yourself and the people around you. The book is classified as ‘surrealism’ and it is certainly that. If you are one for reading books which are always perfectly logical and have a lack of ambiguity, this read is not for you. If you are interested in the function of language, the concept of necessity, the promise of revolution, or leaving behind all that is known, check out the book today.

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A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor (review by Fiona W. ’21)

A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the WorldA Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Leonard is a man who works for the international fast-food chain Neetsa Pizza’s customer support hotline. He takes his job oddly too seriously, to almost an occultish extent. One day, Leonard gets a call from a man who claims to be from the 13th century, and soon falls deep into the rabbit hole of ancient cults and time traveling.

I really wanted to like this book. The concept felt like a parody version of 1984, and I was all for it. However, the execution was just wrong. Halfway through the book, the plot began to fall apart, and by the end of it, I was completely lost. It pained me to read it all the way through, and I felt like I was just reading a random string of words rather than a coherent story. It was as if the author woke up in the middle of the night and furiously wrote out a dream she had in one go while she was still half-asleep. I’m not sure how this book got published, but it definitely serves to show authors what they shouldn’t do. – Fiona W. ’21

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The Diabolic by S.J. Kinkaid (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Diabolic (The Diabolic, #1)The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for. That is the duty of a Diabolic. To love their master for the entirety of their lives and be willing to do anything to protect them. In a time when a ruthless emperor reigns, that sacrifice can even extend to taking her place. If Nemesis is discovered, she’s dead, and Sidonia is in danger… Be it taking on a ruthless tyrant or allying with a mad prince, Nemesis will do whatever it takes to protect her master. The Diabolic is beautifully written and definitely falls into the YA category. The world building for this novel is absolutely brilliant, and personally, I’m a sucker for good world building. From the beginning, this novel is gripping, and although the quality of the story decreases somewhat near the end, this novel ends quite nicely. Speaking as someone who has been slightly phasing out of YA novels as of late, The Diabolic definitely deserves a read. – Anya W. ’20

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (review by Andrew R. ’17)

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To call The Handmaid’s Tale a dystopian novel would be to do it a disservice: while the near-future mockery of American society in which the novel is set does, technically, fall under that category, the freedom-fighting and romantic entanglements that we’ve come to associate with the genre have no place in this book. On its surface, the story follows Offred, a young woman assigned to a high-ranking official in the Republic of Gilead and tasked with bearing him children. With birthrates falling below crisis level, Offred and the other “handmaids” of this brutal patriarchy represent the society’s only hope, but Gilead’s fanatical and fundamentalist codes of conduct force all women into submission, their lives characterized only by traumatic memories and a fervent hope for pregnancy. Atwood intends this novel, it seems, to be a thought experiment that extends systemic gender inequalities and the “family values” that perpetuate them to their most oppressive extremes, which may explain why Gilead is sometimes so hard to distinguish from the postmodern America it replaced. The novel’s dystopian conceit is so complete that its cast of characters tends to feel more like symbols than humans in their own right; still, The Handmaid’s Tale achieves a level of social-justice-minded indignation that very few other works of science fiction manage to attain.

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