Title: Gregor the Overlander
Author: Suzanne Collins (link)
Genre: Fantasy MG
Pub Date: September 2003
Synopsis: When eleven-year-old Gregor follows his little sister, Boots, through a grate in the laundry room of their New York apartment, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats—but the fragile peace is about to fall apart.
Gregor wants no part of a conflict between these creatures. He just wants to find his way home. But when he discovers that a strange prophecy foretells a role for him in the Underland's uncertain future, he realizes it might be the only way to solve the biggest mystery of his life.
Suzanne Collins' name is recognized across the globe for penning The Hunger Games Trilogy, but did you know that she wrote an urban middle grade fantasy series before Katniss was sent to the arena? The first book in The Underlander Chronicles introduces Gregor and his little sister to this secret land below the earth's surface. The Underlanders are similar to earthlings, but have different social rules that Gregor must navigate as he undertakes a quest and fulfills a prophesy. The tension between him and Luxa, a kick-butt princess soldier, as well as his other Underlander peers, makes the reader root for the Overlander to prove himself in the dangerous subterranean kingdom.
Giant What?: When I first read up on this series, I was a little skeptical about wanting to visit a world with enormous roaches. But even children who are squeamish about creepy crawlies will appreciate the urban pests as characters with real personalities and emotional needs. By the end, I was seriously empathizing with bugs.
Underlander Diction: Beneath the surface of Central Park, there's an accent that's thicker than the typical New Yorker's brogue. Underlanders have a distinct, proper way of speaking. They switch verb position in phrases like "fly you high," and have slight differences in vocabulary. The voice is terrific, and makes Gregor stick out even more as the new kid in this world.
What You'll Love About Gregor: This story's hero is a typical 11-year-old in many ways. But with his father missing, Gregor steps into a caretaker role and really watches over Boots. Diaper jokes are abundant in this story, and Gregor is the one who's changing them. Throughout the book, it's great to see a kid who is responsible and caring toward a toddler despite the fact that they are on a dangerous quest.
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