Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1), by Suzanne Collins

Posted: February 16, 2010 in Fantasy
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The first of a four book series Gregor The Overlander was published in 2003. It received critical acclaim, including the New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing.

Story overview:

Twelve-year-old Gregor counts the days since his father’s mysterious disappearance. It has been over two years, but he has not forgotten. In a New York City apartment, he lives with his mother; grandmother; sister; and younger sister, Boots, who was still in her mother’s womb at the time of their father’s disappearance.

As the man of the house, Gregor has taken on many responsibilities, such as watching over Boots. On one particular day, Gregor happened to be down in the basement doing laundry when Boots was sucked into a vent in the wall. Following behind her, he finds himself falling in darkness for an unfathomable amount of time. When he safely lands, it does not take long for him to realize that he is no longer in New York City.

Guided by giant cockroaches to the kingdom of Underlanders (humans), Gregor and Boots discover a world of giant bats, rats, and spiders. But the biggest discovery is that of their father, who happened to be a prisoner of the rats. With the help of Luxa (pronounced Luke-sah)—future queen of the Underlanders—Gregor (the supposed Warrior of a prophecy) and Boots are accompanied by several other questers on a mission to save his father and return them back home.

My thoughts:

I was wonderfully surprised by this story. Not knowing what to expect, I jumped right in. The story is fun, the character dynamics are realistic, and the “other world” elements [mostly] believable. I particularly liked how the author let the children act like children. Such as Gregor faking-out the Underlanders by pretending to run for the exit, and Boot’s fit over not getting a cookie. This is one I looked forward to reading, and one that I definitely plan to read the next book in the series.

Things to consider:

This is a family friendly book. There are a few scenes that may be disturbing to some children (such as a spider sucking the insides out of its dead companion), but overall I would recommend it to children twelve and older (tweens plus). Equally good for both girls and boys. One other note—from the Christian perspective—there is mention of evolution in a factual sense. Of course, evolution is debatable and your stance on it may differ from that of the author. Still, it is not a major theme and only a slight mention.

Opportunities for discussion:

Hope is a central topic in this story. Specifically hope for the future. To avoid disappointment, both Gregor and Luxa did not allow themselves to believe it was OK to look to the future with wishful thoughts. To a certain degree, it is good not to have unrealistic expectations in life, as expectations are often the cause of an unsatisfying existence, however, as this story points out, one must have hope in the future in order to find true happiness. Ask your child what it is they hope for, if anything at all, and then help them to understand the difference between deceiving expectations and positive goals, dreams, and aspirations.

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