Series: The Underland Chronicles
Author: Suzanne Collins
First Book: Gregor the Overlander
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2003
Rating: 5 ★
Grade Level: 630L/4.6
Recommended For: Fans of Hunger Games, The City of Ember, the Warriors series, and anything by Brian Jacques
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor’s arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland’s uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it — until he realizes it’s the only way to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.– Scholastic
YAY: This series contains pretty much every buzzword I look for in books: Queens, creature bonding, training montage, prophecies, and found family. Plus, it’s Suzanne Collins. She has a way of writing for a young audience that feels simultaneously whimsical and significant, and that aspect is still wonderfully present in her first series.
NAY: It’s Suzanne Collins. If you didn’t like the Hunger Games, then you probably aren’t going to like the Underland Chronicles. The writing style and themes are similar, even if the scale of the problem is somewhat smaller. (Maybe not smaller, but different.) Also, if any of the buzzwords I mentioned above don’t interest you, then you may not enjoy it as much as I did.
Though this series, according to Goodreads, is significantly more well-heard of than The Tapestry series, I still get a lot of patrons who, when they learn that Suzanne Collins has written more than one series, are like WHAAAAT?
Yeah, Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame has another series, and this time it’s a… fantasy? I think? Maybe an alternate-historical-timeline-dystopian? Science… Fiction? Trying to pin this series down may take all day, so I’ll let you decide what genre sounds most appealing.
Gregor is an eleven-year-old boy forced to stay home from summer camp to take care of his three- year-old sister while his mom is at work. After his father disappeared a couple years ago, resources have been scarce, and Gregor has had to take on more of a caretaker role for his two sisters and his grandma while his Mom tries to provide for their family. Then, one day while doing the laundry, Gregor follows his baby sister head-over-heels down a laundry grate into a secret society that has been living thousands of miles beneath New York City for hundreds of years. Their skin is translucent, their hair has gone white, and their eyes are a strange shade of purple. Worst of all, a war is brewing between these strange people and the other occupants of the underground: giant, six-to-eight-feet tall rats. Gregor is ready to leave as soon as he enters the new city, but the young queen Luxa refuse to let him go. A prophecy written by one of the city’s founders has predicted Gregor’s arrival, and neither he nor his sister will be allowed to leave until he fulfills his destiny.
I absolutely adore this series, and I’ve read it several times over the eleven years since I first picked it up. Yup. Eleven years. The only book from the series I own is the last book, Gregor and the Code of Claw, and that came out in 2007. That book is the only one that survived four moves and even more bookshelf weeding, so I think that’s evidence enough of its enduring appeal.
Unlike the Hunger Games, this series is marketed as Middle Grade. The main character is only eleven, and if I remember correctly, I don’t think he ages more than a year over the course of the series. His two sisters, Boots (3) and Lizzie (8), also become involved throughout the series as main characters. Still, don’t let their young ages fool you. Like the Hunger Games, this series deals a lot with the consequences of war, especially on the children that inherit the war of their predecessors. Later, Collins also includes the theme of questioning fate and destiny, and the inherent problems with the ‘prophecy’ trope. I remember when I first read the series in middle school, I was shocked by how gruesome Collins was at some points; prior to the Underland Chronicles, I hadn’t read many children’s books that dealt so blatantly with death on a massive scale.
I understand that the series may not seem so radical now with all the other books that have come out over the past 14 years, but even then, I think it can be appreciated as an enduring piece of work for its time. So for anyone looking for a fast-paced, well-wrought fantasy/alternate-timeline-dystopian/science fiction book, plan to pick up Gregor the Overlander.