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Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Gregor the Overlander: Underland Chronicles 1" by Suzanne Collins (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny -- and find his father -- in a strange world beneath New York City.

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.

FORMAT: Gregor the Overlander is the first novel in a series of children's books. It has adventure, action, and exploration of a mysterious underworld. It stands at 311 pages and was published by Scholastic in 2003.

ANALYSIS: What happens when a young boy falls down a vent in his laundry room in New York City and ends up in a mysterious, strange world where bugs, cockroaches, spiders, and strange elf/human creatures live? That is exactly what you will find out when you explore the first book in the Underland Chronicles.

Gregor, an 11 year old boy who has the weight of the world on his shoulders after his dad disappeared, vanishes down a laundry room vent when his 2 year old sister mysteriously disappears while doing laundry. Gregor and his sister find themselves in a land known as the Underland, where it appears that Gregor's arrival has been foretold by a prophecy made many years ago. 

In an effort to return home, Gregor and his sister, along with several other wonderful characters, embark on a quest. The quest is filled with wonderful adventure, the opportunity to meet unique characters, and the chance to finally engage in one 'final battle' – all to help Gregor and his sister return home.

I have to admit I absolutely loved this novel. I read it several years ago, and recently reread it. It still had the same impact on me the second time around, as the first time. Gregor the Overlander is like a modern day Alice in Wonderland – only with battles, a darker setting, and icky creatures like cockroaches and spiders.

There were several things that instantly appealed to me with this novel. First, there is an intact family unit. All too often in children's literature – and many other genres – there is the urge to make the main character an orphan or have this extremely dysfunctional family. Gregor doesn't have that.

Yes, his father is missing, but until that point he had a family unit and he truly misses his father. Gregor experiences all the emotions and feeling a child should when a father goes missing or disappears. It just made it feel real, yet not overly dramatic like the all-too familiar orphan plots.

Another wonderful aspect of the novel is that the writing is strong. It is a children's novel, yet it has extremely strong writing. The characters are developed, the dialogue is captivating, and the descriptions are detailed, yet not wordy. Pretty much everything you could ask for in a book.

Older readers will certainly find this book a page turner and probably be able to finish it off in a few hours. Children will find it intriguing, especially boys with all the bugs and 'icky' things. It really is a novel that is written for all ages to enjoy.

There is a slight mention that there is a second novel coming up, but overall all the storylines are tired up nice and neatly. Gregor the Overlander can really be read as a standalone novel, which is encouraging.

Anyone looking for a well-written, great read that is certainly a page turner or even those looking for books for children should try this novel. It won't disappoint.


Anonymous said...

Not a new series but first published in 2003 with 4 more books in the series, a book a year thru 2007.

Liviu said...

While the above is a good point, it actually was mentioned in the third line of the review and I am not sure if that has that much relevance overall as there is a point where new (2014) books are not that distinguishable from 2003 books anymore

Liviu said...

and obviously after the huge success of Hunger Games it may be worth revisiting the author's earlier work too

Unknown said...

I saw that it's not new but I think it's a good one for me to try. After The Enchanted, I need to read something that's on the "easy" side.

Cindy said...

As Liviu pointed out, it was pointed out this was not a new series. It was published in 2003.

Scholastic re-released these books with new covers just this past summer. They are all still available for purchase (which is a factor I consider when reviewing).

The Underland Chronicals are serious under-rated/underreviewed. Fantasy Book Critic is about spotlighting old/new books that we - the reviewers - enjoyed. I enjoyed reading it and wanted to share my excitement.

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