At this point Suzanne Collins is way more famous for her young adult series - The Hunger Games. But she also wrote a series of middle grade books for kids about a shadowy world that exists beneath New York City. Collins got her inspiration for the first book, Gregor the Overlander, when:
Thinking one day about Alice in Wonderland, she was struck by how pastoral the setting must seem to kids who, like her own, lived in urban surroundings. In New York City, you're much more likely to fall down a manhole than a rabbit hole and, if you do, you're not going to find a tea party. What you might find...?
One day Gregor, a fairly average 11 year old New York kid was doing laundry in his building's basement and simultaneously trying to keep an eye on his 2 year old sister Boots. He has to babysit because his mom is at work and his dad disappeared two years earlier. Boots opened a grate behind a dryer, and fell through - taking Gregor with her as he tried to catch her. They fall all the way to the Underland - and are escorted by crawlers (four foot high cockroaches) to the city of the Underlanders (a race of pale-skinned, silver-haired humans). The Underland is a shadowy world divided between crawlers, bats, rats, spiders, and humans.
Gregor discovers that the Underlanders believe he is The Warrior - the answer to a prophecy made 400 years ago by the man who first discovered the Underland and created the kingdom beneath the earth. At first Gregor refuses the quest - but then he discovers that the rats (the mortal enemies of the Underlanders) may be holding his father prisoner; and the only way to rescue his father is to follow the quest. So Gregor, Boots, and their companions set off - facing many dangers along the way.
I really liked Gregor - he's a thoughtful kid, and a great big brother. Boots too is a funny character, she reminded me a lot of things Eleanor does. I did not like all the creepy-crawliness - four foot roaches! Six feet tall rats! Enormous spiders! Shudder. But I think that that might be exactly what makes this series appeal to middle grade boys - I'm sure they'd love it.
It had some nice messages about inclusion and loyalty, without being in-your-face moralistic; and made me chuckle sometimes, as Gregor's believably 11-year-old thought processes tried to adapt to the strange new world he and Boots had entered.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommended age: 8 and up
Have you/ your kids read the Underland Chronicles?