I LOVED The Hunger Games trilogy (I mean, who didn’t?!), but it took me years to get around to listening to some of Suzanne Collins’s backlist. Someone in the Barnes and Noble YA section told me she actually liked this book better. I started reading the e-book version of it a long time ago, and while I liked it, it just didn’t grip me enough to keep going at the time. But I have a longer attention span when listening than when reading, so I thought I’d give it another go.
While The Hunger Games is YA, Gregor the Overlander feels more like a middle grade novel. The main character is eleven, and the story is set in a fantastical underground world with enormous bats, roaches, rats, and spiders. It’s not as creepy as that makes it sound, though—the narrative voice and description is whimsical in a way that makes me feel like I’m in elementary school again. The plot itself is pretty standard: Gregor’s father disappears, and while he is believed dead, Gregor has never quite managed to let go of him. Since his mom is now a single parent of three, Gregor, the oldest, has to watch his two year old sister Boots. They are home alone together when Boots tumbles headlong into a shaft that opens up from their laundry room to the Underland. They first encounter the giant roaches, who speak in inverted sentence structure and practically worship Boots because of the smell of her dirty diapers (ha, ha). Presently they encounter other humans, too, with an entire class structure including servants and royalty. Gregor learns that his father did indeed tumble into the Underworld also, but he’s now being held captive by the villainous rats—and Gregor must rescue him. Of course, Gregor learns about a prophecy of the Overlander who will protect the Underlanders from the rats (three guesses who that refers to!). Gregor is a reluctant hero for much of the story, but he fulfills most of the prophecy on accident until he finally accepts his role.
It’s a common story (in fact, it’s very much like my first trilogy!), but Collins does a good job of creating a unique fantasy world to make it her own. She wrote for Nickelodeon before she became famous, so I can see why she’d write for kids before she tried her hand at an older target audience. My mind wandered a decent amount during the story, though. Probably this was because the story was so predictable, and the characters (to me) weren’t especially compelling. For those reasons, I don’t plan to continue the series. But if I were in elementary to middle school (or if I had a kid that age), I think I would have loved it.
My rating: *** 1/2
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