Monday, September 21, 2009

The First Suzanne Collins Series

In our school systems, we have the Accelerated Readers Program. K - 8th are required to read a certain amount of books and take "quizzes" on them. You receive points based on the difficulty of the book and the amount of questions you get correct. Each child has a goal to complete for each quarter. After I bought Chad The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, he was hooked. But unfortunately, neither book is in our AR program. (On a side note, his teacher is now reading The Hunger Games and thinks Chad's a genius when it comes to books!) So, he went to the library and found ANOTHER series that is in the AR program by Suzanne Collins. He brought the book home to me, and said, "Mom, did you know Suzanne Collins wrote another series? No? Then you've GOT to read this book. She can sure write!". I figured if a book makes him excited to read, it's something I had better check out! The first book in the Underland Chronicles is called Gregor the Overlander (320 pgs, Scholastic, 2003).

Gregor had pressed his forehead against the screen for so long, he could feel a pattern of tiny checks above his eyebrows. He ran his fingers over the bumps and resisted the impulse to let out a primal caveman scream. It was building up in his chest, that long guttural howl reserved for real emergencies -- like when you ran into a saber-toothed tiger without your club, or your fire went out during the Ice Age. He even went so far as to open his mouth and take a deep breath before he banged his head back into the screen with a quiet sound of frustration. "Ergh." What was the point, anyway? It wouldn't change one thing. Not the heat, not the boredom, not the endless space of summer laid out before him.

For eleven-year-old Gregor, life has gotten tough. He is now the man of the family, since his father disappeared from his life a little over 2 years ago. And although Gregor held out hopes of finding out what really happened to his dad, it was starting to diminish. Since then, his mother had to return to work and the family was struggling just to make ends meet. And this summer, he couldn't even go to camp because someone had to stay with Boots, his precocious two-year-old sister. Although he loved Boots, there were so many other ways he would have liked to spend summer. The chores were endless and the days were boring.

Until the day he and Boots went to the basement of the apartment building to do some laundry. As he was sorting the clothes, Boots managed to get the grate off an old air duct in the corner. And just as Gregor was trying to grab her, she fell! Without even thinking, Gregor squeezed into the hole after her, and began to fall himself. And fall....and fall. He couldn't for the life of him figure out where he was falling to, but it couldn't end good!

But when they reached the bottom, eased down by a strange mist that was floating around, Gregor and Boots realized they were someplace that neither of them were supposed to be. They were surrounded by cockroaches. Giant cockroaches that stood over four feet tall. AND they could talk!! Gregor wasn't sure what to do, but Boots, with the naivete of a child befriended the bugs. And they loved her. So much so, they called her Princess. The Crawlers decided to take the kids to the Underlanders, the humans that inhabited the land. Having never actually seen the light, they were a pale people with silver hair and purple eyes. Queen Luxa, the fifteen-year-old heir to the Royal Underland throne met them at the gates of the city Regalia. She was young, bold and arrogant, and Gregor disliked her immediately. But Vikus, an older gentleman, seemed to really be the person in charge, and he immediately made the Overlanders feel welcomed. You see, Gregor's arrival was prophesied by Sandwich, the original inhabitant of the Underland. He led a contingency of people here and started his own kingdom.

In this strange land where animals could talk, everything seemed dangerous. Besides the talking roaches, there were also giant bats, spiders and rats....with the rats being the most dangerous of all. Led by King Gorgen, the rats longed to rule the Underland, and the Prophecy of Gray was the only thing that stood in his way. When the Underlanders met Gregor, they were sure he was the one the prophecy foretold: a hero warrior that has come to save them. But Gregor wants nothing more than to find his way back home again...until he learns of the last Overlander to have fallen: his father.

While this book was written for an intended audience that is certainly younger than The Hunger Games, it is still a complete an utter page-turner. And Chad was right: Suzanne Collins certainly knows how to tell a story!! She has created a great hero in eleven-year-old Gregor. He is smart, brave and loyal. He will do anything to keep his sister safe. And while Luxa may be arrogant, she is, in all actuality, just a scared little girl who's parents were killed by the Gnawers. She harbors a lot of ill-will because of it, too.

There are twists and turns throughout the story as the reader tries to decipher the Prophecy. And nothing is quite as it seems. I can't tell you how much I loved this story!! It was a quick read....and so much fun. Collins has created such a unique world with the Underland. And you end up CARING about what happens to them. It takes one hell of a writer for me to care what happens to a cockroach, that's for sure!!

This fantastic story is good for kids of all ages, and adults alike. Boys as well as girls. It is flat-out perfect for just about anyone. I've already started Book #2, The Prophecy of the Bane and am in love with it too!! So, if you ever see this little book lying around: do yourself a favor and read it!! You'll be glad you did!! 4.5/5


Debi said...

Annie read these a few years ago and absolutely loved them as well. I've always thought they sounded good, but have never got around to reading them. You know...the too many books thing... *sigh*

Amanda said...

My son really likes these books. In fact, when I first brought home The Hunger Games, he was the first one to recognize that it was the same author. I haven't tried them myself, though.

Melody said...

I bought this book at a book sale last week! Frankly speaking, it's Suzanne's name that made me pick up the book. I'm glad to hear it's great! :)

Shanda McKeehan said...

Thanks for sharing your review on this. I bought this whole series a few months ago and haven't read it yet and am trying to get my son to read along with me. Your review got me excited again! Any more Suzanne Collins has got to be good!

Kailana said...

I noticed my library had other books by her, but I haven't tried them yet. Thanks for the review, I will have to try them when I have a chance!

Ladytink_534 said...

Oh neat! I've been hearing rave reviews for Hunger Games but this is the first time I heard of this.

Amy said...

I recently bought this book but haven't had a chance to read it yet. Very happy to hear you enjoyed, though!

Anonymous said...

The whole gregor series is great! I teach 5th grade and all of the kids love them. Read and enjoy!