When I found out that Suzanne Collins had another series after I finished the Hunger Games, I was ecstatic. Three chapters into the Underland Chronicles, and I had to check the cover to make sure that I really was reading the right author.
Gregor the Overlander is about a boy from New York City who accidentally falls down a hole one summer while watching his baby sister and doing laundry instead of going to summer camp. They fall through this hole for about five minutes until they land in an underground tunnel and are found by a group of giant… wait for it… cockroaches. No joke. They’re 3 feet tall and talk. It was at this point that I double checked the cover.
The giant cockroaches lead Gregor and his baby sister to an arena (I think Collins likes arenas) full of humans riding on giant… bats. After an initial shock, I fell in love with the bats, especially since they became characters and I got to know them as beings. And just think about it! Hidden miles beneath New York City is another sprawling city where people ride giant bats like Pernians ride dragons! It’s awesome!
Once I got past the odd choice in species (which the younger kids will love more than I did), the only problem I had was Gregor’s father, who is missing and has been missing for at least two years. Gregor, however, doesn’t believe that he just up and left; somewhere deep down, he just knows that something happened to his father that kept him from getting back to his family. This is more than normal denial from an eleven-year old boy, I think. After 2 years, you’d think that any pre-pubescent boy would start to have some serious angst about his father just disappearing. But he doesn’t.
The Underland Chronicles is NOT the Hunger Games by any means. It’s definitely not as dark and not quite as well written. You can see a lot of things that lead up to the Hunger Games, though, and it’s always interesting to watch a writer’s progression. Collins’s strength, I think, lies in character interactions, for the times when I felt most like I was close to reading something written by the same author as the Hunger Games was whenever characters were talking to one another. I definitely would recommend the Underland Chronicles for ages 8-14. It’s suitable for grade school and middle school students. I would recommend this book and series to anyone who loves YA so long as you can look past the cockroaches and commit yourself to read at least the first three books. I promise; by the third installment, you won’t be able to put the series down!