Guest post by Ami Kim
I just finished reading Gregor the Overlander for the second time. In a month.
Now I confess, I am addicted to kids’ books like Bunnicula is to fresh vegetables. (I justify my guilty pleasure by calling it ‘research’ into the techniques of children’s book authors). There is something magical about great kids’ books that makes them settle comfortably in your mind, like a mental Snuggie around your childhood.
I first encountered author Suzanne Collins when I heard the buzz about and read The Hunger Games (Josh’s review). Not exactly Snuggie material. However Collins also wrote Gregor the Overlander, which often appears on recommended reading lists for kids, so I thought I’d take a look. Great decision.
Gregor the Overlander tells the story of 11-year old Gregor, whose family is living and struggling in New York City after his dad’s disappearance. By chance, Gregor and his baby sister Boots are transported via a grate in their building’s laundry room to the Underland, where they encounter giant talking roaches (g0od), giant talking rats (mostly bad), giant spiders (inscrutable), giant bats (good) and humans (mostly good). All Gregor wants is to pack up Boots and get back home, but various forces in the Underland seem determined to keep him there. When Gregor learns of a prophecy that appears to be about him – and his dad – he agrees to join a quest to rescue his dad. In the course of his journey, Gregor learns the meaning of courage, war, prejudice, and friendship.
What I liked about the book:
- The hero’s quest never gets old, at least when it’s well told. Collins tells it well.
- Furry giant bats purr when they talk – and they let humans ride them. Anthropomorphism at its best. Actually, all of the talking animals charm, even the bad ones. (Gregor engages 2 rats who are about to eat him in a debate)
- Collins does a great job describing a world without sun, under the earth’s surface, and all the logistics of being human and having to live down there amongst potentially deadly competitors. She also creates a unique and believable idiom for the Underlanders, which adds to the credibility of the story.
- Collins subtly shows us how prejudices affect our ability to make good decisions – and the power of friendship to overcome those prejudices.
Bottom line: for anyone who was intrigued by the buzz over The Hunger Games but put off by the amount of violence portrayed, Gregor the Overlander is a kinder, gentler view of war. There are still plenty of serious scenes, and Collins shows the grimness of war throughout. However, Gregor also has its lighter and sweeter moments to balance the bleak. If you ever wondered how Alice in Wonderland would have faired in a gritty urban environment, take a peek at Gregor the Overlander.
You’ll slip into it like you slip into your favorite Snuggie. The one with the zebra stripes.
About the author:
Ami is a former Serious Person who writes about finding her calling at 40 Days to Change.