Here are my thoughts on the first book in the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins.
Ages 8+ (There isn’t anything inappropriate except for minor violence, but the book definitely doesn’t promote violence. Even though the main character is 11, I think it’s a good book for all ages 8+.)
(Above, it is supposed to be 4 and a half out of 5 stars, but for some reason the “Star Rating” block isn’t working right so it may appear different.)
I started reading The Hunger Games last summer and loved it; I ended up finishing the trilogy in about two weeks. (I know that isn’t much of a feat compared to people who finished it in two days, but I get distracted a lot when I read and don’t really have a long attention span, so it takes a lot for me to read for hours at a time.) So I was excited when I was supposed to read another one of Suzanne Collins’ books for an extracurricular competition. Gregor the Overlander was, in my opinion, the best book I had to read for the competition, and the best one I’ve read in a while — probably since the Hunger Games, actually.
Here’s a brief teaser:
Eleven-year-old Gregor and his two-year-old sister Boots live with their mom, grandma, and sister Lizzie, who is at the summer camp Gregor wanted to go to but couldn’t because he was the only one that could take care of Boots. A year or two before, his dad had disappeared without a trace, and no one knew what happened, though many had their theories. On the first day Lizzie was gone, Gregor and Boots were in the laundry room of their apartment when Boots fell through a grate and Gregor went in after. Together, they discovered the Underland, a place with giant rats (called Gnawers), cockroaches (called Crawlers), spiders (called Spinners), bats (called Flyers), and even some humans with a civilization called Regalia. Soon after coming, Gregor finds out about a “strange prophecy [that] foretells a role for him in the Underland,”* and it doesn’t seem like the humans will let him back out of this quest that is supposedly his and the Underland’s destiny.
When I read the Hunger Games, it took me a hundred or so pages to get into it. I felt the same way about Gregor the Overlander. If I had given the review when I was 1/3 of the way through it, I would have given it 3 stars — not bad, but average. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just requires you give it a chance in my opinion.
Other than that, though, I don’t have many other big complaints. I read a little every day at the start, but once I got further into it, I couldn’t put it down. The story got more and more intense and gripping with every chapter, which I also felt when reading the Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins does an incredible job ending chapters at cliffhangers and making me flip page after page.
The premise of Gregor the Overlander is one similar to that of Alice in Wonderland, and a little basic/cliche/already-done, in my opinion. But that kind of added to the charm of it, and I like how it took a unique turn with having Gregor and Boots discover a sort of dark place with giant “pests” (which isn’t what I’ll be calling them after reading this, although I’m still not a big fan of spinners and crawlers). The way the Underland is portrayed, with normal-world-like characters flipped into a dark, damp environment, makes me call it fantasy, but in a way realistic, not magical or ethereal like many other fantasy novels.
Another thing I noticed about it, I’m not sure if I like it or not. The whole book, I was waiting for the plot to stretch into a bigger arc expanding to the next books. If I didn’t know it was a seven-book series, I would have been entirely convinced it was a standalone novel — until five pages from the end. As far as I noticed, nothing was mentioned or hinted at (though I’m sure I would notice some hints if I reread it) about the following book, until those last few pages, where a character mentions something that I won’t spoil.
The thing I loved most about it was its simplicity. It is, like I said, similar to Alice in Wonderland, where Gregor and Boots simply fall down a grate — no explanation further — and end up in this peculiar new world. There, they discover a prophecy and go on a big quest. The book takes this simple plot and twists it into an extremely unique story where you sort of know what’s going to happen, but still can’t stop reading it. And the twist at the end was one surprise after another, unfolding all at once.
Another thing I liked was the prophecy. It was a very intriguingly-written poem. I won’t say more here in case some want to read this and would consider this a spoiler (although it’s mentioned pretty early in the story), but you can click the triangle below to keep reading.
Click to read more about the prophecy.This is the prophecy (called the Prophecy of Gray):
Beware, Underlanders, time hangs by a thread.
The hunters are hunted, white water runs red.
The gnawers will strike to extinguish the rest.
The hope of the hopeless resides in a quest.
An Overland warrior, a son of the sun,
May bring us back light, he may bring us back none.
But gather your neighbors and follow his call
Or rats will most surely devour us all.
Two over, two under, of royal descent,
Two flyers, two crawlers, two spinners assent.
One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead.
And eight will be left when we count up the dead.
The last who will die must decide where he stands.
The fate of the eight is contained in his hands.
So bid him take care, bid him look where he leaps,
As life may be death and death life again reaps.
It is clear that a lot of time was spent perfecting this, and it perfectly gives hints to later in the book. I also was intrigued by “and eight will be left when we count up the dead.” So a big part of the quest was Gregor nervously waiting for four to die (because 12 go on the quest). That was very interesting to me (probably because I have a strange obsession with writing dark stories).
Spoiler Alert But what I didn’t really like about that was that the two spinners, who came later in the quest (Treflex and Gox), were the first to die. I kind of felt like they were added just so that not too many important characters were killed. However, if more of the main characters were killed no one would like that either, so maybe the spiders dying right away was the best way to go.
In conclusion, I give this book 4 and a half stars because it was an amazing book that I couldn’t stop reading until I finished it, and it only had a few things that weren’t my favorite. Overall, I would recommend it if you like fantasy, sci-fi or even realistic fiction, or especially the Hunger Games because, as I’ve said, it’s by the same author, and I could definitely see similarities in the style. It’s about three hundred pages but didn’t feel that long to me. I have just started reading the second one, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, and I’m excited to see if I like it as much. Maybe I’ll end up reading all seven.
*Quote from the back of Gregor the Overlander.