How did I find this book? Well, by reading the other books Ms. Collins wrote, and just wanting more. At first I was apprehensive - I'd had a bad experience where, after reading an author's YA series, I'd gone back and read their earlier (MG) books and found them disappointing. But when I found a hardcover of this for a dollar at a book sale, I figured why not.
I don't know what I was expecting...but I liked Gregor the Overlander. It was no The Hunger Games. But then, it's for a younger audience.* And it was her first book. Reading it was like seeing ghosts, or traveling back in time... I could see her later books overlaid onto this one, and recognize characterizations or style touches.
She has always had her habit of.... making sure people don't set down the book at the end of chapters. To put it mildly.
* I don't mean to be deprecating of books for kids. I think that many of them are at least if not more substantive and well-done as YA books. I just mean that often, there are a lot of differences in books as you go up through the age ranges. And frankly, The Hunger Games is not for kids.
The book, more or less:
Gregor is a kid in an apartment in New York City, taking care of his little sister Boots and his aged grandmother. His mother works, his older sister is off at camp, and his dad is... off in parts unknown. The weather is hot and horrible. Life, at the moment, does not look very good.
Then one day he takes his laundry and his sister down to the laundry room in the apartment building's basement. Boots chases her ball behind one of the washing machines and... disappears. Into a very scary-looking dark hole full of drifting mist. Gregor follows, trying to catch her. When they reach solid ground again, it is a very different solid ground.
The two of them have reached the Underland, a dangerous and intruiging place inhabited by giant bats, huge cockroaches, oversized rats and spiders, and strange humans. And for some reason, they seem to think that Gregor is special. That he's the warrior written about in one of their prophecies.
This is a very fun book for children - though for teens it may require disbelief to be suspended a little more than usual. But it's got heart and danger and thrill and sadness and depth to it as well. There's death, there's loss, there's betrayal, there are hard decisions for Gregor and others to make.
Gregor is an average boy, but he's brave and willing to try his best in hard places, and he's terribly loyal to his sister and his friends. I have enough age difference from him to find him a little immature, but in an adorable way, not an annoying way.
It's not the best-written book, unfortunately. There are a lot of good things, but the plot is hung together a little weakly, and most of the characters are rather sparsely sketched. However, I'd say this is a definite recommendation to ages eight and up, both boys and girls. It's not an immature book at all - as Ms. Collins' fans will likely expect - I for one cannot imagine her writing fluff.
The platform immediately rose, and he grabbed hold of the side rope to steady himself. Vikus stood calmly with his hands folded before him, but then Vikus wasn't holding a wriggly two-year-old, and he'd probably ridden this thing a million times.
"I do not believe in your science," said Henry. "The crawlers are weak, they cannot fight, they will not last. That is how nature intended it."
Gregor thought of his grandma, who was old and dependent on the kindness of stronger people now. He thought of Boots, who was little and couldn't yet open a door. And there was his friend Larry, who had to go to the hospital emergency room three times last year when his asthma flared up...
"Is that what what you think, Luxa?" said Gregor. "Do you think something deserves to die if it's not strong?"
".... You see, I tired of constant fear, so I made a decision. Every day when I wake I tell myself that it will be my last. If you are not trying to hold on to time, you are not so afraid of losing it."
Gregor thought this was the single saddest thing anyone had ever said to him. He couldn't answer.
"And then, if you make it to bedtime, you feel the joy of cheating death out of one more day," she said. "Do you see?"
"Fascinating as your native rituals are, do you think we might proceed in silence? Given that the entire rat nation is on the lookout for us, it might be prudent," said Ripred.
I do rather like this book. I think I would have adored it if I read it when I was younger. But even now I know that it's pretty good for those who are younger. I intend to lend it to a little friend of mine who is a bit too interested in The Hunger Games than she probably ought to be yet.