Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Underland Chronicles, books 3-5, by Suzanne Collins

This review covers the final three of Suzanne Collins's Underland Chronicles: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, Gregor and the Code of Claw.

These books... must be bad for me... I read the three in a straight row, and completed the last at - it must have been 2 A. M. I picked them all out of the library because I hate waiting for a week to read the next book if I can just take all at once.

Anyone who has read the first two books in the series probably do not require a detailed plot summary. Anyone who has not ought to go read my reviews of book one or book two.
These three are the story of the war in the Underland... the ongoing war between the rats and the humans and seemingly everyone else. The Underland is a very unsettled place, as readers have likely gathered already.
Book 3,
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, impressed me by being one of the first books that really deals with the mechanics of a kid who has "dual citizenship" in two worlds. Short version: his mom is very much against it, his dad is dubious, and his neighbor is beginning to wonder. But despite all these things Gregor and Boots (with their mom along this time) end up in the Underland once more.
And there's a new problem - a horrible plague that is infecting many creatures of the Underland - including some of Gregor's friends. Gregor and others decide their only hope is to follow another prophecy, deep into the jungle and into places they have hardly imagined...
Books 4 and 5 go on from there, describing the war that is rapidly unfolding beneath the ground, and Gregor's uncomfortably fast-growing part in it...

What do I think of these books? I can hardly say.
First, I do not know whether they are really middle-grade. Now, looking back, I say "this is horrible, they are giving this to little defenseless third-graders?" But realistically, I'm the person who's read
Dragonriders of Pern at the age of nine. Kids are not terribly fragile creatures.
But these are still not for the sensitive child. They are, truly, books written by the author of
The Hunger Games. This seems to be obvious, but... I had not expected Gregor to be so like Katniss by the end. {That is a spoiler, but I don't care. That is a spoiler, but it's one I think may as well be known.}

In the last book there were several places I wanted very much to cry. One, I actually became choked up. Granted, this was past midnight - but still.

Points of discussion:
"Let no good deed go unpunished." What do you think of that phrase? What does that make the deed - is it still good if bad things come of it? Did Gregor make the wrong choice regarding
the Bane? Consequences - Gregor is trying to fix his "punished good deed" - but he still feels pity for the object of his vengeance.
Luxa/Gregor subplot deepens. Is this believable or healthy? I find it poignant to the point of being pitiful. Beautiful but sad.
Gregor's scars, both the physical and the mental/emotional. Adventuring is not all it's cracked up to be, the book seems to be saying. And it's true - drop an eleven-year-old in these situations and what
can one expect to happen to him?

There's a particular chapter ending that breaks me up a little when I think about it. Especially when I remember Luxa's age.
Lay off the twelve-year-olds, Ms. Collins!

{let me suffer for them. Let them be safe. I play with twelve-year-olds down the street, stick-swords and tag and hide-and-seek - I know them. Let them be safe. They deserve safe.}

This is a terribly rambling review, but then, I read them all late - and they do toy with one's emotions.

Some quotes:

The laundry room! While she collected detergent and stain remover from the closet, Gregor tried to think of an excuse for why he couldn't accompany her. He could hardly say, "Oh, I can't go down there because my mom is afraid a giant rat will jump out and drag me miles underground and eat me." If you thought about it, there was almost no good reason a person couldn't go to the laundry room. So he went.

... Curse of the Warmbloods)

"Pic-a-nic! Pic-a-nic!" sang Boots, drumming on the back of Gregor's head with her scepter. The whole
princess costume thing had been a mistake. Next time he'd get her a coloring book.

... Marks of Secret)

Leave it to Howard to think to pack a first-aid kit. It had never even crossed Gregor's mind. Just another reason he was not doctor material.

...Marks of Secret)

"Slow, deep breaths," said Ripred, and Gregor knew Lizzie must have been having another panic attack. But why hadn't she come to him? Why had she gone to Ripred? "Want to try a few more math problems?" the rat asked.
"No," said Lizzie. "Just want to sit here."
Gregor didn't know what was stranger: to see Lizzie, who jumped at her own shadow, snuggled up against a giant rat, or to see the untouchable Ripred, who seemed to loathe almost everyone, who always slept alone even when other rats were available, comforting his little sister.

... Code of Claw)

"Maybe there's still some film in the camera," he said. There was. And since it was an instant camera, they could have the pictures right away. So he held the camera in front of them and they burned through the rest of the roll. For a few minutes, the world outside the museum seemed to go away, and they were just two twelve-year-olds goofing around like they were in a photo booth, making faces, laughing. But when Gregor said "Okay, last picture," something happened.

...Code of Claw)


Watch especially out for the paragraph that begins It wasn't much of a letter. Therein lies the part that made me cry almost.

These are dark books. In simple, no-frills language and bare-bones plotting, Ms. Collins makes a wonderful tale full of pain and sorrow and confusion - and love and sometimes even joy. Read them.
I would have eaten these up as a ten-year-old. But I think the ending would have bewildered me because I was a very happy child at that point and had not yet gotten old enough to understand that sometimes people could lose hope.

I had to read from Revelation and Isaiah before I could sleep right after these books. Here behind a link is the Bible verse that always comes to mind when I finish a Suzanne Collins series. I always spell HOPE in capitals when I write it out.

As per last review's complaint: Yes, at LONG LAST someone asks about what happens when people die. Unfortunately, the answer is... unsatisfactory to the extreme.

Age rec: Okay, these are still in the MG category. I would say ten and up. But they contain biological warfare, the attempted killing of an entire race, strong predjudice, unpleasant war, much violence, great danger, great sorrow, and great loss. Admittedly all these are handled well and appropriately. Still...
Be willing to talk with children afterwards, or at the least direct them towards a mature friend who has read the books as well.

1 comment:

  1. This seems fine for grades 6-8. No one who has read them has come to me with nightmares! I was glad that the series was five books-- it told the entire story without going overboard.