Today on the blog, YA Guy's taking a break from reviewing. But that's okay, because the talented Jimena Novaro has stepped in with a review of The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins! If you don't know these books, you should--they're every bit as good as The Hunger Games, though aimed primarily at a younger audience. And if you don't know Jimena, you definitely should--she's a great writer, Twitter pal, and (as you'll see in a moment) lover of good books!
So take it away, Jimena....
Thank you for hosting me, Josh! I’m so excited to be here!
I first picked up Gregor the Overlander, the first book in The Underland Chronicles, at the age of ten. I’d put it at the bottom of my to-read pile, but by the time I got around to it, it only took a few paragraphs before it had me hooked. Suzanne Collins uses simple prose, humor, and a skillful buildup to introduce us to the main character, eleven-year-old Gregor, a New York City kid stuck taking care of his two-year-old sister Boots and ailing grandmother over the summer while his mom works full-time. His father’s disappearance two years prior to the start of the book has forced him to take on a lot more responsibilities than most kids his age.
And then, of course, Boots falls through a grate in the basement laundry room. And Gregor follows her down.
But at the end of the fall, instead of Alice-in-Wonderland-style dreamscapes, Gregor and Boots find the Underland, a world of giant creatures (bloodthirsty, six-foot rats; bats big enough to ride on; etc.) and sword-wielding humans, miles beneath New York City.
At surface level, The Underland Chronicles gives you one heck of an adventure--battles against huge rats and carnivorous plants, journeys through jungles and across treacherous seas and through volcanic caverns--all of it injected with a healthy sense of humor and plenty of fun and excitement. Collins rocks those action scenes and cliffhangers.
But though aimed at the lower end of YA, bordering with Middle Grade fiction, the series never babies its readers. It deconstructs the pretty lies it constructs in the beginning and drives everything to a breaking point. It tackles difficult themes: war, the grey areas of morality, the depths of human nature.
What really makes it work, however, are its characters. I fell in love with Gregor, Ripred, Ares, Luxa, Boots, Lizzie, Vikus and the rest. Throughout the series, Gregor grapples with the way war and violence transforms his life and the darkness in his own heart. Luxa starts out as a haughty, rebellious young queen; it’s a joy to see her mature and evolve. Ripred is the most awesome badass you will ever meet, always ready with a snarky retort, and his mentor/pupil relationship with Gregor really shines. And he’s a giant rat. These characters still prowl my thoughts and dreams years after closing the last book, and they’re the main reason I keep coming back to this world.
This series was a huge part of my childhood and teen years, and it’s stayed with me ever since.
You can find me on Twitter as @JimenaNovaro; on Facebook as JimenaNovaroWriter; or on my website, www.jimenanovaro.com.
Josh, thank you again for having me over!