I first noticed the Underland Chronicles when looking to see what Suzanne Collins had written beside the Hunger Games Trilogy. I have been trying to spend less money on books lately (I have a baby coming) and trying to check more books out of the library and read more from the To Read Pile that I already own, so I picked this up because it was at the library.
Gregor the Overlander is clearly a middle grade book, one of that in between age that is neither children’s nor young adult. And yet again, I will say I tend to not like middle grade books nearly as much as young adult books.
But this is one that moved quickly and in spite of the fact that it is over 300 pages (or 6 and a half hours of audio) I finished it in just over a day. I actually thought I might have missed a section when I realized I was almost at the end (I didn’t).
Like the Percy Jackson and Book of Three and Wrinkle in Time middle grade series, these are based around a quest. It is a simple structure, no real sub-plots or significant twists.
Gregor is 11 year old. His father disappeared without a trace two years ago. Gregor is the oldest of three. It is summer and his younger sister is going to camp, but Gregor has to stay home to take care of his forgetful grandmother and his two year old baby sister so his mom can work and support the family.
One day while going down to the laundry room of his NYC apartment to wash clothes both he and his baby sister (Boots) are sucked into a vent and fall to a world beneath, the Underland. There they find many societies that are in uneasy tension with one another, Giant Rats, Bats, Cockroaches, Spider, Humans and others all attempt to survive in a hostile unyielding world.
Gregor soon finds out that his father may be alive and held captive by the Rats. And that he may be the fulfillment of a prophesy to save the world and put down the evil rat king. And so Gregor and Boots and some Cockroaches and Bats and Spiders go to try to save his father.
This is middle grade, so all turns out well, and it is the start of a five book series. The library has them all so I will pick them up over the next month or so as I have time.
This is a series worth reading if you have middle grade kids, especially those that have previously enjoyed Percy Jackson, at least if this first book is any indication.
As an adult, middle grade fiction (especially fantasy) seems to be too similar in structure. There is usually a prophecy, an average boy (and it is usually a boy) is actually a hero. There is a quest where older and wiser adults and/or other creatures give leadership and direction but for one reason or another the young teen has to end up leading and saving the society or group or world through their courage or determination.
I understand why I was drawn to this type of literature as a child. And even as an adult there is some attraction. But it is so similar. There is very little that breaks the mold and comes at the story in a different way. Percy Jackson was ADHD and the modern take on mythology was different. Artemis Fowl was well written and a type of semi-evil Richie Rich, but still fulfilled most of the stereotypes. The early Harry Potter books were more of the same, well written, compelling, but still hit all of the main notes. I will keep reading these book to off-set some of the heavier things I read, but I crave some actual creativity and newness in the genre.
Have you read anything different?