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Gregor the Overlander (The Underland Chronicles, Book #1)

by Suzanne Collins

Published by Scholastic Press, 2003
310 pages
ISBN: 0-439-43536-6

Ages 9 - 14

Ever since his father's abrupt and unexplained departure two years earlier, Gregor has maintained a personal rule. He doesn't allow himself to think about his father returning. Imagining a future that includes his father makes his present reality without him too painful to bear. Abiding by this self-imposed law, Gregor moves listlessly through an uneventful life with his grandmother, mother and siblings in New York City as this novel opens. Uneventful, that is, until the day his two-year-old sister Boots disappears headfirst down an air duct in the laundry room. Without a second thought Gregor dives after her, and with this Alice-like plunge, enters the Underland, a subterranean world where communities of humans, and oversize rats, bats, spiders, and cockroaches exist uneasily together. At first intent only on returning to the Overland, Gregor soon discovers that an ancient prophecy casts him as the central figure in a dangerous mission, one that may help him find his missing father. As war with the rats threatens the Underlanders' survival, Gregor and Boots, together with a contingent of humans, bats, cockroaches, spiders, and a renegade rat, set off on their preordained quest. The excitement of their exploits is nicely balanced with moments of down-to-earth humanity: Boots requires diaper changes, automatic loathing of cockroaches shouldn't be assumed, and a shaken can of root beer makes a convenient weapon. When Gregor does find his father, the man is physically unable to take charge, a scenario that requires Gregor to continue to think and act with responsibility. This well-conceived fantasy combines a traditional prophesy and quest structure with strikingly memorable characters, both human and otherwise. The concluding chapter sets the stage for a return to the Underland, a visit that we eagerly await! (MVL) 2004 Cooperative Children's Book Center

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