In my lifetime of reading experience I have found that when a book gets turned into a series the sequels are usually never as strong or compelling as the first book. That however is not the case in the Underland Chronicles series of books. I tried to separate each book to review it on its own, but Suzanne Collins wrote this series so seamlessly it feels like one large continuous book (in a very good way).
In the first book, Gregor the Overlander, we are introduced to Gregor, a typical 12 year old boy who lives with his mom (Grace), and two younger sisters Lizzy and Boots, and his ailing grandmother. They live in a small apartment in a low income area of New York, where they struggle to make ends meet. The adventure begins when Gregor is not able to go to camp because he has to watch his grandmother and younger sister because his mother has to go to work. When Gregor goes to do a load of laundry, his sister falls through a grate. Gregor goes after her and quickly discovers himself surrounded by giant talking rats, bats, cockroaches, spiders, and a strange race of underground humans called Regalians.
He is befriended by the humans who believe that he is the “Warrior” of several ancient prophecies (written by Bartholomew of Sandwich, the leader of the Overlanders who came to live in the underworld). This puts his and Boots' lives in peril as they travel through this fascinating and dangerous underground world. They fight rats, carnivorous plants, dangerous ants, and lots of other things. They also make friends with some unlikely Underworld creatures on their mad rush to try to get back to their Overland lives, and their family.
The supporting characters are a wonderful hodgepodge of underworld creatures, which include the harsh future queen Luxa and her bat/bond Aurora; the precocious Boots, who is three and believes that this is a great game as she befriends the “Crawlers and Nibblers”; Tic and Temp, the two cockroaches who befriend Boots as a very strange set of nannies; Ripred a surly “rager” rat who is an outcast of the rat community; Howard, cousin to the future queen; Ares the giant bat; and Vikus who is Luxa’s grandfather. They are believably flawed and great fun to read as they react to fights and down time of this series. During the series these characters are revealed more and more, so that you discover why they are how they are. Just like in life you start liking some of them despite their short comings.
A nice plus about this series is that Gregor is African American. It's wonderful to find a series that is action-packed and full of fantasy, but that also has a main character and supporting cast with diversity. Gregor is your average city kid who is thrust into a world most unlike his own, and there is a lot of relevance to the experience of people of color who may be struggling to find their place.
This is a great book series for anyone to read. It has the perfect amount of action and mystery that is revealed at a great pace for the reader to potentially figure out things on their own. (Don't skip around though, you need to read these in series order! And for those who enjoy audiobooks, the narrator of this series is excellent - this would be a terrific series to listen to on a family road trip.) It is a rare thing that I mourn the end of a book series - but as I was nearing the end of this one, I found myself regretting the fact that I read the books so fast. If you have a tween or teen that likes adventure books this is a must-read, and you'll enjoy them too, I promise.
The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins:
Book 1: Gregor the Overlander
Book 2: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Book 4: Gregor and the Marks of Secret
Book 5: Gregor and the Code of Claw