Book Review 5 – Gregor the Overlander
Gregor and his little sister Boots live in New York City in modern day. They live with their mother after the strange disappearance of their father. One day Gregor and Boots fall down a vent in the laundry room (much like Alice in Wonderland) to come upon a strange underworld full of cockroaches (crawlers), bats, rats and humans from England 500 years ago. The people and creatures of the underworld are consumed by prophecies, and once the underworld discovers that Gregor and his sister have come from the overland, a war breaks out to stop Gregor from ending the rat king’s reign and saving the human kingdom and his father. Gregor learns along the way to think about others before himself, to not judge based on appearances and to sacrifice himself for the good of his friends and family.
Collins, S. (2003). Gregor the overlander. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.
I really enjoyed this book. Suzanne Collins did a good job despite this being her first novel, and showed why her later novels such as the Hunger Games were so successful. The characters were easy to connect with. Gregor was the star of the story. Kids unaccustomed to the fantasy genre will really connect with him as he is a modern day kid living in New York with his family. However, he falls down a vent in his laundry room much like Alice in Wonderland, and finds himself in a fantasy world of talking animals, a human kingdom in peril, and large creatures such as human-sized cockroaches, spiders and rats. Gregor’s fish out of water status will make it easy for kids reading the book to connect with him. Other students who read a lot of science fiction or fantasy will have little trouble with the world Collins has conjured for the reader. There are melee battles, an attack on a kingdom and a quest.
Other characters that really stuck out to me were Boots, Vikus and Ripred. Boots was a minor character and at times I didn’t believe her dialogue. She talked too much like a baby for a two-year old, and I feel pretty strong in that accusation as I have four kids, and one is aged three. Boots impulsiveness was realistic though as was her willingness to accept the crawlers for who they were and not judge them based on the humans opinions of them. The lesson that she teaches in the book is a valuable one and therefore I feel she is worth mentioning. Vikus is the crown princesses grandfather and one who organizes the quest. He is both intelligent and wise, someone who has long-term plans and tries to execute them through an organized and thoughtful way. I really liked how Vikus dealt with all the young characters in the book, from his granddaughter Luxa to Gregor and his snotty attitude (at least at first). He sees the potential in others and never gives up. His portrayal of wisdom however is valuable as that is not something that I see often in children’s books. The last character that really struck me was Ripred, the turncoat rat who helps Gregor save his father from the rats and helps Vikus in defeating the rat king Gorger. Ripred the rat to me was the star of the book; really he was a fantastic character. He was highly intelligent and immensely strong. Ripred unnerved Gregor throughout the quest and at times Gregor was clearly awed by his abilities. But despite being a rat that was vicious and deadly, Ripred had some sense of honor. That was admirable. How Vikus and Ripred came to know each other is not explained but that Ripred saw value in peace between humans and rats despite the environment where he lived was impressive.
The setting of the story is really unique: an underground fantasy world right below our modern world. Collins explains briefly how the humans got there, how they live and where they get their food. She even discusses the benefits of trade between the species. However, some things, as it is in the fantasy genre, are left to the imagination such as the size of the animals or the spiders involvement in the story. The mood of the book is a dark book with intrigue, betrayal, and impending doom and genocide. However, things turn out well in the end for Gregor and his family and the human kingdom is saved despite Henry of the royal family betraying the humans to the rats for a crown. Collins does a good job of building tension throughout the book, at times the reader is left wondering how the questors will get out of the many predicaments that they find themselves in. Despite the dark fantastic world and long odds, Collins ends with a believable story with a lot of suspense and action that makes the reader feel good in the end.
It’s the beginning of summer and everyone is going off to camp except Gregor, an 11 year-old boy from New York City. Since his father’s disappearance from their New York City home, he has been helping out with taking care of his little sisters, especially two-year-old Boots. Gregor sacrifices his chance to go to camp, letting his other sister go instead. While doing laundry in the basement of his apartment building. Boots disappears down an air chute and Gregor goes after her. At the bottom of this inner city “rabbit hole,” the two find themselves in the “Underland” surrounded immediately by giant cockroaches, or crawlers. The story moves quickly as the two “Overlanders” are taken to the Queen of the Underlander humans, where Gregor learns of a prophecy which focuses on him and a quest to find his missing father. He travels with bats, crawlers, spinners (giant spiders), a rat, and two of the royal Underlanders. Gregor spends his time between protecting Boots, who doesn’t know she needs to be protected, and becoming the leader of the questors who must not only save his father, but also save the Underlanders’ kingdom.
Williams, L. D. (2005). Gregor the overlander. School Library Journal 51(8), p. 64.
At the school that I work at this book is used for read aloud. Nearly every third grade teacher uses the book as a read aloud as it has strong appeal to both girls and boys and has great life lessons such as don’t judge based on appearances, look at both sides of an issue, or think of others and don’t always put yourself before others in need. The librarian at my school uses this book to read chapter one to classes which usually gets some boys and a few girls hooked into the book and the series and encourages more reading. It is a great way to expose younger kids to the fantasy genre but allowing the reader to connect with Gregor, a fish out of water story similar to them if fantasy is not a common genre they read.