A while back I was talking with a friend about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. She asked if I had read her series for younger readers, Gregor The Overlander. No, I had not but I’m willing to give them a try. I like reading this type of stuff (besides the fact that I’m a closet science fiction nerd and kid at heart) because my kids may be reading it one day and I need to see if it’s any good plus I need to be on top of what they are/may be interested in.
While Hunger Games is YA and centered around a teenage girl, Gregor is an 11 year old boy and it is written for ages 9-14 (that’s my best guess). Gregor is living in NYC with his mom and two younger sisters (his dad having mysteriously disappeared over two years ago). He accidentally stumbles upon a world deep, deep down below New York and quickly gets wrapped up in their struggle of survival. This secret underworld has been there for centuries and is made up of humans and all sorts of talking creatures that love the dark; rats, cockroaches, mice, spiders, bats, fireflies, etc. Because all the talking creatures are citizens of the underworld (rather than just animals) it has a Narnia feel. While Narnia dealt with war, death and a battle against good and evil, Collins takes it a step further and introduces a lot of grey areas regarding who is right and who is wrong in our society.
The first book introduces us to the main characters, the underworld and the clash of the different species. As the books progress Collins makes her readers ask serious, grown-up questions about war and the atrocities that come with it. Biological warfare is the main topic of book three, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, and you are left wondering how far is too far. When it comes to war and protecting your own, is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed or do we do whatever it takes (including killing innocents) to survive?
The fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, is the heaviest by far in my opinion. A maniac rat quickly rises to power and intends to wipe out all that oppose him or just get in his way. Gregor is exposed to the horror of genocide while at the same time discovering the humans may not have been as moral as he thought all along. In one scene in which the Rats are trying to exterminate the Mice I realized that Collins was drawing direct parallels the horrors of the Holocaust. Young readers probably won’t pick up on this but I thought it was very poignant and brave to introduce these topics to young readers.
The Gregor series is a quick and easy read. The style of writing is clearly for a younger audience but once I realized that and accepted it for what it was I quickly got caught up in the story and appreciated the questions of societal morality and the theory of “might makes right”.
But you don’t have to take my word for it…