Title: Gregor the Overlander (Book 1 of The Underland Chronicles)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Middle Grade Reader, Fantasy, Adventure
Beware, Underlanders, time hangs by a thread.
The hunters are hunted, white water runs red.
The Gnawers will strike to extinguish the rest.
The hope of the hopeless resides in a quest.
Tumbling down the laundry grate after his sister Boots, Gregor finds himself in Underland, at the mercy of both the humans who rule it and the mysterious Prophecy of the Gray.
An Overland Warrior, a son of a sun,
May bring us back light, he may bring us back none,
But gather your neighbors and follow his call
Or rats will most surely devour us all.
Gregor can't believe they think he's the Overland Warrior, and he has no desire to lead anyone on a quest. All he wants to do is get home before his mother discovers that he and his sister are missing. Then he learns that the rats hold something very precious to him, something he will risk anything to get...
When you enter a new fantasy land, whether by falling down a rabbit hole or opening a wardrobe, there's usually a feeling of beauty, of wonder. Here, there are over-sized versions of creatures you didn't like when they were small and weird, arrogant humans who act like jerks to our hero.
And yet we grow to love them.
It's really amazing how attached I grew to these characters, to the point that, after I finished reading the first book, I wanted to read the second, just to be with them again. Gregor seems to bring out the best in them, as he overlooks prejudice and hurt feelings, and is able to sympathize with even the most unlikable character. (Except for the spiders. They were boring.)
Aside from Gregor, my favorite character is probably Ripred, the lone rat who volunteers to help them on their quest. Nobody trusts him, but I liked him a lot. He was wily and insulting and the best fighter of the lot, and you could tell he had stories that brought him to this point.
Gregor's baby sister Boots gets dragged around a lot, and I was worried she'd be, well, a drag, because what do you do with a two-year-old? But it turns out she was essential to the plot.
Reading this book, you can expect page-turning suspense, action a-plenty, lovable characters, intense violence, and death. Probably best suited for older elementary and up.