Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

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Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The debut from the Hunger Games author, with a visually intense world filled with perhaps too much that is questionable for this to be a complete success.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9781407137032

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Gregor is in the laundrette, daydreaming about his problems since his father vanished a couple of years ago, and not being too mindful of where his youngest sister is playing. The next thing he knows is that she has found the portal to an incredible underground world, and they are both entering it. The Underland is a home to gigantic, talking animals, and a parlous state of play between them and the human inhabitants – who have a very important prophecy about a certain boy entering their domain and becoming an instant warrior. Is Gregor up to it, so far down as he is?

Yes, while the most eagerly awaited book for many people is what Suzanne Collins does next, we get another look at what she did first, with this reprinted debut, the launch title in her five-novel cycle. It comes with a more militaristic feel to the covers with the help of the usual Collins font, although it seems it would already appeal more to boys than girls – the action is of a masculine sort, with little in the way of female characters to hook girls in.

At first, for me at least, there seemed too much to hook people in, and it was a case of throwing anything and everything at the world and seeing what sticks. Bar the obvious Alice reference at the start, you get a lumbering large cockroach, a stadium of people watching other people ride bareback on dazzlingly aerobatic bats, the whole existence of the underground world, and a lot more. I think she left the kitchen sink out, but pretty much the rest is in here.

It also strikes one as an odd decision to have Boots come along for the ride – the two year old baby daughter with her proto-language and regular pooing. This if anything goes the most towards adding a feminine sensibility to things, with Gregor's big brotherly spirit having to be balanced with the prophecy and his destiny. Many of the characters here are quite strong, and Gregor is certainly a case in point with the help of Boots, who does prove valuable to the plot in several ways throughout.

And when one accepts that Collins is going gung-ho with the weird animals and the world she has invented, you can easily settle into quite an enjoyable ride. The plot wavers a little at times, and some people have said that Gregor is just too reactive to be a complete success, but on the whole the writing is very visual, and this is action drama with some heart and soul to it. It does, to repeat, have too many animals, scenes and relations between them to be completely coherent (and an odd moral forced in here and there about how we should like our world's equivalent species more) but it is mostly successful in what it sets out to achieve.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Curse of the Bogle's Beard by Siobhan Rowden is similarly underground, but more wackily inventive. More recently, Phoenix by SF Said has seriously floated our boat for tweenage battle drama.

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