Gregor is 11, his father disappeared 2yrs 7mths and 13 days ago and life has not been the same since. Gregor doesn't allow himself to think about the future, it is too painful, he just thinks about now - the now of not being able to go to summer camp because he has to stay home and mind his 2yr old sister Boots while his mum works. But while he is thinking about the now his mind is not on what he is doing (the laundry) and definitely not on his sister. When Gregor realises his sister is very quite and has been for some time he finds her leaning into a grate in the laundry room, as he reaches for her she disappears, Gregor has to follow and down down he falls into the Underland.
Gregor finds himself in a land where cockroaches, bats, rats and spiders speak and are far larger than in the Overland. Humans have violet eyes and his father is being held by Gorger, King of the Rats. Gregor's arrival leads the Underlanders to believe that he is the warrior prophesied in 'The Legend of Gray' carved on the walls of the palace, a warrior that will affect the fate of the humans in Underworld. Gregor knows he is no warrior, but it is the only way he can rescue his father so he, Boots and two Underworlders set out to build an alliance with the spiders and the cockroaches in order to rescue Gregor's father and save the Underworld from the rats.
Suzanne Collins is known in Europe for her best selling Hunger Games Series, a dystopian adventure for the 11+age group. Gregor's tale is an introduction to the world of fantasy literature for the 9+ age range but is no less well written or absorbing just because it is for a younger audience.
Gregor is an average child who has suffered a traumatic loss and Collins is astute enough to realise that although Gregor's father can be rescued, he will have been changed by his experiences.
Gregor had thought he would get a parent back when he found his Dad. Then he could stop having to make hard decisions. He could just be a kid. But the man before him was even needier than Boots was.
Collins' portrayal of Gregor is real and vivid, Gregor is no all action hero he is just an ordinary boy in extraordinary circumstances - he even realises that even though he might want a sword, as his mum won't even let him carry a pocket knife and, as he is likely to be grounded for the rest of his life, a sword just wouldn't be worth the hassle!
The Underland is a fantastic world. From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland through to the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe secret portals to other worlds have long been a staple of children's literature and Collins has done an excellent job of world building. Coupled with dangerous allegiances, treachery and battles this book is a must for young (and not so young!) bookworms.
There are four more books in the series and I assume these will be released in due course
At the back of the book children will find a note about the author, an interview with Suzanne Collins and for imaginative children a piece about how to go about constructing their own portal and underworld when writing stories - this is a great idea.
You can find an excerpt of the book here
For the teachers amongst you a teachers guide and book group type questions here.