If your 6th through 8th grader is clamoring to read the Hunger Games, but you think that series might be a bit old for them, the Overlander Chronicles might be a good alternative.
Suzanne Collins may have reached fame with her Hunger Games trilogy, but her Overlander series, written for a slightly younger audience, will keep readers turning pages – maybe even past bedtime!
There are five books in the series: Gregor the Overlander; Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane; Gregor and the Curse of the Warm Bloods; Gregor and the Mark of Secret and Gregor and the Code of Claw.
The first book begins when 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots fall through a grate in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building, and they discover a whole new world, called the Underland. The Underland is inhabited by not only pale, violet-eyed humans, but giant bats, cockroaches, spiders, rats and other creatures. While some of the creatures, like the bats, are allies with the humans; others, like the rats, are mortal enemies.
Throughout the five book series Gregor, as “the warrior,” and his sister Boots appear to figure in prophecies of the Earl of Sandwich, the man that led the humans to the Underland long ago. Every book in the series features a prophecy that Gregor needs to help fulfill and/or solve.
* The next section has some mild spoilers*
The Good Stuff
Not only are these well-written, exciting stories, but there are some pretty good lessons and themes that run throughout the series.
* Gregor and others often sacrifice themselves for the good of others
* Gregor recognizes that even in war, winning shouldn’t be at any cost. There are certain things nobody should ever do. (You see this same theme in The Hunger Games)
* Gregor and his family have a close bond.
* Unlike a lot of stories, the parents are involved in Gregor’s adventures, even if it is often reluctantly and in a periphery sort of way.
* People (or creatures as the case may be) should be seen as individuals and not just assumed as evil or good based on which group they belong to.
* War is not always the answer.
* War is not glamorized at all.
The Stuff to Be Aware of
* There is a lot of fighting/war violence in these books.
* People and animals die, sometimes in gruesome ways, although Collins isn’t overly gory with the details.
* There is a scene where a group of mice is gassed to death that is reminiscent of the Holocaust.
* In one of the books Gregor and his bat Aries are on trial for treason. If they are found guilty, they will be executed by being shoved off a cliff to their deaths.
* One of the prophecies appears to call for Gregor’s death, and he has to face that.
* There is some mild romance in this book. Gregor and the Underland queen Luxa have a thing for each other and kiss, but it’s all pretty innocent. Each of them understands there are bigger things at stake than their romance.
This is a great series for middle school readers. The main characters are likable and the story is very engaging. My biggest issue was the ending of the series. Gregor returns to the Overland, but he is struggling with what to do as a 12-year-old boy who has experienced war and the death of good friends in another world. It was a realistic ending, but younger readers might not feel satisfied with the ending, so this really IS a series for kids probably 5th grade and up.