Gregor the Overlander

December 15, 2017
Gregor the Overlander Book Cover Gregor the Overlander
Underland Chronicles, #1
Suzanne Collins
May 1st, 2005
Library - OverDrive

When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

(via Goodreads)


I have a weak spot in my heart for middle-grade literature. I love how simple the writing is, how realistic the characters are for their ages, and what wonderful messages they carry. Unfortunately, I find that most middle-grade literature I read is lacking. Part of that, I’m sure, the lack of middle-grade aged children in my life. But, honestly, it’s harder to find solid middle grader literature than children’s, young adult, or adult. And this makes me sad. It is also why I want to sing the wonderful praises of Gregor the Overlander. Suzanne Collins’ debut novel (yes, The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins) is a wonderful fantasy novel which met all the hallmarks of great middle-grade literature.

Gregor, 11-years-old, is the oldest of three children. When his father mysteriously vanished two years ago, Gregor knew he had to step up and help out with the family once he started to notice his mother’s struggles. This summer, he is skipping camp to stay home and babysit his two-year-old sister Margaret, whom everyone calls Boots. One day, while doing laundry, Gregor and Boots discover a missing grate and fall down, down, down into a strange new world called the Underland. And so begins a quest built on prophesy where Gregor and Boots must journey with Underlander humans, rats, spiders, bats, and roaches to save their missing father.

“Hope,” said Vikus. “There are times it will be very hard to find. Times when it will be much easier to choose hate instead. But if you want to find peace, you must first be able to hope it is possible.”

Gregor and Boots might by some of my favorite characters in all middle-grade literature.  They have a wonderful relationship. Gregor is responsible for Boots and he takes this seriously throughout the book. He is a fabulous older brother. He respects and understands Boots, even if he does get annoyed with her at times. Gregor isn’t perfect. He’s smart, logical, and yet still gets annoyed and frustrated with people. He even whines once in a while. But that just makes him more realistic.

And Boots? Boots is my favorite character by far. She’s perfect. She’s lovable, friendly, unassuming, caring, and respectful. How often have you read novels with two-year-old characters? Have they ever really felt like two-year-olds? Probably not. Boot’s speech and mannerisms are on POINT. It’s obvious Collins knows what she’s doing here. A huge shout out to narrator Paul Boehmer for his interpretation of Boots. He nailed it.

Beeeeg bug!

The emotional journey Gregor experiences, and most of his development hinges on his relationship with Boots throughout this strange Wonderland-esque experience. The pair makes this novel.

I also love the diversity of the animals joining this quest. Surprisingly to me, my favorite species turned out to be our cockroach friends! I always have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog. If I was disappointed in anything it was that we didn’t get to better know the bat or spider characters. There was a lot of opportunity for character development left on the table here. But, well, this book *is* already 326 pages…

And then there was Tick. Brave little Tick, who had flown into the faces of an army of rats to save his baby sister. Tick – who never spoke much. Tick – who shred her food. Tick – who was, after all, just a roach. Just a roach who had given al lthe time she had left so that Boots could have more.

Other than the characters and their relationships, it might feel like Gregor the Overlander is a bit stereotypical. Prophesy. Chosen one. Rescuing the lost father. While the adventure is formulaic, the writing is not. Collins takes the traditional trials and tribulations turn into good triumphing over evil and twists it on its head a bit. There are subtle shifts in the text which respect the intelligence of the reader. Instead of spelling everything out, gray moments are presented where the reader can apply their own convictions of what is right and wrong. Her writing never becomes preachy or moralistic. Instead, tolerance, friendship, responsibility, loyalty, honesty, and what it means to both grow-up and respect your own boundaries are all explored quietly.

As an adult reading Gregor the Overlander I can see parallels to modern politics and international history. I wonder if the middle graders reading these books ever catch those references? Genuine violence and death face our “questors” as they progress through these pages. Collins’ setting underground is already dark, but these aspects being brought to the fore reinforces this. With all the prejudice and judgments the different species show to each other it’s easy to see there is a lot to unpack between the lines. I would have loved to read this in school as a child.

I tired of constant fear, so I made a decision. Every day when I wake I tell myself that it will be my last. If you are not trying to hold on to time, you are not so afraid of losing it.

Gregor the Overlander is a gripping introduction to Collins’ Underland series. This book is inventive and treats the reader with respect. Honestly, the things I struggled with are barely worth mentioning. I would certainly recommend this novel (and potentially the whole series!) to any young reader who loves adventures stories; boys and girls alike. I look forward to continuing the series!

What do you think?

  • Have you read Gregor the Overlander? What are your thoughts on this book? The series as a whole?
  • What are your favorite middle-grade novels?
  • Who are your favorite sibling sets in children’s literature? Why?
  • How do you feel about anthropomorphic characters?


  • Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads December 16, 2017 at 6:49 am

    I looooved Gregor the Overlander when I was younger. I literally became obsessed with the series, haha. It also blew my mind when I read The Hunger Games and realized the series were both written by the same author, haha.

    • Jackie B December 22, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Yay! I’m so glad! Did you read Gregor before you read The Hunger Games> It’s super cool to know someone who has read this series. Which book is your favorite? I want to make certain I at least read that far!

      What I appreciate the most is that this series could not have happened and I still would have really enjoyed this book. The set up for book two is subtle. If I was so compelled to stop reading (and I’m not) I could. We don’t see that often enough in MG series.

      • Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads January 14, 2018 at 11:19 am

        I did! I started reading Gregor when I was in 5th grade so I don’t really remember the details, haha. I think I may need a reread!!

        • Jackie B January 20, 2018 at 9:07 pm

          Sometimes, it’s wonderful to re-read books from our childhood. I loved revisiting Alanna: The First Adventure, but The Wind in the Willows didn’t quite hold up– so there is a bit of a gamble in there.

          I hope you do re-read Gregor soon and find it everything you loved and more!

  • Grab the Lapels December 16, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I’ve told you that I read to my husband at night. We had a phase when we were reading middle grade novels, like The Great Gilly Hopkins and Mr Popper’s Penguins. I feel like we would both really enjoy this book! We’re right in the first part of a fantasy trilogy, so I’ll have to be sure to put Collins’s book on my TBR.

    • Jackie B January 5, 2018 at 12:34 pm

      Middle grade novels have always brought joy to my life. They are simple and unassuming in most situations, but often have incredible lessons in the pages. I’ve heard this series continues to improve as you read more books, too. I look forward to continuing it.

      I’ve never read The Great Gilly Hopkins, but I’ve read Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I’ll have to read the former! Amanda @ Cover2CoverMom is one of the few bloggers I know who also writes reviews for MG literature. I’ve missed her voice in the world; I’m looking forward to chatting MG literature with her again. 😀

      Any other MG recommendations?

      • Grab the Lapels January 5, 2018 at 1:53 pm

        Hmmmmm…. Not really. I don’t think I read much of it myself when I was that age.

        • Jackie B January 5, 2018 at 2:29 pm

          That’s fair– the world of reading has changed a lot since we were kids.

          • Grab the Lapels January 5, 2018 at 3:50 pm

            I can’t remember what I read when I was a kid… The War with Grandpa, Katherine Patterson books, and lots of Sweet Valley.

  • Helen Murdoch December 16, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    I haven’t read this one, but have heard other people really enjoy it.

    • Jackie B December 22, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      There are so many books in the world, it’s super challenging to be able to read them all. 😀 It’s a really unique take on middle grade fantasy-adventure. Do you think you’ll read it someday? Or is this not your cup of tea typically?

  • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks December 28, 2017 at 9:14 am

    We totally share the weak spot for MG lit. I love it too… I guess I just wish I could go back to that innocent time for at least a little bit. When you know you can be safe reading a book without underwater icebergs of intrigue, and you won’t walk in on characters snogging (or worse xD). Yes, I am still a kid 😀 not to say that MG lit is safe and nothing happens, it’s just that things are treated in different ways, and evil is true evil, and good is true good 🙂

    Ooh, this book was animal characters! That’s cool. I’m also surprised about the roaches xD

    • Jackie B January 5, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      Yay! I didn’t realize you had a passion for MG literature. You’re right– it has a magic and innocence to it we don’t find in other reading levels. No surprise love triangles or anything like that. I appreciate how honest and direct MG literature typically is, too. You’re right– it’s not always safe (this book CERTAINLY isn’t safe!), but it is always fun. Particularly if well written!

      Anthropamorphic characters are some of my favorites. I love how they are treated like races in fantasy with quirks and culture and ethics different from humanity. It just makes perfect sense to me.

      What are some of your favorite MG books?

  • Topaz Winters February 3, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Oh man, Gregor the Overlander (& honestly, the entire Underland series) was one of those books I read & reread over & over when I was in elementary school. It’s been so long since I’ve read it, though, I think I have to have a lil rereading binge. Just a warning, the last book absolutely gutted me — I want to say it was maybe the first book I read where I couldn’t read anything else for a good week afterwards because I was just. Too impacted. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, love, & I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the other books <3

    Topaz (Six Impossible Things)

    • Jackie B February 6, 2018 at 6:19 pm

      Your first book hangover! That’s high praise, for SURE. I’ve honestly been debating continuing the series but you’ve definitely convinced me. Is the last book your favorite in the series?

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