So, firstly, I want to say that my favourite thing about these books, and all of Suzanne Collin’s writing, is that she writes for and about children as if they are capable and intelligent people. Even the two year old in the books is treated as a character with depth and growth and understanding. The scene in the fourth book, where Gregor finally realizes he has to explain death to his youngest sister is tragic and beautiful.

The world these books take place in so vastly different from ours it almost couldn’t be anything but a metaphor for ours.

The story begins with Gregor and his two year old sister Boots (I believe her real name is Margaret, but no one ever calls her that) fall through a grate in their laundry room, fall and fall, and fall. When they finally land, carried gently to the ground by air currents, they are among giant cockroaches.

They are quickly brought to the Underland city of Regalia, where the humans dwell and are thrown into events surrounding an ancient prophecy.

As the books progress and more prophecies happen understanding who are the bad guys and who are the good guys becomes more and more difficult. And it is this dilemma that makes the books as fantastic as they are to me. This honesty, this integrity that the writing has to real life is resonating and poignant. I love that in the languages of the other creatures in the Underland humans are called “killers” and the most atrocious act (well one of the two) performed in the books is performed by a human  who was fighting on the “good” side.

I hated this human for two books. Would have been happy to see her die. And then she did die. Quietly, with nothing anyone could do to help her. And it was tragic and sad. And I felt her loss.

I also loved how deaths in this book were sudden and plentiful. Which sounds weird in a children’s book, after all most of the deaths in Harry Potter were these big climatic moments that shook that world on its hinges. But so often in life death happens when you can’t afford to stop and grieve. Death is like that here. It happens suddenly, and stupidly, and heroically, and at the most inconvenient time.

The characters are all different and never seem to get along for more than brief periods of time which keeps things interesting. And I am continually impressed with Collins ability to make even the briefest of characters have depth and motivations. A small thing that I really enjoyed was how she gave each race a different cadence of speech. As if they really were from different lands and had accents and such.

And I loved Temp (the cockroach) he was awesome.

Throughout the books Collins demonstrates her ability to write fast paced, entertaining stories while displaying an empathy to war torn cultures and soldiers hardly ever seen in adult books, let alone children’s books. If I had young children, I would make them read these simply for the fact that she challenges the reader to not think of wars as good guys and bad guys but as two societies doing atrocious things to one another. And how, ultimately, everyone suffers and no one gains.

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