Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
Goodreads: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Series: Underland Chronicles #2
Summary: Eleven-year-old Gregor never wanted to return to the Underland, the strange world under New York City where humans live alongside giant roaches, rats, bats, and spiders. When the cockroaches kidnap his baby sister Boots, however, Gregor has no choice but to follow. The Underlanders greet him with the information that the rats, still intent on ruling all the peoples who dwell beneath the surface, have gathered around a new leader known as the Bane. They believe that an ancient prophecy guarantees their success if they can kill the Overlander’s sister. Gregor abhors violence and desires to go home, but knows that Boots will never be safe so long as the Bane lives. Once more he sets off on a quest to save not only the Underlanders, but also his family. Preceded by Gregor the Overlander.
Review: Collins defies any attempts to define her or to place her in a box. Her tales are multifaceted and, though they contain elements expected of the genres in which she works, more often than not contradict the expectations of her readers. She combines an action-oriented plot with sympathetic characters and touches upon issues of morality in a children’s book. She reassures readers by including literary staples and then challenges the legitimacy of those staples. She does not shy from hard issues. Her books transcend age and speak to children and adults alike.
Collins’s ability to resonate with such a diverse audience seems to stem from her understanding of childhood. She does not allow the age of her target audience to limit her because she knows that many of her readers, like Gregor, have been forced to grow up too fast. Her portrait of an eleven-year-old dealing with poverty and the realization that even grown-ups cannot always make everything all right is real and raw. If certain readers have not experienced the emotions Gregor goes through, they most likely know someone who has. Collins gives her readers a gift by refusing to pretend that childhood is always idyllic. She lets them know that they are not alone.
The book extends far beyond an acknowledgement of hardship in everyday life, however. It offers its readers hope. Though Collins never announces the fact, she makes it sufficiently clear that Gregor’s strength ultimately stems from his suffering. Normally readers might find it hard to believe that an eleven-year-old intends to do battle against a prophesied evil and that the free peoples of the world are content to place their fates in his hands and watch him do it. Here, however, no one doubts that Gregor can succeed; they have seen him struggle against a myriad of evils every day and come off victorious. They know he is strong, brave, loyal, and determined. They know that, most importantly, his heart is in the right place.
Gregor’s moral compass becomes increasingly important as the book delves into harder and harder issues. At the heart of the story lies the question of violence. The Underlanders live on the brink war and have no qualms about using force to solve their problems. Gregor, however, tends toward pacifism. The story indirectly asks whether violence is ever justifiable and if a soldier, once he has his orders, should disobey them if they go against his conscience. True to form, the Collins gives no easy answers.
The combination of a fast-paced plot with likable characters and universal themes makes this book easy to recommend. Collins enchants the readers with her descriptions of a strange and magical land hidden beneath their feet. Her ability to balance heavy issues with a lighthearted adventure marks her as a formidable talent.
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