Readers, I’ve got something explosive to say. OK, here goes (nervous throat-clearing sound):
I just don’t like Harry Potter.
I don’t loathe Harry Potter, I just don’t see the magnificence and originality that others do. The first book left me cold, and even my boys lost interest at around book three.
There, I’ve said it. Please don’t yell at me or arrest me. I’m just speaking out for a tiny, overwhelmed minority in America. We Potterphobes cower in our closets.
So why am I posting on our Harry Potter week? Just to be a downer? To be the critic everyone hates? No! My job here is to recommend an alternative series, good for Potterphobes as well as Potterphiles who are ready for fresh material.
And my recommendation is – drumroll, please — the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. My older son and I picked up the first book a couple of years ago when I was still reading aloud to him. We buzzed through the next four books with the urgency of addicts. Like Harry Potter, the protagonist of this series is a boy with a mysterious destiny who moves between the real world and an equally real alternate world. But the resemblance ends there.
Gregor is a smart and troubled 11-year-old New York kid who inadvertently discovers the Underland, a human civilization living in enormous caverns deep beneath the city. There, humans uneasily co-exist with species of rats, bats, spiders, mice, cockroaches, and other creatures, all grown to enormous size. These creatures are also highly intelligent, armed to the teeth, and as flawed and unpredictable as humans. It’s a blazingly original landscape. Shifting alliances and misunderstandings propagate the plots, and we watch as Gregor navigates. He’s decent. And conflicted. It’s awesome.
The books thrum with themes of war and peace. One plot closely parallels Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust. Gregor is strategically placed to answer some of those old philosophical chestnuts you toss around in college: “It’s 1939. You have a loaded gun and a clear shot at Hitler. What do you do?” Or, more to the point, what would Gregor do? (WWGD?) These questions sparked lively discussions with my son, for which I’ll always be grateful to Suzanne Collins.
So if you liked Harry Potter — or even if you didn’t – you might give Gregor a try. Oh, and when you do, let me know what you think of Ripred, a vicious and brilliant rat with traitorous tendencies. We adore him.