I have asked my 15 year-old son, Vincent, to write some book reviews. He is very well-read for his age, and can always be found with at least one book in hand. He has been known to walk into inanimate objects because he had his nose in a book. He prefers fantasy books, but has read a lot if other styles. What follows are his words. Enjoy!
My reviews will be divided into four sections, besides the rating, which itself will be how many stars out of five the series deserves. The first is Basic Protagonist. This one gives a few glimpses at the hero’s basic characteristics, to help determine whether the book would appeal to you. The second is Basic story, to acquaint my readers even to just the setting of the book. The third section is Possible Problem Areas. As the name suggests, this section covers any possible problems with the books. The final section is Good Areas. This area lists all the things concerning style and skill that the author excels at. As I am an avid lover of books, trying to list every positive portion of a book would require several pages of writing, so I have summarized my opinion of the book’s level of readability and enjoyability in the rating. You will never see a rating of 0 stars, since if a book is bad enough to merit that rating, I won’t be making a review of it. The lowest rankings you will ever see in this review are 3 or maybe 2 stars.
The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
Basic protagonist – The hero is a down-to-earth, sensitive, and kind boy, who gets frustrated with racism, inequality, and hatred, even going against his friends when he believes that he has found inequality of any kind. He is highly respectful in almost all circumstances, the only exception being when he loses his temper over some injustice, and even then he is never aggressive just to attack the object of his anger. He doesn’t like politics at all, struggling with the bureaucracy and red tape around him. He hates violence, but is forced by circumstances to fight in a bloody and horrible war, portrayed as such by the author.
Basic Story – A New York boy who is bored because he has to stay home from summer camp falls through a grate with his little toddler sister, and they wind up in a dark world miles beneath New York City, populated by various giant night creatures, like rats, roaches, spiders, and bats, as well as a race of humans that went down there centuries before. Upon arriving, he is almost immediately identified as the foretold warrior, and the rest of the series describes his undertakings in that calling.
Possible problem areas – The series shows a completely original version of racism, racism between different species of animals, with humans the proudest and most arrogant of all, but it is still unmistakably racism to the eyes of a mature reader. Romance doesn’t even make an appearance until the fourth book, and then the worst it gets is a kiss between two characters who expect to die soon. The series is about medieval-level war, so there is a lot of fighting with swords. The main character participates in many battles, and causes many injuries and deaths himself. He discovers that he has great talent as a warrior, and is capable of killing instinctively, without training. He struggles with this, as he hates killing, but he still uses his skill in war and kills many hundreds in combat. At the end of the series he is haunted by dreams, a result of the danger he has been in and the horrors he has seen. His family is there to support him, but he still finds himself trying to survive with their help. He suffers many wounds, and by the end of the series can’t wear shorts or even short sleeves because people would see his scars and wounds from the many, many conflicts he has taken part in. The book shows the horrors of war, but it does offer a hope for better things.
Good Areas – The author is a master of emotions, and with practice can summon any feeling she wants from her readers. She constructs events well, in every book building up to a tipping point and then holding that tipping point for some time before letting the reader back down from the peak of emotions. She constructs good, three-dimensional characters, several of them with complex and painful backstories that help explain their motives and actions. The only really bad thing I can say about the writing style is that the series has a horrible ending, with an important side character’s death. The main character begins the healing process necessary to cope with losing someone that close, but it is still a soul-rending ending, one of the most crushing I have ever read.
(Note: The first book in the series, which is also the author’s first book, is not even close to good writing. Keep reading. It gets much, much better.)