Summerland and Gregor the Overlander

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do you guys ever read two books back-to-back that are unintentionally incredibly similar? I actively try to avoid doing this, but sometimes I don’t realize it until I’m already midway through the book. This happened to me a few months ago with The Likeness and The Secret History.

Now it’s happened again and like the first time, I can’t help but compare the two and favor one over the other. Both Summerland and Gregor the Overlander are about 11-year-old boys who find themselves in a strange fantasy land trying to rescue their fathers. There are definitely differences, but the basic premise is really similar.

by Michael Chabon

I went into this one expecting a coming-of-age story about baseball. I’m not sure how I completely missed the fact that it’s a fantasy adventure tale. The other work I’ve read of Chabon’s has been for adults, so this was an interesting change of pace.

Ethan is an 11-year-old living in a quiet town in Washington. His mother passed away and his brilliant but distracted father (a bit of an absent-minded professor) is too caught up in his work to realize how much Ethan is struggling in their new home. He is on the local baseball team, but is a horrible player. Then one day he starts to see some odd creatures.

Soon he’s off on an adventure with his friend Jennifer T, oddball Thor and a strange collection of misfits, including a tiny giant, a Sasquatch, and other creatures. They can travel between the branches of the Tree of Life to the different worlds. They are traveling across the Summerland as they try to find Ethan’s father.

In order to pass through certain areas they must play games of baseball with the creatures that live there. I’m not a baseball fan, so that recurring theme made the book feel a bit long to me. I loved the other fantasy elements though.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s sweet and fun with a few darker twists. A perfect fit for teen readers, particularly those who love baseball. It’s a bit on the long side, but it’s a great quest book for young adult readers.

Gregor the Overlander
by Suzanne Collins

I loved the Hunger Games series, so I’ve wanted to read this one for awhile now. I will say upfront that it’s written for a much younger audience than the HG books and that was hard to adjust to at first.

Gregor and his baby sister Boots fall through a passage in their laundry room of their New York apartment building. They find themselves in an underground world where rats and cockroaches talk and bats are used for transportation. They are in Underland and the people there refer to him as an overlander.

A prophesy tells of an overlander who will play a role in the future or Underland. The people there believe that Gregor must be that overlander and almost without his realizing it, a quest is formed and he is off on an adventure.

The plot and pacing are fine, but I never cared too much about the fate of the characters. It’s strange to read a book about an underground world and realize that the story didn’t even scratch the surface. I wish that we had a chance to get to know the characters a bit more instead of just moving from one bit of action to the next.

BOTTOM LINE: The book lacks the character depth that I grew to love in Collins’ other work. I think this would be perfect for a young reader who loves adventure stories, but it doesn’t work as well for adults.


Anonymous said...

Ever notice that similar song themes are often playing on the radio? Anyhoo, your post reminded me of such... I have never read any Chabon. I don't think this will be the one I start with.

Jeanne said...

The kids and I read both of these when they were in middle school. We love Summerland so much it's woven itself into our family mythology and they reread it every year.
On the other hand, they read all the sequels to the Gregor books and then forgot about them.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bkclubcare - Yes! I wonder if the DJs do it on purpose.

Jeanne - I could see myself really loving the Summerland book if I'd read it when I was that age. I still liked it a lot more than the Gregor series.