Eleven-year-old Gregor’s family is going through hard times. His father disappeared a year ago, leaving his mother, younger sister, Grandmother, and baby Boots alone in their New York apartment. One day as he is in the basement doing the family’s laundry, two year old Boots falls through a hole in the wall. In desperation to save his sister, Gregor leaps after her.
But instead of falling a foot or two into a New York sub-basement, they fall and fall and fall, hundreds of meters below the surface of the city, saved only by mysterious air currents. Landing without breaking their necks is only the beginning of their problems. It seems that New York there is an entire other world, the Underland, populated by gigantic talking rats, enormous cockroaches, and strangely pale humans who have not emerged from their underground hideaway in several hundred years.
The humans are in a constant war with the rats, a fact that Gregor does not particularly care about in that his much more pressing problem is how to get home. He is equally dismissive of an ancient prophecy that appears to be about him – that is until he learns that a man who could very well be his long-missing father has been taken prisoner by the rats. Accompanied by several Underlanders, including bats and cockroaches, he and Boots set out to fulfill the prophecy and rescue his father.
Author Suzanne Collins has crafted an incredibly detailed and nuanced book. All of the characters are three-dimensional; villains have virtues, heroes are flawed. The world-building is fantastic, the cultures of the spiders, rats, cockroaches, humans, and others in the Underland are varied and imaginative. This book is the first in a five-part series.