The covers of the Underland Chronicles do them no end of disservice. Since my policy is to judge a book by its cover, it took reading The Hunger Games to convince me to pick them up. I had always assumed they would be machine generated chapter books with mythical creatures protecting or seeking some ring or sword, or who knows what, that has some symbolic meaning - or doesn't. Suzanne Collins, however, is in no way machine-generated. She is Dostoyevski for the young-reader crowd. While she uses the quest trope in each of the Underland stories, her reflections of politics and international history are both gentle and unflinchingly horrifying. Kids have to learn about genocide somehow . . . I guess.
In comparison to other popular child-soldier (or children-save-the-world) stories, the Underland Chronicles are not comforting in the way Harry Potter, but I found them more honest than all of those. Collins never seems overcome by her own power as an author, self-indulgent in her story-telling, or worried that her audience won't understand her overall message. That may be the mark of a good editing team, and if so, A+ to them. Her writing is not as lyrically beautiful as Kate DiCamillo's (whose is, for that matter?), but, like Dostoyevski's, it is very effective in reflecting doubts about human nature and, at times, touching. It makes me wish, once again, that Dostoyevski was able to edit well.