Suzanne Collins’ debut novel Gregor the Overlander is a fast-paced, middle grade fantasy featuring an unlikely hero. As Gregor battles the savage underworld rats of New York City, we hope he will emerge victorious. If you’re looking for more gripping fantasies like this one, check out these 10 novels.
1. The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart
A strange ad runs in the newspaper: Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities? Reynie Muldoon, an 11-year-old orphan living in Stonetown, responds to the request because really, what does he have to lose? After entering the Benedict Society, Reynie grapples with mind boggling puzzles, hoping for the best. Time ticks away, and finally the results are posted. Reynie learns he and three other children–Sticky, Kate, and Constance–have passed! But the coming tasks are far more challenging than any test. Together, the four braniacs team up to explore underground tunnels and fight an evil superpower bent on creating mass panic and world domination. The Mysterious Benedict Society is an exciting read for lovers of puzzles and seemingly unsolvable mysteries.
2. A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull
Jason Walker leads a mostly ordinary life, until he encounters a peculiar hippo at the zoo. After hearing music spilling from the hippo’s mouth, curiosity overwhelms him. He leans into the hippo enclosure and falls directly into the hippo’s gaping jaws. Snap! It’s over.
But, Jason doesn’t die in a pit of intestinal juices. Instead he is transported to another world called Lyrian. He quickly learns he isn’t exactly welcome in this new, fraught world. Lyrian is captained by an evil emperor who plagues citizens with fear and suspicion, and Jason is just another outsider. He looks to Lyrian’s broken heroes for guidance and he discovers that, if he wants to return to his world, he must first save this one. If you’re looking for a story with an incredibly vivid, magical world and a side of humor, Beyonders is for you.
3. The Balance Keepers, by Lindsay Cummings
What happens when the Realms at the core of the earth become unbalanced? Eleven-year-old Albert Flynn (brand new balance keeper) is about to find out. After following a perplexing map into the woods, and then underground, Albert learns he must prevent his home–New York City–from impending death and despair. A scorching fire is set to destroy the bustling metropolis unless he can restore balance to the underworlds. Only problem is, he doesn’t quite have control over his powers yet…
4. The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer
Twin siblings, Alex and Conner Bailey, are still grieving one year after their father’s death. But their birthday is coming up, and Grandma gives them a strange, diverting gift: a fairytale book that seems to glow, hum, and swallow objects. In a bout of bad luck and wobbly balance, Alex and Conner fall victim to the powers of the book. After getting sucked into another world, the twins learn that, to break out of this alternative fairy universe, they must collect eight ingredients and cast a wishing spell. However, there seems to be another person searching for the same elusive wishing spell ingredients. Will Alex and Conner cast the spell first, or will their mystery competitor collect their needed ingredients, leaving them to rot in fairyland for all eternity?
5. A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty
Madeleine lives in a hopeless, rainy corner of Cambridge. Her mother dragged her to this depressing place under mysterious circumstances, and she desperately misses her old life, complete with a dad, proper house, and sunshine. Elliot lives in a completely different world–the Kingdom of Cello. There are a few key differences between Cello and Earth. In Cello, seasons change randomly, all the crops are dying, and Colors attack people. Oh, and Elliot has his own complicated family dynamic. Madeleine and Elliot find a crack between worlds and start communicating. The two uncover strange new possibilities and keep each other sane through growing conflict in A Corner of White.
6. The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke
Prosper and Bo are orphans, scraping by in the city of Venice. They find a crew of street urchins to bunk with in an abandoned movie theatre and develop strategies to survive in the crumbling canals of the city. Just when the boys are getting the hang of their life of petty crime, their evil aunt bursts onto the scene with a detective, trying to force the boys into her custody. Complicating matters is a magical, time-bending merry-go-round turning boys to men and men to boys. Only time will uncover the fate of Prosper and Bo.
7. Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel
Imagine a world where airplanes don’t exist. Instead, people travel through the skies on airships. Matt Cruse, a cabin boy, earns his living on a transoceanic airship, the Aurora. After the Aurora suffers catastrophic damage, Matt must employ great cunning and strategy to steer the ship home with his life intact. Airborn is packed with endless adventure including encounters with pirates, crash landings, odd flying panthers (called cloud cats), and young romance.
8. Gods of Manhattan, by Scott Mebus
Rory Hennessy, a 13-year-old New Yorker, has always had the ability to see things others cannot. But when a magician reveals Mannahatta, a spirit world existing within Manhattan, Rory is stunned. Babe Ruth, Alexander Hamilton, and Peter Stuyvesant govern this strange world of tribal leaders, cockroaches, and papier-mâché children. Rory’s ability to see the spirit world makes him a target to its leaders, but he feels it’s his duty to unleash the spirits from their bondage and free them to the next realm.
9. Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Nobody Owens (Bod) lives in a graveyard where he is raised by ghosts. Sure, there is excitement within the confines of the cemetery: ancient souls, portals to cities of ghouls, hauntings, and Dreamwalking. But sometimes Bod just wants to lead a normal life, beyond the tombstones and ghostly apparitions. Only problem is, leaving the graveyard makes Bod vulnerable to Jack, the man who murdered his family. Graveyard Book is a coming-of-age tale with a twist, delighting with fantasy and providing valuable life lessons.
10. The Glass Sentence, by S. E. Grove
After the “Great Disruption,” the progression of time as we know it is altered. Now each of Earth’s continents belongs to a different time period. After her parents disappeared to an investigative adventure in another time period, Sophia Tims is left in the care of her uncle. To make matters worse, the governing body of New Occidental (Sophia’s homeland) is threatening to close their borders–making it impossible for Sophia’s parents to return. Then Sofia’s uncle is abducted. With the help from a refugee boy from the Badlands time zone, Sophia must travel to find her uncle and parents. Along the way, the pair encounter pirates with menacing grappling hooks, a wild train ride, a ship excursion, and many perplexing maps.