Confounding Expectations: Books I Didn't Expect to Love
This is my second post as a part of the Wyrd and Wonder celebration, and the prompt for today is confounding expectations. I decided to write about a few books that I absolutely loved despite my expectations.
Gregor the Overlander (The Underland Chronicles) by Suzanne Collins
This amazing fantasy series definitely took me by surprise. I started Gregor the Overlander after reading The Hunger Games, and I was still upset about how the series ended--so my opinion was definitely tainted. However, I was very surprised at Collins’ versatility and creativity in this children’s/YA series. The story is narrated by Gregor, who falls with his younger sister, “Boots”, through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building. Gregor lands in the mysterious Underland where rats, cockroaches, spiders, and humans coexist. The land is on the brink of war, and Gregor is destined to take part.
What surprised me most about this series was how much I loved the characters. Although the novels are targeted towards a younger audience, that didn’t stop Collins from creating complex dynamics and dark history. Gregor is a relatable narrator with good intentions, but he is faced with countless moral dilemmas. I loved how Collins showed Gregor holding on to his values while also making mistakes and learning from them.
Gregor’s adventures in each book are so compelling! Each book has a prophecy that Gregor must fulfill, but the meaning is not always clear. I had fun riding bats and making cockroach friends with Gregor as he slowly solved each riddle. I loved the joyful and often tragic twists that always took me by surprise.
This series is now one of the first I recommend to people. I loved it from beginning to end, especially because of Collins’ ability to understand that actions have consequences, even in books, and even when we have the best intentions.
The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching #1) by Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men was the first of Pratchett’s Discworld series I read. When my mom told me the best part of the book was a group of tiny men called the Nac Mac Feegle, I was not expecting to be impressed. I was pleasantly surprised when I loved the absurd and comical adventure of a young witch named Tiffany Aching.
The Wee Free Men has a seamless blend of magic, comedy, and wisdom that so few can pull off. One sentence is profound and insightful, and the next is a sarcastic joke. Then, of course, Pratchett would blend the two together making me want to laugh and nod my head in agreement at the same time.
What really makes The Wee Free Men stand out for me is the protagonist. Tiffany is one of my favorite characters of all time. She’s intelligent, funny, and bold. She unapologetically pursues knowledge and will do anything to protect what she loves. She can be patronizing and selfish, but instead of these traits being character flaws, Pratchett turns them into more great reasons that I love Tiffany Aching.
“They think written words are even more powerful,’ whispered the toad. ‘They think all writing is magic. Words worry them. See their swords? They glow blue in the presence of lawyers” (Pratchett, The Wee Free Men).
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
Although Seabiscuit isn’t fantasy, I had to write about it. I do not normally enjoy nonfiction… or horseracing…. or sports history. Needless to say, I was very surprised to enjoy this book that was all about confounding expectations.
Seabiscuit defied all expectations in becoming a champion racehorse during the Great Depression. His racing career had a rocky start, and most trainers dismissed the horse. However, Charles S. Howard, a millionaire automobile distributor, and his trainer, Tom Smith saw potential in the unusual horse. They recruited the jockey, Red Pollard, and the team worked hard to turn Seabiscuit into a racing champion.
I love Laura Hillenbrand’s style of writing. She is informative but somehow managed to turn a work of nonfiction into a compelling tale of conquering adversity. However, my favorite part of this story was the humor. I did not expect Seabiscuit to have such a quirky personality. I loved reading about his stubborn habits and Tom Smith’s creative solutions. There were times I actually laughed out loud. Overall Seabiscuit stands as the most surprising book I’ve ever read.