Monday, August 17, 2015


Michael Buckley
Houghton Mifflin, 2015  376 pgs
Grades 8-Up
Science Fiction/Adventure

Lyric and her family have been living under the radar for the past three years; ever since the Alpha have come to their Coney Island Neighborhood. The Alpha are warring humanoid sea-creatures, who have washed up on the beaches of Coney Island, much to the shock and fear of the American public. It is revealed to Lyric that her mother was sent in a first wave of Alpha folk meant to infiltrate into American society. Infiltrate she did, as she married Lyric's policeman father and started a human life as yoga-guru Summer Walker. Since the Alpha have washed up, intolerance, hate, and suspicion has permeated what is already a hot-bed of diversity and racial unrest. Lyric's mother must stay hidden in their apartment and the family is forced to remain in the war zone of Coney Island, since Mom does not have documentation. Lyric's life is not easy as she suffers from crippling migraines, all while helping her best friend deal with an abusive stepfather and keeping the family secret. As an experiment to integrate the Alpha into American Society, a new principal takes charge of Lyric's school, assigning her with the impossible task of teaching the Alpha prince Fathom how to read. Predictably, Fathom and Lyric develop feelings for each other, which is tricky since Lyric has a sort-of boyfriend and Fathom is betrothed. Tensions heat up as the"Niners", a hate organization led by the governor of the state of New York, infiltrate the school and incite a riot, which escalates to a siege of the Alpha being trapped on the beach and refusing to surrender only to be imprisoned in interment camps. Things go from bad to worse for the Apha as their enemies, who pushed them to the shore in the first place, are approaching. Lyric desperately tries to get the humans to help the Apha defend themselves agaist this common enemy, but no one listens. A gristly battle ensues, leaving much carnage in its wake. What will be next for the Alpha? Will Lyric continue to remain with them? Where is Lyric's father being held prisoner? What exactly happened to Lyric's best friend's stepfather? These and other questions will be answered in the second volume of the trilogy Raging Sea due out in February.

I was very excited to read this book. I'm a huge fan of Michael Buckley, both for his Sisters Grimm series and the NERDS series. This is his first book for teenagers. The cover looks deliciously creepy and I was just at Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade and fell in love with the seedy Americana that the local preserves. Plus, New Jersey is having a big "shark summer" and I mistook "fear in the water" to mean sharks, which would be very timely. Beyond this, judging from the cover I assumed that Undertow would feature a boy character and be targeted to a male audience. With the exception of the Coney Island setting, this was all incorrect. It was more Divergent/Crossed/Hunger Games, although with cool humanoid sea-creatures. Its a catch 22: teen girls are a huge buying market, so publishers keep putting put books for them, which they keep buying, leaving our teen boys under served. My other complaint is that I was unaware going into this book that its the first in a trilogy. I was tricked yet again! Okay, enough ranting about stuff that is not Michael Buckley's fault. Once I realized what it was, I liked the book. It has non-stop action, an interesting and different supernatural species, and surprises to the plot. Buckley is an experienced author and knows how to keep readers turning pages. I was never bored with this book. The characters were realistically drawn and diverse. As usual to this genre, the least interesting character is the heroine, but teenagers have come to expect a drippy ingenue. I didn't believe the romance between Lyric and Fathom and found myself rolling my eyes when she declares her love for him after a very few limited and tense encounters, but, again, teenagers will eat it up. The Coney Island setting was intricate to the story and offered a compelling backdrop. The community of Coney Island is extremely diverse and teeming with new Americans. It was an interesting choice to pick that location in which to dump the new "immigrants", reflecting the current American objection to immigration under the thin guise of the sea-creatures.The romance hints at sex, but does not get graphic. Deaths occur, but the violence is not too over the top. Even though this book is aimed at teen girls, like Hunger Games it isn't too "girlie". A solid choice for reluctant readers and fans of the ever popular apocalyptic science fiction.

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