Dutton, 2014 320 pgs
Rio has always dreamed of escaping her underwater world and living on the land above. She resides in an underwater city called Atlantia, where the residents are led to believe that they are privileged and that the world on dry land is poisoned and of a lower quality. At the day of Rio's choosing she is taken by surprise when her twin sister decides to go above, leaving Rio stuck in a crumbling underwater prison. Rio must cope with the loss of her sister and sole family member, re-imagining her life and starting a new profession, trying to raise the funds to somehow escape to the surface, all while still mourning the loss of her beloved mother. On top of all of her problems, she also burdens another: Rio is secretly a Siren, which is increasingly becoming unpopular in Atlantia for the power that they wield. Rio's long-lost aunt, also a Siren, helps her to learn to harness her powers and offers some answers to Rio's growing pile of questions. Unexpected help arrives in the form of cute boy True, who shares Rio's talent for mechanics and has a secret of his own. Together Rio and True concoct a way for Rio to raise much needed funds to escape their underwater world. Finally, the moment comes and Rio makes a break for it, only to have disaster strike. All is not lost, however, and Rio finally achieves her dream by reaching the land above, although the means and results are not at all as expected. Bloodshed, chaos, and danger ensue as Rio determines the cause behind the growing demise of her undersea city and finds her inner voice in order to save it.
Condie, author of the popular Matched trilogy offers a stand-alone novel of a fully realized underwater dystopian civilization. The real star of this story is the setting. I loved the underwater world, believed in it and would like to visit. This is what sets this novel apart from the glut of dystopian novels presently on the market for teenagers. Sirens are cool and I enjoyed reading a book featuring them. This also felt different. This story also featured genetically evolved underwater bats, voices from the past trapped into shells and walls, and interesting gargoyle inspired Gods, all which were interesting. The romance was, I suppose, a prerequisite, but felt a bit forced and predictable and I didn't believe it. The romance story line remains innocent, allowing for the book to be appropriate for middle school readers. Much like Frozen, this was more of a story about the bonds of sisters and I believed that relationship more than the romantic one. Condie, as usual, delivers a great plot filled with mystery, twists and turns, and unexpected surprises. Rio starts out as a weak and uncertain young person who eventually finds her inner strength and saves the day, which will prove inspirational to readers, who will relate to the feeling of being an outsider and not fitting in. Atlantia is not the stuff of great literature, but is an entertaining tale, will be enjoyed by a wide audience and makes a perfect summer read. This is a story that would make a beautiful movie. Most of all, it is refreshing not to have to read two more books to get to the plot's conclusion.