*I received a free copy of Undertow from HMH Books for Young Readers via Netgalley. This has in no way influenced my voluntary review, which is honest and unbiased *|
Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.
Undertow is a story about differences, acceptance, xenophobia and how important it is to believe in what we think is right.
My Undertow review:
Undertow is like reading a fantasy fictional version of current affaires in the world right now! People afraid of everything that is ‘other’. Refugees being held between a wall and the sea, with only the beach to give them shelter. The Alpha arrived three years before the story starts, and this species usually lived under water, like many different species of what we’d call mermaids. They loathe being called mermaids, though, they are selkies, nix, and other names that not only look different, but who have different jobs to keep their universe going round. In the middle of it all is Lyric Walker, her mother is Alpha, and her father is human, she has been suffering from horrible migraines since she was a baby. Just as the first Alpha arrived on the shores of New York, she learned that her mother was sirena, that she had been sent to the surface to assimilate with humans.
At the beginning of Undertow, Lyric’s school is to be the first one where Alpha will integrate the American education system. Needless to say, there are protesters lined up for blocks in front of the school, journalists everywhere, and a governor who would do anything in her power to get rid of the Alpha by any means deemed necessary. The world is a gritty, scary place, where trusting your neighbors can be the most dangerous thing of all. I was quite surprised to enjoy Undertow this much! I usually have lots of difficulties with mermaid stories, however, here, the most important part of the story was the fact that being different doesn’t mean bad. That socializing with those who have traditions, language and looks that seem far from our own can be enriching. And that sharing and learning about each other can bring strength both to those who were already there and those who just arrived.
Breathtaking writing, with a very lyrical (ha! see what I did there?) language moved the story along beautifully, showing all of the intrigue and heart-ache through Lyric’s eyes. From the very start, I was drawn in, and while I didn’t know much at the beginning, it was easy to follow Lyric as she was a very relatable and seemingly ‘normal’ teenager. Strong-minded and smart, she managed to always do what the situation warranted, and she still grew a lot as a character throughout Undertow. With some good friends and allies, as well as present and loving parents, Lyric was able to evolve and become even stronger. Spending time with Fathom, the heir of the Alpha, also helped her understand her mother and her people much better.
I couldn’t help but think about what is happening in Europe right now, with refugees arriving from different countries in Africa by boat to Italy. Only to be left near the shore, sleeping outside and depending on good-hearted strangers to get by. The ‘other’ is very present in Undertow, and it always saddens me that in the real world as well, it is often easier to be afraid, and expect the worst, rather than wanting to help and give respect to those we don’t know yet. A strong story, I was engrossed with every new turn, and I hope I’ll be able to read the next book in this series as soon as it is released.
Some of my favorite Undertow quotes:
Like most nights, I am too late. They’re here and then they’re gone, like lightning bolts stabbing at the flesh of night. The only evidence they were here at all is the ragged wound in the peace and quiet.
“At the precinct. Mike wants everyone to go over the plans for tomorrow one more time. There are a lot of moving parts with the FBI and all those soldiers. But they’ll be ready. Don’t be worried.”
“I’m not,” I lie.
“Things will get better. You’ll see.” Now she’s lying.
She smiles at me. It’s a crumpled thing, too small for her face. I remember when it used to shine like a star, fueled by her endless joy, but now it’s running on fumes. She can’t even muster enough power to bring her eyes along for the ride.
This book counts towards COYER scavenger hunt item number 69: Read a book with a mermaid as one of the main characters (5 points)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: