Undertow by Michael Buckley
Series: Undertow #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Published on: May 5 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
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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.
Action, suspense, and romance whirlpool dangerously in this cinematic saga, a blend of District 9 and The Outsiders.
There’s an episode of Farscape that’s a lot like this book.
John Crichton travels through a wormhole back to earth, and Dargo, Rigel, and Aeryn follow him out of concern, only to be held hostage by the government b/c ALIENS: we must study them, and by “study” I mean “dissect.”
It turns out to be an advanced race of aliens running a simulation in John’s brain to determine whether or not Earth would be a viable planet for them to integrate themselves into (their own planet having been destroyed).
The answer was a resounding no.
B/c it is a natural state of the human condition to fear that which we do not understand.
Space is infinite, and thus represents infinite possibilities of things that are other.
How much more so if “it” comes from our own world? How much more so if it walks onto our shores from our very own ocean? How much more so if we discover that “they” have been living among us the whole time?
Michael Buckley attacks this scenario with both hands in UNDERTOW.
Three years ago, 30,000 of the Alpha walked out of the Lower New York Bay and onto Coney Island. Since that time, the area has been subject to Martial Law, the communities segregated. BUT. After myriad meetings and negotiations, attempts at integration are to begin with the addition of Alpha teenagers into one of the local high schools. If successful, more Alpha teenagers will be added to the student populations of other high schools, and thus will begin the first step toward peaceful coexistence.
*snickers* Riiiiighttt. B/c that’s gonna happen.
So we’ve got a great plot with a great underlying message, and both of those things are a big part of what makes this not-your-ordinary YA book, but what really pushes it over that edge for me is the SNARK. This book has snark for DAYS, it’s fantastic and hilarious:
“You take these girls to the school, Leonard?” she asks my father in her thick, growly accent. She’s been in our building for fifty years, ever since emigrating from Eastern Europe—maybe Hungary, maybe Russia—I can’t remember. It’s someplace where the neighbors used to spy on one another for the government.
And that came immediately following this description:
As soon as the elevator doors open, I wish we had taken the stairs. Mrs. Novakova, short and squat, is lurking inside, like a creepy garden gnome peering out of the brush.
My only issues were a handful of underdeveloped secondary characters and a few unnecessary flourishes when trying to make various points. BUT. This is YA. And as far as YA written for actual teenagers goes, this was fantastic. Buckley does a fabulous job of highlighting the obstinance of high school students without crossing over into that land I try to avoid at all costs: ANGST.
“When we leave town she’s coming with us,” I whisper.
My father frowns. “Lyric, no.”
“I won’t go without her,” I say.
“We’ll discuss this later,” he says.
“That’s fine, as long as you know I won’t go without her.”
Instead, it’s just funny. Or maybe I just applaud resolve (when the resolve is for something reasonable). Either way, I lol’d more while reading this book than I have in a long, long time.
UNDERTOW is one of those rare YA novels that covers the whole spectrum of what it means to be YA. I myself (well past 25 years old) was greatly entertained, and I have zero inhibitions about also getting it for my 14-year-old sister. If you or someone you know loves modern sci-fi sea creature awesomeness, then UNDERTOW is an obvious choice. Between the clever and snarky characters, the strong bonds of family and friendship, and the unignorable message that prejudice and mindless hatred are unacceptable . . . what’s not to like? Highly recommended.
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