Book Reviews

Review — Undertow by Michael Buckley

Book title: Undertow
Author: Michael Buckley
Series: Undertow, #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
Release date: May 5th, 2015
Format: egalley, 384 pages
Source: I received this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. This in no way affects my review; all opinions are my own. Thank you, HMH BFYR!



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.

The review:

I started off really skeptical of Undertow. An entire civilization of human-like ocean creatures known as the Alpha migrate to land, popping up on Coney Island in what first appeared to be a futuristic/dystopia America but which then felt very contemporary and present. (It’s categorized as dystopia, though.) Anyway, the Alpha reminded me of the half sea creatures, half pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, if I’m remembering those movies correctly. The Alpha resemble both real-life ocean creatures like sharks, but also mythical ones like sirens. They also all seem to possess powerful abilities, for example — cooking someone alive, shooting blades out of their arms, and lifting cars with super strength!

Our protagonist is Lyric Walker, a rebellious-turned-angel-child (for the most part) teenager whose mother is actually an Alpha Sirena. (And an outcast, at that, for choosing to make a family with humans. You can also imagine that the United States government wouldn’t be too pleased if they found out about Summer Walker’s true identity…) I loved how this book put so much emphasis on family. I haven’t read a book in a long while where the parents were present throughout the entire story and were also supportive, helpful, protective, and had real purpose to the plot. No dead parents bullshit here. Lyric loves her parents and they love her, and they’re all going to stick together no matter what.

Lyric’s best friend is Bex, a girl who hides her terrible (abusive) family problems behind a slightly bitchy and definitely larger-than-life attitude. Bex really wasn’t my favorite character, but I loved her and Lyric’s amazingly strong friendship. Bex grew on me, and what finally won me over in the end was when she clocked an Alpha who was attacking Lyric near the book’s last pages. I literally whooped out loud it was so perfect and hilarious. It took a while for me to like Bex, but now she gets a gold star from me. Heck, for clocking that Alpha she deserves a freaking crown!

Besides strong family and friendship themes this book’s got going for it, the less logical part is the integration of Alpha teens in human schools. Like, this is the worst possible idea anyone ever came up with. I did like how this completely unrealistic dilemma was handled realistically. The book is violent and dark. There are extreme cases of bullying toward the Alpha students. (Racism, to put it bluntly, because we’re always going to shit on people who are different than us.) Everything’s twisted and people also have got wildly different motives going on: There’s Mr. Doyle, the new principal, who knows Lyric’s family secrets and is yet helping her — if she’ll play babysitter to the Alpha prince. There’s also Governor Bachman, a crazy lady who is completely against the Alpha integration and who fits the politician stereotype of wreaking havoc on her enemies, like it’s a cutthroat campaign. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that will very likely play a much larger part in the rest of the series.

You may have noticed the words “Alpha prince.” Yuppers, this is where it gets a little cliche. Said prince (who is called Fathom — what a name) is a jerk at first. Prince has immense pride. Prince has incredible mood swings. Heroine falls in love with said prince. But said prince is already betrothed to another. Said prince’s betrothed is a jealous bitch. Heroine gets all lovesick and jealous, too. Prince falls in love with heroine. They kiss. Security camera catches them. All hell breaks loose. That pretty much sums up this forbidden romance, even though some more stuff happens. Now, I’ll take a forbidden romance over a love triangle any day — and Fathom’s fiance, called Arcade, really isn’t a problem here, so this isn’t a love triangle at all. But the romance felt very… I don’t know, unexciting. I didn’t dislike it, and it’s not a main focus of the book, but I wasn’t swooning over Fathom. His mood swings and all his brooding just bored me.

Undertow was a surprise hit for me, though. I learned to just go with the flow (excuse the pun) in the beginning instead of scoffing at every flaw and far-fetched bit of plot. While the book’s not perfect, it’s a very entertaining story with an epic final battle sequence. The emphasis on family and friendship really resonated with me, and I didn’t mind the romance that much, mostly due to one very hot kiss. *Wink*. I would have liked a lot more back story on the Alpha, their civilization that they left behind (the reason behind leaving their ocean home felt a little weak to me), and on Lyric’s mother Summer and the other Alphas that came to land years ago as a sort of test group to scout things out. Undertow sets up a lot of sinister things that I hope get expanded upon. I am very interested to see what’s in store in the next book. ♦

So tell me…

Have you read Undertow? If you haven’t, would you be interested to? What was the last book you read that featured sea creatures/mythology? Comment below letting me know! And, as always, happy reading!

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