Review of “Undertow” by Michael Buckley

Lyric Walker and her BFF Bex Conrad, both 17, live in a run-down part of Coney Island known as ”The Zone” or “Fish City.” It is an area of two square miles bordering a massive tent city where 30,000 members of the “Alpha” live. The Alpha are a mixed race of powerful people who come from underwater. [So powerful they have to live in a slum? One of the many things that don’t make sense.] But now some of them are going to come to the local high school because, isn’t that what aliens or “others” usually do in YA books?


There is of course a lot of xenophobia toward the Alpha, but Lyric contends that racial animus isn’t new to the area:

“The Chinese hated the Japanese, and the Jamaicans hated the Koreans, and the Mexicans hated the African Americans, and the Russians hated the Orthodox Jews, and the white people hated all of them.”

[Really? The Jews are a “race” not a religion? And they aren’t white? Interesting view, not heard by me outside of Nazi or alt-right propaganda material. … just sayin]

In any event, the integration of Alpha kids into the schools is opposed of course, with a Michele Bachmann clone filling the same role George Wallace did in 1963 when he tried to keep blacks from attending the University of Alabama.

But the students manage to get inside, and a new principal, David Doyle, who clearly is not an actual educator but some sort of government enforcer, asks Lyric to be a “guide” to the Alpha prince, Fathom. Gee, I wonder if they will fall into InstaLove….

Meanwhile, a lot of rabid and violent protestors commit or attempt to commit acts of violence against the “monsters” (making the usual very obvious point about who the real monsters actually are), and tension increases.

On a micro level, tension is also escalating for both Lyric and Bex – Bex has abusive parents, and Lyric has parents with a big secret.

Can they overcome their problems peacefully, or will they have to turn into a group of N.E.R.D.S. (National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society) – i.e., kids with superpower upgrades. Oh wait, that’s Buckley’s middle grade series. This one has some hot kissing, so it can’t be the same.

Nevertheless, the ending is right out of Marvel Comics, or N.E.R.D.S. without its G rating. And like the comics and the N.E.R.D.S. books, this is only the beginning of a series.

Discussion: Despite my reservations, the story isn’t all bad – at least the part involving the “humans.” The YA characterizations and angst are well-done. The portions involving the Alpha are a bit over the top, and don’t always make sense. But readers will warm up to Lyric, her family, and her BFF, and the bonds among them. Lyric is also unusually mature for a YA protagonist – another plus.

Evaluation: If you like comic-book type action with some YA romance thrown in, this book may have appeal. Judging from the reactions on Goodreads, this book has been very well-received.

Rating: 2/5

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015


About rhapsodyinbooks

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4 Responses to Review of “Undertow” by Michael Buckley

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    You lost me when you said the people were from underwater.

  2. Rachel says:

    There is so much dystopian fiction out there that is better than this – sounds like this one can be crossed of the list.

  3. Beth F says:

    You know my thoughts!

  4. Hahahaha, sounds like I can give it a miss. Too bad though! I absolutely love that cover, without other context it would totally draw me in and make me want to read it.

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