Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Undertow Audio

Undertow Audio

Michael Buckley
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Unabridged audiobook (Digital)
Performed/read by: Jennifer Grace
Recorded Books, 2015 

One evening three years ago Lyric and her mother Summer were on the beach near their home in Coney Island when they heard a frightening, loud noise. Summer started to behave in a very strange manner. She became alert and watchful, and then she ran to the water and dived in. Lyric waited and waited for her mother to appear and was beginning to get frantic with worry when Summer finally came out of the water.

   The next day Summer was gone when Lyric got up in the morning and Lyric’s father, who is a local police officer, went out to look for his wife. In a very no nonsense tone of voice he told Lyric to stay home and to lock the door. Lyric did neither. Instead, she went to the beach again and she was there when the Alpha arrived. The Alpha are a five nation race of warriors who live in the ocean, and thousands of them arrived on the beach at Coney Island that day.

   Ever since the arrival of the Alpha, life on Coney Island has been very hard for everyone. It was an area rife with urban blight before the arrival of the merpeople, but now it is a war zone, with battles regularly breaking out between the Alpha and a group calling itself the Coney Island Nine, whose members want the Alphas to leave. Xenophobia in its ugliest form is everywhere and the police, National Guard and United Nations personnel are having a hard time keeping the peace. It does not help that the governor of the state is deeply opposed to the presence of the Alpha, and her speeches, with their poisonous vitriolic words, also serve to stoke the anger of the human residents of Coney Island.

   There have been both human and Alpha losses since the Alpha arrived, and now the president has decided that part of the solution to the Alpha problem is to integrate the Alphas into human society. He feels that the best way start this process is to send the Alpha children to human schools. The integration is going to start at Lyric’s school and no one is happy about the change. Supporters of the Niners don’t want the Alphas there because they think they are monsters. People who are sympathetic to the Alphas don’t want them there because their presence is going to make life miserable for everyone.

   Ever since the arrival of the Alphas, fun loving, outgoing Lyric has been a different person. She used to wear clothes that made her stand out, and she used to be bubbly and sociable, the risk taker who was always willing to do something for fun. Now Lyric has to be as inconspicuous as possible because she and her family have a secret that has to stay hidden.

   Many years ago Summer left her home in the ocean and she came onto the land. She is a Sirena, which is just one of the many Alpha tribes. Unlike some of the Alphas, Sirenas can look very human, which is why Summer has been able to blend in with human society for so long. Now the authorities are looking for the Alphas who came to Coney Island around the time Summer arrived. Most of them have been taken away and have not been seen since. Some of them have half human children like Lyric, and Lyric’s parents are desperate to keep their daughter safe. All she has to do is toe the line and lie low.

   This should be easy to do, but then Lyric is given the job of befriending one of the Alphas who is coming to her school. Of all the people they could have chosen, they had to choose her. Lyric cannot refuse the principal’s ‘request,’ and so she and Fathom, a Alpha prince who has more than a few problems of his own, spend an hour together every day. Lyric teaches Fathom how to read and she learns something about the complicated culture of his people. There is a strict cast system within the Alpha. One would think being close to the top would be a good thing, but Fathom’s lot in life is hard. He has to fight with other Alpha on behalf of his father and his body is covered with old battle scars.

   With every passing day the rift between the humans and the Alpha widens and it becomes clear that Lyric and her parents need to get out of New York and go as far away as possible. They have to flee before the authorities find out that Lyric’s mother is an Alpha. What no one knows, yet, is that the problems the residents of Coney Island are experiencing now are nothing compared to the bigger problem that is coming.

   This thrilling audio title will keep listeners guessing from the first chapter to the last. One never knows what is going to happen. The suffering that Lyric and her allies experience is often painful, but at the same time it shines a light on what it is like to witness and experience extreme prejudice. Many of the characters we encounter in the story are not likeable, and some are downright hateful, which gives the narrative a stark and powerful realism that listeners will remember long after they have finished listening to the audio book. 

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