Goodreads Review: Undertow by Michael Buckley

Some of you may remember that I posted a Goodreads review on this book back in March. It’s publication date is May 5, and I wanted to make sure I re-posted that review here on the ol’ blog before it comes out. After the GR review went out, I realized that there were aspects of it that I apparently liked a lot more than I thought because the book stayed with me for a few days after I closed it. If you enjoy contemporary fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this book. 

UndertowUndertow by Michael Buckley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this book was interesting. A race of fish people have come from the ocean to Coney Island where they’re treated harshly by most of the residents because of their differences. While one side tries to assimilate them and allow their children into their schools, another side, led by the state governor, wants them gone and will go to great lengths to bully them out of society. Caught in the middle is Lyric Walker, who’s been assigned to partner with the Prince of the Alpha (the fish people race) by the school’s principal. Lyric, however, has her own secrets, and with the tensions in her town getting higher and more dangerous, she has to try to figure out how to save her family, her friends, and the Prince to whom she’s formed an attachment.

I’m really on the fence about this book. It had some good things going for it. The writing was good. The author didn’t shy away from such themes as bullying, death, and racism. There were also political undertones (I’m not sure if the last name of the governor was a purposeful jab at a real-life politician with the same name or not). Parts of the story flowed really well and had a strong fairy-tale aspect that mixed well with the contemporary alternate world. There was also a brutality in the book that I think a lot of YA books shy away from, and there were a couple of scenes that were realistic and terrifying.

The characters were mostly well done and interesting. While the descriptions of the fish people were strange, I thought the race itself and how it was broken down into different ranks was interesting. The dynamic of the race was very obviously meant to cause conflict between them and the humans and act as a personal conflict to Lyric.

However, there were a few things I wasn’t so much a fan of. The pacing felt off, but I think that’s because for most of the book, I didn’t feel there was an actual plot line. It was a lot of narrative about racism and riots and thugs that was eventually given a dose of a strange, forced romance. A plot eventually emerged, but even then, the story still felt off. As I read, I found myself going through periods where I really enjoyed the book and then periods where it seemed to drag.

I also felt that Lyric was very much a “Mary Sue” character. Normally this doesn’t bother me. A good protagonist/main character should have something of a Mary Sue about her. It’s also possible I missed something in the reading, but there was a part in the plot that randomly boiled down to “Oh, hey, it looks like Lyric might be able to save us.” That’s not exactly what was happening, but it seemed that Lyric’s “specialness” was very much a convenient way to tie things together.

This book was very different from what I normally read. Overall, I think it’s an okay read, and I do think that even though it wasn’t one of my favorites, I know there are readers who are going to absolutely love this book for the cool fantasy aspect it brings to the genre.

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