Book Review: ‘Undertow’ by Michael Buckley



I’ve been a fan of Michael Buckley since I read his “The Sisters Grimm” series in fifth grade. His wit, sly humor, and ability to infuse even the saddest moments with hope have had me eagerly anticipating every book he’s written so far. Except for Undertow. I didn’t find the plot promising, but I decided to give the book a shot. Unfortunately, the cheesiness was too much to bear; Undertow failed to meet my lowered standards.

Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is changed when 30,000 Alpha―  a five-nation race of ocean-dweeling warriors― arrive on her beach in Coney Island. Coney Island and the world’s initial wonder and awe of the Alpha quickly turns into paranoia and fear. Consequently, Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans pitted against Alpha. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a “boy” called Fathom, assimilate, she becomes victim to love at first sight. But Fathom and Lyric’s love is dangerous; there are forces on both sides trying to keep them apart. But the Alpha are not the enemy. In fact, they are humanity’s only hope of survival because the real enemy is coming, in all its terror and power.

There’s nothing glaringly wrong with Undertow‘s story except other than its predictability and abundance of cheese. I guessed the major twist within the first fifty pages (just think about what Lyric’s name could signify…) and was bored for the remainder of the book. As for the insta-love, Buckley already took many liberties with his introduction of creatures that are “ugly” by our society’s standards. He shouldn’t have taken any more by making Lyric and Fathom fall for each other in what seemed like the blink of an eye. As for the cheese, much of it is intertwined with the sickly sweet romance.

This being said, I commend Buckley for his decision to create “ugly” creatures and have Lyric fall in “love” with one such creature. Our world is a flawed world. Buckley conveys a powerful message about such flaws with many of his choices. Coney Island is intolerant of difference, just like how much of our world is intolerant of difference as well. Even in the U.S., we face many issues regarding ableism, racism, and sexism. Buckley critiques and challenges such issues by penning Undertow.

And props to him for taking on the challenge.

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (May 5th, 2015)
ISBN #: 9780544348257
Length: 384 pages (Hardcover)
Rating: 5 out of 10

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Valerie is sixteen. She attends a boarding school near Boston, where she writes, reads, and attempts to be a studious student. She's too lazy to write the rest of this bio, so follow her on Twitter @torquoiseworld because shameless self-promotion is alive and thriving!
  • smarterthanyou

    Five of ten was exceedingly kind. Does a book have to be written by someone who is clearly illiterate before you give it less than five?

    • No. Though I didn’t mention it in the review, Buckley’s writing style is more compelling than the average YA author’s. Also, unlike a lot of the insta-love infused novels in the YA world, Undertow actually has some meaning beyond the romance. <3 hope this explanation makes sense!