Undertow: racism and segregation through the lens of merpeople.
Okay, it’s not that profound, but one can’t help but think of Civil Rights-era school segregation while reading Michael Buckley’s Undertow.
Lyric Walker was a typical teenager until the Alphas moved to town. The Alphas are like merpeople, but strong, warrior merpeople, and 30,000 of them left their ocean home to camp on a beach in Coney Island. At first the country was mesmerized by the Alphas, but the longer they stayed the more hostile people became, and hostility grew dramatically when the government called for the Alphas to assimilate, beginning with the school-age Alphas attending human schools in Lyric’s town. Lyric gets thrust into the spotlight when she is called upon to befriend an Alpha, the handsome Fathom, in order to get the other teenagers to accept the Alphas.
The Alphas attending Coney Island school is definitely not as profound as Civil Rights-era desegregation efforts, but listening to the townspeople chant and throw things at the Alphas is clearly derived from our past. Buckley did a great job bringing the bullying, violence, and fear mongering to life. There are also some scare tactics by a politician reminiscent of one of our own politicians. Buckley even named her Bachman, but leaving off the extra “n” isn’t fooling anyone.
But this story is more than the Alphas attending human schools. There may be a little romance involved and some family secrets revealed, but all of that is overshadowed by a bigger looming threat. The Alphas are not the only ocean dwellers and the others are way more scary.
I really enjoyed this fun book that has a lot of fantasy, adventure, and a great female protagonist, and one could enjoy the book on that level alone, but there are a lot of layers here. Race, prejudice, domestic abuse, politics, law enforcement and more are all thrown into this book in subtle ways and done really well. I look forward to the next book in the series.