cover image Undertow


Michael Buckley. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-544-34825-7

Buckley (the N.E.R.D.S. series) jumps from middle-grade to YA with this trilogy opener, which sees two worlds colliding as New York City’s Coney Island becomes occupied by the Alpha, an ocean-dwelling race that is nothing like the mermaids of myth. The Alpha come in all shapes and sizes, from the alluring Sirena to the deadly Nix, resembling myriad aquatic species. Their arrival inspires fear, hatred, and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker, who hides secrets of her own, is chosen by her high school’s new principal to help several Alpha teens integrate into the school—a dangerous proposition with anti-Alpha sentiment rapidly on the rise. Buckley’s depiction of the Alpha relies much on standard supernatural tropes (they’re proud, honorable, arrogant, and warlike), but he also imbues them with an alien mystery. Lyric’s plight is predictable, especially her blossoming attraction to Alpha prince Fathom, yet her path holds some surprises, and Buckley draws clear parallels between the vicious anti-Alpha attitudes and existing racial and ethnic prejudices. It’s a fascinating, engaging, and tense tale, and a strong start to the series. Ages 12–up. Agent: Alison Fargis, Stonesong. (May)