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4.6 19
by Michael Buckley

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First, we feared them. Then we fought them. Now they might be our only hope.

Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and


First, we feared them. Then we fought them. Now they might be our only hope.

Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s best chance for survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.

Action, suspense, and romance whirlpool dangerously in this cinematic saga!

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Undertow overflows with innovative, terrifying monsters — human, emotional and undersea. Landmark Coney Island becomes a dystopian state where two different species battle for dominance, and Lyric Walker is both a unique, quirky heroine and a fearless crusader. Allegorical and romantic, the book nevertheless reads like an action movie with especially awesome CGI.”
— E. Lockhart , author of We Were Liars and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Undertow crashes over you in waves of emotion, allowing glimpses of family and loyalty, before dragging you into the depths of human prejudice, cultural mistrust, and political corruption. Once you resurface, you'll view the world through different eyes.”
—A.G. Howard , author of the critically acclaimed Splintered Series

Undertow will unexpectedly grab hold and pull you out into a world of epic romance and gritty suspense.  A must-read tale of how love can survive under the most dangerous circumstances.  It will leave you gasping for air, and for more.”
—Tonya Hurley , NYT bestselling author of the ghostgirl series and The Blessed Trilogy

“A gritty, turbulent novel as sweeping and deep as the ocean itself. UNDERTOW will pull you in and hold you down.”
—Rebecca Serle , author of When You Were Mine, and The Edge of Falling

“Lyric is a girl’s girl—as savvy as she is soulful, as sharp as she is tender. Lyric’s fierce, distinctive voice is the core magnetic force of UNDERTOW, and why we will all be stampeding for more.”                                                                                                                                                          
Adele Griffin , author of All You Never Wanted and The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

• "Sharp political commentary and strong parallels to the treatment of minorities in the U.S. ground the world in reality, while the well-rounded and ethnically diverse supporting cast will cause readers to root for them...the breathtaking action and cliff-hanger conclusion will leave teens desperate for more."
School Library Journal, starred review

"There are some nice parallels to the civil rights movement and school integration in this novel, but the real attraction for most readers will be the romance and action, both of which are in high supply...should please readers looking supernatural romance with a bit of a twist."

"Civilization’s end is fast and furious in Michael Buckley’s Undertow. Cut your nails before reading or you will find yourself biting them off."
—Campus Circle

"Readers will find themselves immersed in this semi-edgy, race-against-the-clock world that's waiting to implode."

"Buckley packs this propulsive novel with one walloping scene after another, and there's enough action, romance, and high-stakes drama to keep a wide array of readers interested."

"Buckley draws clear parallels between the vicious anti-Alpha attitudes and existing racial and ethnic prejudices...A fascinating, engaging, and tense tale, and a strong start to the series."
—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
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)
Children's Literature - Remy Dou
Fish heads. Monsters. Hermit crabs. The insults come flying at them despite their jagged teeth, bones shaped like blades that jut out of their arms, unfathomable strength, and the fact that they can breathe underwater. Somehow, Lyric Walker finds herself stuck in the middle of the feud between the humans and the Alpha. The latter literally walked out of the ocean and onto Coney Island, changing the world around them forever. When she is assigned to help the Prince of the Alphas assimilate, she fears he will learn the truth about her—a truth that could put her and her whole family in danger. Buckley crafts a fun story for those willing to suspend their disbelief. He generates creatures that challenge the imagination. This entertaining tale about an underwater species making contact with humans has all the components that are often found in entertaining novels: suspense, tension, love, war, death, family, and friendship. Nevertheless, Buckley does not write without flaw. He struggles with formulating natural builds in his story. Lyric goes from anger to love with almost no transition. She goes from denying who she is to accepting who she is with the flip of a page. And despite the gripping ending—which will have readers staying up late into the night—the last few pages do very little to congeal the events that occur in the climax. The closing feels rushed. Still, a great way to pass the time, this book earns a solid B minus. Reviewer: Remy Dou; Ages 12 up.
VOYA, February 2015 (Vol. 37, No. 6) - Sean Rapacki
It is quite possible that mermaids are the new zombies. Zombies were the new vampires, and perhaps overcorrected a little too much from the glittery, crush-worthy vampires of a certain best-selling series. It is difficult to swoon, after all, over the rotting corpses of the undead. Mermaids and mermen, though, have long occupied a role as objects of romantic fantasy. Buckley’s sea people, however, do not dance around and sing “Under the Sea.” They are brutal fighters, arrogant about their superiority over humans, and live like refugees on the beaches of Coney Island. When some of them are forced to attend a public high school, Lyric Walker is drafted to help their crown prince, a brooding hunk known as Fathom, assimilate. Only Lyric has a secret of her own—her mother is actually one of the sea people, or Alpha, in hiding from both the government and her own people. There are some nice parallels to the civil rights movement and school integration in this novel, but the real attraction for most readers will be the romance and action, both of which are in high supply. It seems a safe bet that this is only the inaugural offering in a series, and it should please readers looking supernatural romance with a bit of a twist. Reviewer: Sean Rapacki; Ages 11 to 18.
School Library Journal
★ 02/01/2015
Gr 8 Up—In his first YA novel, Buckley delivers a solidly entertaining adventure with the perfect amount of romance and danger. Lyric Walker used to be a "wild thing." At 14, she and her friends ruled the dilapidated beach community of Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY. Then one night, Lyric witnesses the arrival of the Alpha, strange creatures from the depths of the ocean, and learns a terrible secret her family has been keeping from her. Three years later, Coney Island is a police state, with the Alpha living in a containment camp on the beach, and furious protestors roam the streets. When six Alpha teenagers are forcibly integrated into the public high school, Lyric's complicated web of hidden truths threatens to unravel. In Lyric, Buckley has created a phenomenal new heroine. Smart and snarky, with rough edges and killer fashion sense, Lyric is a girl to be celebrated. Sharp political commentary and strong parallels to the treatment of minorities in the U.S. ground the world in reality, while the well-rounded and ethnically diverse supporting cast will cause readers to root for them. The climax feels a bit rushed, as revelations and plot developments quickly pile up, but the breathtaking action and cliff-hanger conclusion will leave teens desperate for more. VERDICT Give this one to fans of Suzanne Collins's "The Hunger Games" trilogy (Scholastic) searching for the next big thing.—Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla, Darien Library, CT
Kirkus Reviews
The Alpha arrive on the shores of Coney Island. Coney Island native Lyric Walker has always kept her secret hidden: that she's part Sirena on her mom's side. When the Alpha arrive—strangely beautiful yet violent half human/half sea creatures, of which Sirena are a variety—all of New York City erupts into confusion and intolerance. Lyric and her family fear the discovery of their secret, but all is mostly well until a troupe of Alpha teens is admitted into Lyric's high school, and Lyric is forced to give Fathom, the hot, proud, militant prince of the Alpha, reading lessons. Sparks and bodies fly in a maelstrom of stolen kisses and fights, and all of New York seems headed toward a budding war that only Lyric can stop. The Alpha concept is initially hard to swallow, but readers will likely eventually suspend their disbelief about halfway through the novel, seduced by the Twilight-esque feelings of lust and restraint between Lyric and Fathom. This first in a trilogy isn't without overt politics: racial intolerance runs amok, and Buckley even names the governor of New York "Bachman." Despite all of the deliberate, silly setup, the dialogue and characterizations mostly ring true, and by the end, readers will find themselves immersed in this semi-edgy, race-against-the-clock world that's waiting to implode. Odd but nevertheless exciting. (Dystopic fantasy. 13-16)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

You can hear them coming from blocks away, a low thrum like the plucking of a bass string. As they grow closer it becomes a buzz in your inner ear, like hornets building a nest in your brain. By the time they reach your street, when they are right outside your window, the sound is unbearable: a rogue wave of moans and shrieks that rises higher and higher into a great crescendo of terror, the stuff of nightmares. You can’t sleep through it. There is no pillow in the world big enough to block out their howls. Just pull the blankets up over your head and wait for them to pass. They will. They always do.

I am not without fear, but my curiosity gets the best of me every time. I leap from my bed, pull up my blackout blinds, press my face against the windowpane, and squint hard before they melt back into the shadows. Like most nights, I am too late. They’re here and then they’re gone, like lightning bolts stabbing at the flesh of night. The only evidence they were here at all is the ragged wound in the peace and quiet.

But there’s still plenty to see. From not far behind comes a mob of men and boys armed with bats and booze, our neighborhood’s self-appointed guard dogs. They bark threats and give chase. And then, to close the show, here come the police with their lights and squealing squad-car tires. An amplified voice demands that everyone clear the streets, while a helicopter hovers overhead, poking into backyards and abandoned lots with its frantic spotlight. I hear a gunshot. Pop! Then more. Pop! Pop!

It’s after curfew in Coney Island.

“You should be asleep,” my mother says. She’s a silhouette in the yellow light of the hall. “Tomorrow is going to be a crazy day.”

“They’re on the run tonight,” I explain.

She nudges some space next to me at the window and gazes into the now-empty street. Her shoulders and neck muscles tighten into knots. Her breathing is heavy. She uses her thumb to dig into the meat of her palms. I don’t like this version of her—this jittery deer ready to sprint for cover at the slightest sound. I miss my happy mom, my bouncy, flip-flops, cutoff-shorts mom. My Summer Walker, version 1.0.

With a snap the blackout blind comes back down, and she shoos me toward my bed. “They’re probably scavenging. How’s your head?” she asks.

“It’s an F4, but it feels like it’s going to be an F5 soon.”

Mom flinches. I have been getting migraines since I was a toddler, and somewhere along the line we started categorizing their shapes and sizes like hurricanes. F1 is the ever-present storm in my gray matter. An F5 is a motherf’r, on-the-floor, curled-up-in-a-ball, puking, sobbing, wanting-to-throw-rocks-at God state of emergency.

“You’ve wound yourself up over tomorrow,” she scolds.

“How can I not wind myself up over tomorrow?” I cry.

“Why is this place so hot?” she says, then rushes out of my room. I follow and find her frantically twisting the knobs on our apartment’s sole air conditioner, a prehistoric, broken-down dinosaur my father purchased before I was born. Each night in the raging, humid heat of Coney Island it clings to life, wheezing out puffs of air one might describe as toasty. Mom pushes something, and the machine breaks into the hacking fit of an old chain smoker. She quickly turns another knob, and it kicks and spits before settling back into its usual fluttering rattle.

“We have money for a new one,” I say.

“That money is for emergencies,” she whispers.

“Mom, the emergency happened three years—”

“I’ll run a bath.”

“I think I just need some—”

Boom! The F5 has arrived. The pain is a sucker punch to the temple, an explosion that feels like the plates of my skull have just expanded and then fallen back down into a jumbled mess. Heat spreads across my face, a forest fire in my frontal lobe. It sweeps down my neck and burns down the base of my spine. I fall to my knees, hands on my ears, doing everything I can to not vomit.

“Mom,” I squeak.

She’s pulling on my arm, trying to get me up on my feet again, but then—boom!—I’m on my back. I can barely remember where I am, who I am.

“Don’t panic, Lyric! Just breathe.” She crawls onto the floor and wraps herself around me like she’s trying to shield me from hand-grenade shrapnel. Her arms are strong. They whisper and soothe. I am your mother. I will take care of you.

“I hate my brain,” I whimper through snot and tears.

“I know.” She repeats it over and over again.

When I can stand, she helps me into the bathroom. I sit on the edge of our claw-foot tub and watch cold water gather around the rusty drain. When it’s full, she helps me out of my clothes and steadies me. Stepping into it is like easing into a cup of frozen yogurt: creamy, cold, comforting. It takes a while to adjust to the temperature, but it’s the only thing that helps. When I can stand it, I nestle down, deep as I can go.

“I miss the beach,” I say as I close my eyes for a moment, flying off to the shoreline, where she and I would sit for hours as the Atlantic’s roar scared off my pain. It eased the agony without fail, like nature’s morphine, but we’re not allowed to go to the beach anymore, not since they arrived.

“I miss it too.” Each word is interwoven with guilt. She blames herself for what has happened to our neighborhood—the fighting, the martial law, the hate.

“Where’s Dad?” I say, hoping he wasn’t one of the cops down in the street.

She dips a washcloth into the water, wrings it out, then lays it over my eyes. “At the precinct. Mike wants everyone to go over the plans for tomorrow one more time. There are a lot of moving parts with the FBI and all those soldiers. But they’ll be ready. Don’t be worried.”

“I’m not,” I lie.

“Things will get better. You’ll see.” Now she’s lying.

I sink down farther, completely submerging myself. It’s down here where I feel most safe, where the headaches retreat, where the roar of the water drowns out the thrum.

Meet the Author

Michael Buckley is the author of the New York Times bestselling series Sisters Grimm and NERDS. Before starting to write children’s books, he worked as a stand-up comic, television writer, advertising copywriter, and a singer in a punk rock band. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit his website at www.michaelbuckleywrites.com.

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Undertow 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
ASHLEYPECK More than 1 year ago
really didn't actually think I would like this as much as I did. I can not wait til the 2nd in the series comes out! I wish he would hurry up and write! LOL
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the romance, although there isnt a whole lot of it going on in the book, between the characters. There is an unusual story between the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it! As soon as the next one comes out im snatching it up!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books I have ever read, I always wanted to keep reading. I can't wait for the next book to come out it, was amazing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ready for book two! This was an enjoyable read from start to finish, the suspense made it exciting.
TM5577 More than 1 year ago
FindingMagicInBooksBlog More than 1 year ago
What can I say? ...... This book is absolutely amazing! I have been in a reading slump for a while now and have found it incredibly hard to get into a book. Once I started reading Undertow late one evening the slump was destroyed. I could not put this book down! In Undertow the Alphas come from their underwater world onto shores of Coney Island and stay. Lyric Walker witnessed it all...but what exactly is going on? This is a wonderful take on the people of the sea, nothing like our typical siren/mermaid goddesses. This story is like none I have read before and I cannot wait to get me hands on the next book! This is my first book by this author and it has been added as one of my favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
4 Stars! I am a little shocked by how much I ended up enjoying this book. I thought it was entertaining and unique. I am completely impressed by the originality of the overall story. I will admit that I made the decision to read this book based purely on the cover of the book. I understand that this is not a good way to choose a book and I have been mislead by many interesting book covers. Once I started reading the book, I realized that this was a completely different story that I had expected and I was hooked. This book focuses on Lyric, her parents, her friends, Bex and Shadow, and Fathom and others that are like him. Fathom is a member of the Alpha, which are a race of intelligent beings who come not from a distant planet but from the depths of the ocean here on our planet. They have been living on the beach area of Coney Island for the past three years. Lyric and her family live in this area which is now considered the zone. The book opens with the first day that the members of the Alpha will start attending school alongside humans. Lyric was a great character. She is very loyal to both her friends and her parents. She can keep a secret but is fiercely protective when she needs to be. She obviously loves her parents but she still has that feisty teenage attitude at times. Bex and Shadow were fun characters. They were very supportive to each other. Bex is able to deal with problems with an amazing amount of strength. I found Fathom to be fascinating. Just the idea of an entire race of intelligent beings sharing our planet all of these years without our knowledge is mind boggling. It turns out the the Alpha are quite varied with customs that are very different that the humans are used to seeing. The more that I learned about the Alpha, the more I wanted to know. Each of these characters were just so unique and interesting. I really liked the writing and I thought that the pacing of the story was very good. The books seemed to move very quickly towards the end because there was just so much happening. I loved the descriptions that made this world come alive. I also thought that the hate depicted in the story from the humans seemed very realistic. I must also make a note that I am very impressed that this YA novel stayed away from the dreaded love triangle. I would recommend this book to others. This is the first book by Michael Buckley that I have had a chance to read. I definitely plan to continue with this series because I can't wait to find out what happens to Lyric and everyone next. I received a copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers via NetGalley for the purpose of providing an honest review.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anonymous 5 months ago
Most amazing book ever! This book series is now my favorite and i recommend reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
When you think of the beach at Coney Island, what do you think of? I’m guessing 30,000 ocean-dwelling warriors coming ashore wasn’t your first thought. Strong, fierce and trapped in a guarded camp on shore, the Alpha have arrived. But why? Do they mean harm or are they running themselves to survive? Have humans fouled the waters so badly? The once peaceful tourist attraction is now the epicenter of human fear, distrust and violence as once again, the Lady in the Harbor is made a mockery of because someone was different. The Alpha are being offered a life on land from the Federal government, but the masses disagree and a military state has been proclaimed. Schools become their own special brand of warzone and one girl is asked to tutor the great Prince of these people. Why Lyric? What can she do about it? Her hands are tied and her “friends” treat her like the enemy, but the tall and handsome prince has hooked her heart. Lyric has secrets and they are deadly, but when lives are on the line, she may no choice, but to reveal them. She alone, can make the difference, she alone can prevent the deaths of millions, or so, she was led to believe, until... Undertow by young adult author, Michael Buckley will set the fantasy world on fire with this one! This is not the Hatfields and McCoys, this is survival, this is learning to accept the differences in others, this is learning to trust and act on the words on the Statute of Liberty and few are brave enough to take the chance. From page one, the wonder starts and we are plunged into the deep end of a tale being told at the speed of sound in rich detail and equally taut tension. Mr. Buckley has brought each character to life and added a dimension that defies being able to forget them long after the story is over. Without a wasted word, I was rocketed on a journey filled with secrets, a budding romance and the collision of two worlds. Fascinating, magnetic and super-charged with plot details that go above and beyond merely “good” reading, this is a refreshing read in a world that never tires of fantasy and what ifs that won’t soon be forgotten, it is that powerful!! I received this copy from HMH Books for Young Readers in exchange for my honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MargieS1 More than 1 year ago
Given To Me For An Honest Review Undertow by Michael Buckley is scary, romantic, shocking, thrilling and thought provoking. Once you open the book it will grab you and hold you down tightly and you'll watch those pages turn and turn and turn some more until you get to the last page. You'll also come into a few twists and turns. So, make sure you have your seatbelt nice and tight  because you are going on a ride into a world of an epic romance and suspense. As you partread you will feel drawn  in as though you are a part of the story. It is about a race of part human - part fish creatures that appear on the beach of Coney Island. Many things begin to happen. When you get to the last page ..... CLIFFHANGER ***** Can we say  SEQUEL??? It is a great YA book and in it you'll read about bullying, abuse, family loyalty, secrets and romance. This  book is a must read and young readers from grade 8 on up will really enjoy reading this book. If you enjoy reading  action,suspense, and romance books then this science fiction/fantasy novel is for you. I recommend it to everyone. I look for more from Michael Buckley.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago