Penni Russon. Undine. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2006. Random House Australia, 2004. 326 pgs.
Please forgive the following cheesy and way-too-obvious metaphors, but the experience of reading Undine was like being in the ocean. My overall feelings about the story moved back and forth like a tide, and in some of those ebb moments I felt like I was floundering, trying to figure out what was going on.
I waded in carefully, the jacket summary making me wonder if this was going to be a cookie-cutter kid-finds-out-she’s-magic-and-begins-a-journey-to-learn-more-about-herself story.
Flow: Within the first few chapters I was impressed with the fairly smooth blend of unique ordinary-life details (Undine’s family structure, the funny house and its unstable address…) and fantasy-ness. And my inner fangirl perked up when I realized the setting was Australia, firmly planting Undine in my list of Books that Set Off My Ocean Girl Radar (it’s a 90’s Australian sci-fi show about a girl who can swim and breathe underwater and communicate telepathically with a humpback whale).
And I liked the connection between magic and chaos theory.
And this moment:
“It’s this . . . I’ve been having . . . feelings. A feeling. Since I woke up this morning.”
Mim smiled blankly. “Can you be more specific?”
“It really is hard to explain.”
“Is it about a boy? Or maybe a girl?”
“Oh no,” said Undine dismissively. “I wish it were something that simple. […]”
I love that Mim poses her second question so nonchalantly. I love that Russon presents both options – having feelings for someone of the opposite gender or having feelings for someone of the same gender – as normal, everyday things.
Ebb: The story has this tendency to start telling me something very interesting, and then leave me hanging. It’s maddening because I get just close enough to sort of understand what the answer might be, but I just can’t be sure. For instance: why do Tuesdays give Undine such a sick feeling?
Also, some of the characters’ reactions to supernatural events are just too unrealistically calm, or if they are weirded out, they get over it unrealistically quickly.
And also: are you serious – that one guy’s name is Prospero Marine? Why not just call him Merman Seaperson, in case we still don’t get it?
Flow: Ok, the story is going somewhere interesting again. I do really like this connection between magic and chaos theory, and I’m really hoping it’ll be explained more. And I’m interested in seeing Undine and Prospero’s relationship progress.
Ebb: Wait, now what’s going on? What exactly is she doing? Who/what exactly IS Undine? Who/what is Prospero? Are you going to tell me these things, Book? Hey, is this a deus ex machina I see?
. . . So, I guess there’s a sequel, probably? I hope so. Otherwise, there are too many unanswered questions for Russon to end the story here.
Ok, there is a sequel. Two of them.
I think I’ll give Breathe a chance. I just hope the romance angle isn’t overdone.
 page 23.