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. […]”[1]

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.

[1] page 23.

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