Suggested audience: 7th-12th grade female readers (there will be some boys that will like this)
Genre: Fantasy, light Christian fiction
I received a copy of this book for review from the author.
I challenge my students to read various genres every year even if they don’t normally like that genre. Generally speaking, I’m not a fantasy fan (which is odd considering that my son is named after a character from a fantasy book). I often struggle with the stories in fantasy. They just often come off as too unbelievable.
When I took this novel for review I was worried about a couple of things. First, how do I get through this thing if it ends up where most fantasy books do for me? In addition, I’m a guy, and this book screams teenage girl fantasy.
Well…all ended well. I really enjoyed this book.
Heavey’s writing is impressive. It’s rare that I pick up a young adult book that has such excellent word choice. I was seeing words that were new to me up until the end of the story. Usually, mass market YA has the same old boring word choice in the writing.
Underlake has a very creative plot. Katie Welch is raised in the upper class of New York. She’s pampered, and usually her vacation plans involve some unique travel all around the world. She’s raised by a single mother who works for a fashion magazine. Katie floats among the self-appointed elite (just think anti-Christian, liberal/progressive snobs). But this summer’s vacation will take her and her mother to a remote farm town in rural New York. Katie is dreading the summer as she sees little value in the people and locale.
While in Underlake, Katie meets the mysterious but refreshingly old-fashioned and wise John Howe. Howe is directly tied into the fantasy element of the story. Without spoiling it too much, he’s been in and around Underlake for a long time. Teenage attraction ensues as Katie falls in love with this mysterious boy. I’m going to stop here with the story and hope that leaves you curious enough to go buy the book because I believe it is worth the investment.
I want to highlight a few things in the story. First, there is some discussion of sex in the book. Unlike much teen fiction which seems to be about teenagers “exploring” themselves (in some of the most unhealthy ways possible), Heavey deals with the topic in the way that I think many parents would be pleased with. Many of Katie’s friends, including herself, are encouraged by their parents to engage in high risk behaviors. They have a mentality that seems to permeate American society and pop-culture: pleasure over reason, fun over rational thinking. Katie sees the risks involved in these behaviors and is sick and tired of her mother just being her friend.
Second, Heavey weaves Christianity and the Catholic church into the story well. The book is not preachy at all, and I think would appeal to open-minded, respectful readers of faith and non-faith. Toward the end of the book Katie has some interaction with a long-time friend of hers from the city. I liked how Heavey showed how Christians are often improperly perceived and judged by many in our culture.
Katie laughed again, a sound so full of affection that it didn’t offend Michaela. “You don’t have to,” she said. “That works for me but it doesn’t have to work for you. The whole point is that we’re individuals. We shouldn’t feel so pressured to conform to what everyone else thinks we should be doing. We’re loved just the way we are. And I have plenty of fun, by the way.” she added.
Third, Heavey adds some interesting commentary on art through the story. Katie is an aspiring artist, but much of her artistry is missing something. Through Katie’s interactions with John Howe she begins to grow as an artist.
“But maybe, what you’re missing is that they’re really made of light [people and animals], and that the world around them adds the shadows. Maybe the light actually comes from them and the world takes it away, if that makes sense.” -John Howe, p.117
Underlake is a great contribution to YA literature. It’s a book that will get teens to think about things that matter. This book should be in your teenager’s library!