by Polly Holyoke
First sentence: “I wake to an urgent tap at my window.”
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Nere Hanson (a terrible name, that, as A pointed out) has never understood why she felt more at home in the sea, with the dolphins. Her parents are scientists who study the ocean, but that’s not the whole picture. Nere has problems breathing on land, and it’s just getting worse. Then the government of the Western Collective (roughly some futuristic dictatorship that came out of the US; this is set along the Pacific coast) demands that everyone who lives by the ocean move inland, to help with “food production.” So, Nere’s mom pushes forward her plans, breaking the news to Nere and her friends Robry and Lena that the reason why they struggle to live on land is that they’re genetically altered to survive — like breathe seawater and everything — under the ocean.
I’m going to stop here for a minute. I’ve read books about exploring the ocean as an option for when global warming takes over and turns this planet into one gigantic mass of water, and I’ve read books that deal with genetic mutation of people (and I think I’ve read one that combines the two in some search for Atlantis, now that I think about it), but this one struck me as unique. Holyoke has done her research and this one felt, well, authentic. I appreciated that. I also enjoyed her use of dolphins; they weren’t props, but rather their own characters, which added another interesting layer to the story.
After they make the change, and get away from the Marine Guard (read government thugs), Nere, Robry, and Lena have to figure out how to survive in their new environment. They meet up with another group of kids who have had this change done to them — Nere is resentful for a good part of the book because her mother did this to her, without her consent, and didn’t give her the time to adjust to this. I love Bad Mom Decisions in Middle Grade books — and set out for the rendezvous point. From there, they head north to Vancouver to the colony that Nere’s father is setting up.
Even though it’s a first in a series — I really would love a stand-alone speculative middle grade fiction book sometime — and it’s just an elaborate set-up, Holyoke does a fantastic job creating her world. And I liked the dynamics she created in the group. It wasn’t as middle school-ish as the jacket flap led me to believe, but a genuine portrayal of kids thrown in a new situation and forced to survive. And Holyoke isn’t afraid to kill characters off or have characters betray one another. It was complex, and I enjoyed that.
I only wish I had more of a sense of closure with this one; I’m not sure I’m all excited to read further adventures of Neve and the Neptune Project. But this one was definitely enjoyable.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)