Summary: With her weak eyes and useless lungs that often leave her gasping for air, Nere feels more at home swimming with the dolphins her mother studies than she does hanging out with her classmates. Nere has never understood why she is so much more comfortable and confident in the water than on land until the day she learns the shocking truth—she is one of a group of kids who have been genetically altered to survive in the ocean. These products of the "Neptune Project" are supposed to build a better future under the waves, safe from the terrible famines and wars and that rock the surface world.
But there are some big challenges ahead of her: no one ever asked Nere if she wanted to be part of a science experiment; the other Neptune kids aren't exactly the friendliest bunch, and in order to reach the safe haven of the new Neptune colony, Nere and her fellow mutates must swim across hundreds of miles of dangerous ocean, relying on their wits, their loyal dolphins and one another to evade terrifying undersea creatures and a government that will stop at nothing to capture the Neptune kids ... dead or alive.
Fierce battle and daring escapes abound as Nere and her friend race to safety in this action-packed marine adventure. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)
Review: Hunger Games meets Splash, sort of. Life on land has gotten too hot, too dry, and too dystopian for the citizens of what used to be California. When disastrous news is announced that their town is being shut down and they'll be relocated inland, Nere's mother gathers her and a handful of other children, injects them with something painful, and then frantically explains that they're part of an experiment to see if humans could be genetically modified to live underwater, in order to form a better, safer community. Before she can fully explain the purpose and the intent of this project, let alone find the forgiveness of her daughter, police arrive to arrest all of them. Nere and her companions are left adrift in the ocean with meager supplies and more questions than they have answers for.
Holyoke does a good job creating a world under the sea for her readers to explore. Threats of wildlife and the government are easy to understand and grasp, and the dynamics of a group of teenagers and tweens traveling together felt honest. It surprised me that within hours of finding another mutant group heading to the same coordinates, cliques form and little love interests start popping up, but it was all very sanitary.
I had a difficult time sometimes remembering that they were underwater, but mainly because I've never read any mermaid books. Ever. Outside of The Little Mermaid, this was my first exposure. Although, to be honest, these are still humans, just with an enhanced ability to breathe underwater and with better underwater vision. But the terminology confused me, causing me to have to keep reminding myself that sprinting meant swimming really fast. That yes, it would be totally natural for sharks to be following them. But those failings are mine alone.
As far as dystopian fiction goes, this wasn't bad. There are attacks (both from humans and animals), there are love triangles, there are unanswered questions, but it felt like the kind of book I could give someone who wants to read The Hunger Games but isn't quite emotionally prepared for the series. I wonder if that will remain true throughout.
Rating: Three and a half stars
For the Sensitive Reader: There are a few deaths, shark attacks, and an attack by a giant squid.