Book Review: Undertown by Melvin Jules Bukiet

Undertown by Melvin Jules Bukiet is a young adult novel full of adventure and discovery. Timothy and Jessamyn have each lost a parent, and are thrown together when their parents begin to date. A simple prank to annoy their parents while towing a sailboat through Manhattan on the way to the harbor sends the pair of teens on an unexpected adventure in the underground. Lost in the sewer system of New York City, the pair navigate the narrow tunnels and discover the subculture of those that spend their time in the twisting tunnels. There are the frightened homeless, the street artists, and a criminal element that scares some of the toughest men. I will never look at the storm drains the same again!

Undertown is a fast-paced story of adventure that feels like it could really happen. Timothy and Jessamyn are both smart, and both do not really fit in with their peers, and share the loss of a parent. Despite the similarities prior to being thrown together in their adventure, they do not really like each other, or really even know each other. The combination of shared grief, fear, and necessity forges a solid friendship between the pair. I really enjoyed the dynamics between the pair, and the secondary characters that cross their path. I did find myself less than thrilled with the depiction of girls and women here- with no women on the police force, as members of the press, or officials, or anything else of authority. The only female authority figure is terrifying, but partially because of her overblown femininity and insanity rather than because of her power.

The underground tunnels of the sewer system are vast, and  not even completely known to the officials and engineers in charge of their maintenance. There are waterfalls, rapids, as well as water and man-made alterations throughout the tunnels. I would not doubt that a crime ring of thieves and crazy super-sized critters could be thriving there. I think the possibility of the elements found in the story could be true, could really happen on some level, that made the story stick with me the most.

I highly recommend Undertown to tweens, teens, and adults. Although, there are some frightening moments that might make squeamish readers uncomfortable.There is adventure, drama, friendships forged, and emotional understanding forged through the book which can speak to every reader in some way.

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