I really love Penni Russon. I have done a few writerly things with her and found her a really fantastic teacher; seen her on some panels and regularly check in with her lovely blog, http://eglantinescake.blogspot.com/. Despite this, I have never actually read one of her novels. I’m not really sure how that happened, but I saw Undine at the library about a month ago and snatched it up.
Undine is a coming-of-age story that mixes contemporary YA with some magical elements and a little bit of mythology. Undine is sixteen, and going through a bit of a rough patch with her usually beloved mother, Lou. She keeps hearing a voice: Undine, Undine, it’s time to come home. She has also found herself the recipient of some unusual and frightening powers, and with the sudden attentions of not one but three guys. Her best friend and next-door-neighbour Trout is the only one who really fully understands her powers and can help, but the unreciprocated crush he harbours for Undine makes things a bit complicated. When Undine finally follows the voice, she finds it harder and harder to not give in to the power inside her ... which may just have consequences for everyone.
Russon is a lovely writer. Her prose here is dreamy and whimsical and matched quite perfectly to Undine’s experiences. It is also quite elemental, by which I mean the prose kind of snatches bits of the sky and the earth and the air and sensation and feeling and loops them in and out of the paragraphs. There is an ease to reading this book. A few times I thought it was a little overdone, specifically with how Undine was feeling, but then again it does mimic that kind of angsty disconnection of the teenage years.
There are some cute characters – I love Trout and his endearing awkwardness and I loved little Jasper – he was so very cute without being annoyingly cutesy. Undine’s other two love interests were okay but I kind of wished that not every boy Undine encountered fell in love with her. I understood why Russon may have written it that way but stories where the main character has to deal with all these people being in love with her (gosh, that’s just so darn hard ;)!!!) do tend to annoy me a little bit. Lou was quite fabulous, though – great portrayal of conflicting emotions and not just stereotyping her as a ‘mother figure.’
A nice little coming-of-age story, paired very well with the magic elements and an overall theme of water and the ocean. I agree with some other reviews that the plot could have been filled out a little bit more, and the way Undine’s magic actually works, but I guess that’s what the second and third books are for.