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Review: Undercurrent by Paul Blackwell

A blisteringly paced novel full of thrills, twists, and surprises, Undercurrent unfolds with possibilities that are both gripping and unsettling.

 image001Sixteen-year-old Callum Harris never wanted to move to Crystal Falls. Neither did Cole, his brawny and fearless older brother. With the recent separation of their parents, the brothers have had quite enough change of late.

But the move turns out to be only the first of many changes in Callum’s life. After he plunges headlong over the falls, he wakes up in the hospital to find that life is no longer what it once was: his squabbling parents appear to have reconciled; his brother, an unrepentant jock and serial dater, is paralyzed and bed-ridden in a makeshift hospital room at home; and even Callum himself, always studious and unpopular, is now the object of desire for the two hottest girls in school.

As he adjusts to this surreal new life–a life both exhilarating and terrifying–Callum struggles to reconcile his past memories with a dangerous and uncertain present. Who is he? Where is he? And what, exactly, has he become? 

When I was contacted by the good people at Random House about possibly reading Undercurrent and having a Q&A with the author, my first question was, “Well, what’s the book about?” When I was told it was a suspense novel about a teen boy who goes over a waterfall and somehow survives – only to realize that things are not exactly the way they are supposed to be anymore … I was sold. It seemed eerily reminiscent of the movies “Donnie Darko” or “Quantum Leap”, and I love a great sci-fi-style thriller, especially one with alternative realities!

Undercurrent is definitely suspenseful from the first page. Callum begins the story by surviving a trip over the waterfall, disoriented and confused as to what has actually happened. Things don’t get any easier for him as he slowly begins to realize that the world he’s in now is not the one he left behind. There’s some crazy stuff that goes down, and a mysterious figure who seems to be tracking Cam’s every move. There’s also a former best friend who isn’t too happy to see Callum’s recovery, but to be honest, I didn’t find him as threatening as the mysterious hooded figure.

Callum is a great character. His confusion is authentic and his growing horror as he realizes the seriousness of his situation is portrayed with care. I also liked that he was a realistic teen boy – he mouthed off to his parents, he was (temporarily) ruled by his hormones at times, and he was insecure about his own abilities in certain situations. As a result, I really felt for him as he became more and more frantic about trying to figure out just what was going on. I will admit that I figured out what was happening to him long before he did, but his confusion was plausible, and you have to appreciate a character who loves and cares about his dog!

The concept of alternate realities has always fascinated me, and I thought the author handled it well. The world that Cal ends up in a less-pleasant version of his original world, with a comatose brother, a floundering town, and a really, really bad reputation for him to live up to. The Cal in this alterna-verse has done some bad, bad things, and Good Cal has to reconcile those actions with his need for the truth. It made me wonder if future books might explore other possible worlds, especially since this book left things open-ended in many aspects. The mystery of how the falls operated was never clearly outlined, and the sinister Science teacher, Mr. Schroeder gave some cryptic clues as to how things might be managed, but a few more clues might have helped to explain things a bit more. I’d love to know more about the Schroeder brothers, and if the one brother Schroeder was able to travel back and forth over the waterfall. I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel!

Overall, this was a quick read, with lots of suspense and some really interesting thoughts presented about the multiverse theory. I would have liked to have learned more about why the waterfall was a conduit and how things worked, but I guess something has to be saved for the next time. Definitely the right read for now, as I can absolutely see teens reading this at the cottage and at the beach this summer.

Undercurrent was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It is published in Canada by Doubleday, a division of Random House and is available for sale at Indigo, Amazon and your friendly indie bookseller. ISBN: 9780062123510, 320 pages.

Look for my Q&A with author Paul Blackwell to be posted later, and be sure to follow Paul Blackwell on Twitter: @pauleblackwell

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Categorised in: Blog Tour, Reviews

2 Responses »

  1. I’m intrigued about this book now, I love stories with alternate realities, it’s always interesting to think that there is a completely different life somewhere else. I can’t wait to check this one out now!


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