December 23, 2020

Underland

Written by Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (An imprint of Great Plains)
978-1-77337-052-1
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
October 2020 
 
So the truth lies buried in the Underland. (pg. 33)
 
Though authors Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack didn't really leave us hanging at the conclusion of Pulse Point (2018), the book to which Underland is the sequel, they did hint that there was more to learn about the world they created and the inhabitants of the City protected under a dome and the Prims who lived on the Mountain outside of it. In fact, though we'd met Kaia who'd escaped from the City to find out the true nature of her heritage, there is so much more to learn about the City, from its Councillors who govern, the overseers who watch, and Citizens who generate energy through their physical efforts. And now we learn, as does Sari, Kaia's best friend, that there is an Underland to the City, unknown to its above-ground and more privileged inhabitants. 
 
Told in the alternating voices of Ama, a young Under who lives and labours in the tunnels beneath the City, and Sari, who was matched with Councillor Tar's offspring Lev who'd gone after Kaia when she'd fled the City, Underland is a story of separation and convergence. Kept hidden from the Citizens above who believe their own efforts generate power, Ama and her fellow workers, primarily "younguns" who can fit through the narrow tunnels, dig the precious brine which the City above requires to run everything. They believe in Big Mother who gives life and protects them and Old Father who shows his anger when displeased but, except for the two Prims Jacob and Noah who were captured and forced to serve, the Unders only know enslavement and nothing of the world beyond their pit where they live and the tunnels they mine.
 
Above, in the very different world of the City, Sari still feels guilty about being matched with Lev when she'd known how much Kaia and Lev cared for each other. But Tar makes it clear that Kaia was an inappropriate match for Lev and she sees the qualities of a leader in Sari. Curious, Sari looks into Kaia's birth record which reveals a special notation of "intertwining." With the help of Ren, a former classmate and now overseer, Sari learns more about Kaia's origins but also about the Underland.
 
With their worlds in danger of physically and socially collapsing, those of the City and the Underland can no longer remain separate and Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack's dystopia evolves into something less dissonant, advancing towards the cooperative and diverse.
 
At this time of year, Underland offers hope that acceptance of others and compassion for all is possible. While both the Unders and the Citizens, except for the Councillors and those who oppress those of the Underland, know nothing of the others' existence and experiences, they are part of a social order of epic inequities and horrific discrimination. Based in fear and ignorance, their different worlds would not ever have come together if individuals like Ama and Sari, among a handful of others, had not stepped up and recognized the need for change. For themselves and others, they needed to see beyond themselves.
If I want to move forward, I need to make sure I'm okay with what's behind me. (pg. 157)
With suspenseful action-filled scenes and a wide cast of characters from all levels–geologists, fetal assessment technicians, diggers, mules, bureaucrats, elders, younguns, mothers and more–Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack have created a grim world, borne of good intentions but managed into the objectionable and worse. Fortunately, Underland inspires faith that a few good people can make the difference and that redemption is possible through transformation. Sometimes it's all we need to go forward.

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