YA Review: Under the Surface

Under the Surface is a beautifully executed, subterranean adventure-gone-wrong, with a satisfying romantic angle and enough drama to keep the narrative hurtling forward.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is in Paris with her class, on "the best trip in the history of forever." With the help of close friends Sean (who makes Ruby's blood go "warm and tingly") and Val (lover of "daredevil antics"), Ruby is on the hunt for eye-popping locations to film for her YouTube channel. When Val sneaks off alone to a party suggested by a French "hottie," Ruby is worried something might happen to her best friend. Despite her "tangled mess" of blonde hair and "jet-lagged" bloodshot eyes, Ruby slips away to bring Val back. She's caught sneaking out, though, by valedictorian Olivia as well as salutatorian and bestie-turned-nemesis Selena, who get pulled into the unfolding misadventure.

The girls find Val and hottie Julien about to head off to a party in the catacombs, and Ruby can't resist capturing this little-seen locale for YouTube. Most of the place is off-limits to the public, but Julien swears he's a "cataphile" who knows his way around; the group heads down a secret entrance into the intricate web of tunnels that house "the skeletal remains of six million long-dead Parisians." Their guide leads them through dark and narrow passageways until they reach a shaft--a shortcut to the party, apparently. But the ladder breaks when Selena climbs down, and the others take a different route to reach her. When they finally arrive, the "only sign of Selena is her blood." The group gets lost as they head back aboveground for help, and are chased by phantom whisperings, booming drums, and mysterious people in skull masks wielding knives. Meanwhile, at street level, Sean has discovered Ruby and Val are missing and desperately chases down any lead he can find.

Diana Urban (These Deadly Games) has found in Paris's catacombs the perfect setting for a creepy thriller. She expertly amps up the tension as her characters become increasingly desperate, and her use of Ruby's and Sean's first-person narratives places readers inside the action both above and below the streets of Paris. The nightmarish adventure plays out against a backdrop of high school intrigue, including the (possibly) budding romance of Ruby and Sean, shifting loyalties, romantic mishaps, and betrayal. But despite their differences, characters must work together to save themselves, even as the stakes turn deadly. This well-rounded, gripping survival story has as many twists and turns as the catacombs themselves. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Shelf Talker: Under the Surface is a beautifully executed, subterranean adventure-gone-wrong set in Paris, with plenty of drama and a budding romance.

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