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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Atlantia” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Rio and Bay are twin sisters living in the underwater city of Atlantia. Their mother, once the Minister who encouraged the citizens to follow the gods of Atlantia, has recently been killed. Rio suspects her Aunt Maire, who many believe is a sea witch. Maire is a siren, meaning she can use her voice to convince others to do things. Rio is also a siren, but her mother kept this fact a secret from anyone outside the family, for Rio’s protection. Rio must always disguise her voice so as not to give herself away.

The day arrives when children come of age and are able to decide whether they want to live Above. Even though the world Above is supposedly dying, some still take the risk. Rio has always wanted to go Above, but Bay has begged her to stay now that they no longer have their mother. Only one child from each family is ever allowed to go Above. At the ceremony, Rio dutifully chooses to stay Below. To her shock and dismay, Bay then chooses to go Above. Before Rio can ask any questions, Bay is whisked away. Another boy she recognizes, named Fen, also chooses to go Above.

Alone and perplexed by Bay’s decision, Rio seeks answers. She cautiously begins spending time with a boy named True, who was Fen’s best friend. He tells her he saw Fen and Bay kissing, but Rio still can’t believe her sister would leave with no warning because of a boy. Bay begins attending and then participating in swimming races. She doesn’t tell True, but she wants to earn money to buy an oxygen mask so she can illegally swim to the surface and find Bay. It’s a very dangerous risk to take, and there’s a good chance she wouldn’t survive. True, who is a craftsman, helps her create intricate metal fish to use in her swimming act. She also begins swimming at night, which is illegal because of curfew, and using electrical charges on the metal fish to make her act more intriguing.

Meanwhile, Aunt Maire approaches Rio several times. She tells the girl she can help her get Above. Rio isn’t sure whether Aunt Maire can be trusted, so she continues trying to earn money for the mask. After she finally earns enough to buy one, she hides out with the dead bodies that will be released to the surface. Aunt Maire discovers what she’s doing and prevents her from getting released. Aunt Maire tells Rio more about her mother, including the fact that the government of Atlantia killed her. Atlantia is ruled by a man named Nevio, who is secretly a siren himself.

The infrastructure of Atlantia seems to be in peril. A large section floods, and Nevio says it’s time for Atlantians to make peace with those on the surface if they want to survive. Aunt Maire pretends to be loyal to him in order to help her and other sirens, including Rio, get to the surface. True is also allowed to go on the transport to the surface. Once there, the sirens are supposed to convince those Above of their desire for harmony between the two worlds. But the sirens voices have no impact on the people Above, who violently gun them down. Only Rio and True manage to escape, since Maire has warned her to save her voice for later. Rio later realizes Nevio planned this ambush.

Rio learns that while Above was once a dangerous, polluted place that seemed to be dying, her own world is now the one headed for destruction. She finds Bay and Fen in a temple Above. They are part of a movement to help the people Above understand the plight of those Below and be more willing to help them. Rio learns that Maire sent messages in shells to the people Above to help them better understand their undersea counterparts. Rio realizes Bay came Above to protect her, since a siren cannot survive long in the Above. It is vital that the two worlds get along so that both worlds can survive. Rio realizes Nevio no longer cares about Atlantia. He intends to worm his way into a leadership role Above, using the strength from the temple bats to keep himself alive out of the water.

Bay goes Below while Rio stays Above, and both girls strive to convince leaders of the importance of the two worlds working together. Once they are able to do this, Rio returns to the safety of Atlantia to help True rebuild. Bay goes Above to be with Fen. The sisters are sad that they have to live apart but feel proud of their efforts to bring the worlds together.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The people of Atlantia worship gods patterned after animals in the world Above. Statues of these gods are all around, particularly on the grounds of the temple where Rio and Bay’s mother was Minister. The girls also worked at the temple. Rio’s job was to repair and maintain the intricate metal statues of the gods.

The people of Atlantia believe an early Minister had a dream in which the gods told him how to build Atlantia. Maire reveals that Atlantia’s religion was created and agreed upon by sirens and people who shaped it to fit their way of life. The people came to believe they had not created their own faith but had been led to the truth.

Maire is said to be a sea witch. Many don’t know whether such creatures are real or something born out of superstition. When Rio questions whether sea witches or sirens have souls, her mother tells her that every living thing has a soul. Sirens, now scorned in Atlantia, were once the priests who called the people away from sin and toward sacrifice. Atlanians believe the sirens are one of the miracles the gods bestowed upon them.

Rio’s mother was always frustrated that the sirens weren’t allowed in the temple because they were considered miracles, not people. Sirens can control the physical realm but not people’s spirits. The temple bats are another miracle. Rio calls Maire the third miracle. Atlantians believe long life, health, strength and happiness are gifts the gods bestowed upon them. Alternately, those living Above are supposedly cursed with a short life, illness, weakness and misery. This is fair, Atlantians say, because the gods decreed it to be so.

Some believe Rio’s mother was a god who was capable of miracles, and some pay to touch her ring even after she’s dead. When Rio was small and tried to manipulate her mother with her siren tongue, Mother prayed to the gods to give her the strength to overcome her daughter. The gods always granted her request.

Rio throws a coin in a wishing pool hoping the gods will answer her. Maire tells Rio the only way she will succeed Above is to trust in her power.

Authority Roles

Rio and Bay’s mother was the Minister of Atlantia. She firmly believed in the gods of the city and faithfully heard the prayers and confessions of the citizens. She sold most of her possessions to support her family. True says his father hasn’t taken much of an interest in anything but work since True’s mother died. Maire strives to help bring peace between Atlantia and the world Above. Nevio is hungry for power and deceives people in both worlds in order to get his way.


Maire tells how worshipers in the temple fell in terror with blood streaming from their ears after they heard two sirens arguing. One of the sirens later committed suicide. People Above gun down the sirens.


True tells Rio he saw Bay and Fen kissing before they both went Above. True kisses Rio several times.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Rio lies to True about her plans to go Above. Nevio deceives the Atlantians and the people Above in his quest for power.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 18


Ally Condie






Record Label



Speak, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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