Skrutskie, Emily. The Abyss Surrounds Us. Woodbury, MN: Flux, 2016.
In a bizarre and dangerous future, the world has been carved up into new states and pirates roam the seas. Gigantic genetically-engineered sea monsters are raised to bond with ships and protect them from pirates. Cassandra Leung has been in training to work with Reckoners her entire life. At 17, she is finally given the job to travel with a ship and its Reckoner. But her ship is quickly attacked by pirates who kill her Reckoner and kidnap her.
Cas learns that Santa Elena, the captain, has captured her to train a Reckoner pup. Pirates have never had Reckoners and this will give them the upper hand in sea navigation and resource control. Cas has no choice but to go along with the plan; Santa Elena will kill her otherwise. She’s given to young pirate Swift to take care of. As the weeks stretch into months, Cas and Swift get to know each other and fall in love. While once Cas would have given anything to escape, now she is unsure where her allegiance lies.
With a delightful combination of swashbuckling and tender, The Abyss Surrounds Us has a lot to offer. Main character Cas is brave, passionate about Reckoner training, and does her best to navigate pirate politics. Swift is focused on both career and family. And Santa Elena is ruthless and intelligent. I appreciated the depth and development of so many strong female characters. Additionally, many characters (including Cas) are people of color; and their ethnicities are “shown” rather than “told” with cultural cues such as names, foods, and language. Finally, I liked that this wasn’t a first love for Cas or Swift. Throughout the novel, Cas mentions that she has dated other girls before, and Swift cuddles with another girl in one early scene. Their relationship is not remarked upon as being unusual in the slightest.
The Abyss Surrounds Us received a starred review from Kirkus and was nominated as a YALSA 2017 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. It’s suitable for middle and high schoolers, as well as adults who enjoy young adult fiction.