“Cassie Georgiana Odysseos has the potential to become an Olympic swimmer. However, after her parents separate, her training is interrupted when she and her little brother Timmy are sent to live with elderly Mike and Peg Calypso in Ithaca, a small country town without a training pool. Asked to deliver an important message to the underwater city of Neptunia, Cassie must use all her strength, strategy and spirit to survive a marathon swim. But can she overcome King Neptune’s terrifying obstacles? ”
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis for Buzz Words
Cassie is a strong swimmer capable of competing in the State Championships. But her parents’ break-up puts a stop to her dream of going to Norris Park College with its outstanding sports facilities and pool. Cassie and her little brother Timmy are sent to Ithaca, a country town with no pool, to stay with distant relatives till the storm passes.
The children find a metal box in an abandoned silo. It is one of many things stolen from Iris Laertes, a world champion swimmer who lives on the property Neptunia. The box is ‘a magic entry into a mythical land’. Cassie is swept into the greatest adventure and challenge of her life; to swim to the mythical Neptunia with a message of an environmental disaster that could destroy its many species of marine life.
The story loosely incorporates myths and legends attached to Homer’s Odyssey while weaving environmental issues into the magical fabric of the story. The many themes contained in this well crafted and imaginative story include overcoming obstacles through strategy, strength and spirit; self belief, and courage and triumph over difficulties.
Sharon L Norris‘s review for Neptunia at Good Reads
With our world becoming increasingly fractured in many ways – in the human hemisphere as much as the global environmental hemisphere – the theme of ‘resilience’ is increasingly popular in books for all ages. Goldie Alexander’s novel for upper primary readers, ‘Neptunia’, is no exception.
When her home life falls apart after the separation of her parents, up and coming competitive swimmer Cassie Odysseos is sent far away to a small country town, Ithaca, with her younger brother Timmy. Away from her family, her friends, her future at Norris Park College, and her beloved swimming pool, Cassie struggles to cope as kindly relatives Peg and Mike Calypso offer her and Timmy a home until their mother can get her life together.
The separation is particularly hard on three-year-old Timmy, who acts out his frustration and despair. Forced to go for a walk together after one bad behaviour episode, Timmy and Cassie find a rare box in an empty silo on a farm nearby. Cassie learns the box belongs to a mysterious elderly lady, Iris Laerte, who swam at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and now lives on the property ‘Neptunia’. She returns the box to Miss Laertes who shares with her the secret of the rhyme engraved on the box and encourages Cassie to become the new special envoy to the magical underwater land of Neptunia – a place that can only be reached by a swimmer with a strong heart, strategic mind and plenty of spirit. Cassie’s mission is to deliver a special message to the Mer-King, Neptune.
When Cassie recites the magical rhyme on the box she is swept into the adventure of a lifetime that takes her on a journey of epic proportions. Here she is forced to face the challenges set for her by the angry Mer-King, who blames Cassie for the abuses of the sea committed by all humankind. Along the way she is helped by the friendly and wise turtle, Athena and the boisterous seal Jono.
As Goldie Alexander explains at the end of the book, ‘Neptunia’ is loosely based on the Greek poet Homer’s ‘The Oddessy’, which chronicles the hero Ulysses’ adventures at sea. Just as Ulysses (also known as Odysseos) has to fight demons and overcome severe obstacles put in his way by the Mer-King, Cassie does the same in ‘Neptunia’. Throughout this dangerous quest, Cassie uses strength, strategy and spirit to deal with the obstacles in her path. As she fights for her life to complete the quest, she uses these same tools to accept and deal with the multitude of other difficulties in her own life.
‘Neptunia’ has an action-packed plot and strong characterisation, and gives an intriguing insight into ancient history, legend and mythology. Above all, it shows that through resilience of mind, body and spirit, much can be achieved.
Using Odysseus’ trials to get home to Ithaca, in a typical adolescent child-problem situation, is an interesting way to go. Alexander uses it to shape the story of Cassie. Cassie is a swimmer and trains three times a week. Though she has won every race to date, she really hopes she can win gold at the eight hundred metres at the big school meet happening just before school returns – a new school with her friends Amy and Megan. But for that she needs to keep up her practising, her friend Jen the coach tells her.
But then Dad moves out to live with Helen. And Mum doesn’t cope. Cassie and little brother Timmy are moved to foster parents in a little country town of Ithaca, which has no pool – disaster. No practice! And for that matter it was Dad who took her to swimming in the early morning – how could he leave? How will she get there from home, anyway? Mum will have to find somewhere cheaper for them to live – another house, most likely in another suburb. So Cassie won’t be going to secondary school with Amy and Megan.
Cassie is unhappy, angry and confused.
But Timmy finds an ancient box which belongs to old Miss Iris Laertes and with its help Cassie is able to visit the city of Neptunia beneath the waves, and deliver a message about global warming to King Neptune. But to get there she has to pass through similar trials to Odysseus – the Cyclops is here a one-eyed octopus of gigantic proportions. He guards a bottle with a magic elixir in, which, once stolen from him, enables her to keep going and extends her strength. The enchantress represents the Sirens. She lures Cassie by singing about her hopes of success at swimming. The monsters Scylla and Charybdis are two seven headed serpents (like the Hydra), and she finds she has tricked them into fighting themselves to death. She rests on the island of Lotus, and falls into the lake of forgetting (actually the river of Lethe). But Athena (here a turtle) restores her memory eventually with another elixir.
She eventually gets to Neptunia and delivers her message, the result of which is that Neptune will have to move the city – but he now has time to do it, and is grateful to the messenger, instead of blaming her. Now she can go back to Ithaca. And there Mum phones calling them home and telling that all is resolved – she has found a house, from which Cassie can walk to the school, will not have to change suburbs and schools and can go in the big Meet, winning the eight hundred metres.
This is a brilliant way to draw children into the myths Homer immortalised in the Odyssey – using his trials and monsters. They are all acknowledged in an afterword.