A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Posted September 9, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water

by Bethany C. Morrow

Publisher: Tor Teen on June 2, 2020
Genre: #OwnVoices, Contemporary, Fantasy
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she's also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she's also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

 

A Song Below Water is not a book to be taken lightly, nor one you can expect to just breeze through.  Even though it’s short, there are some powerful messages to be had here.  It’s always an excellent example of how magic and contemporary issues do not need to be mutually exclusive.

At first, I didn’t know what to think about this book.  I didn’t not like it… I was just… lost.  I’ll admit it took me a few chapters of careful reading to get the pulse of the world, to understand that sirens and eloko and gargoyles are accepted (if not always beloved) phenomenon.  My one criticism of this book is it depends on reader familiarity with supernatural beings and there’s very little explanation of them for the uninitiated.  I wasn’t familiar with eloko and did some research on them as I read, but fortunately gargoyles, sirens, oracles, and gorgons are all familiar to me so once I caught myself up to the world, the rest was easy.  I do think that would be a hurdle for many readers – it depends on your personal familiarity and willingness to go out and do a little research for mythical things when explanations aren’t provided.

That, however, is my only criticism.  A Song Below Water takes on a world that fears loss of control and privilege.  Sirens, for example, are seen as a terrible thing because not only do their voices give them an “unfair advantage”, but their ability to compel people to listen to them is seen as dangerous.  Moreover, sirens appear in Black women.  This story begins with a murder trial of a Black woman on the news, and we see that develop alongside Tavia’s journey of finding how best to raise her voice, and how not to be afraid.

A Song Below Water may be magical realism, but the story feels very real and prevalent today.  Sometimes I got goosebumps.  In a bad way, though.  Our world needs to be better, and so does Tavia’s.  There’s a protest scene and it’s anxiety-inducing and enraging, and powerful.

This book tells two stories – Tavia and Effie.  Both girls are steeped in fear, denying their identities to make others comfortable.  They’re both good, important stories, but I really liked Effie’s.  I loved her love for her Renaissance Faire at the beginning of the book, and I was immediately drawn to her story as she search for who she really was.  There is a lot of pain in the pages of this book, but there’s a lot of magic, too.

I did see the major twist coming from a while away, probably page 70.  But there were small twists I didn’t expect.  There was some characterization at the end of the book that was really well done and I can’t really talk about it because #spoilers so lets just say with the exception of one explanation from one character, I was really satisfied with this book and thought it was prevalent and creative.  It moves quickly and refuses to wait for the reader to catch up, but if you stick with it, this is an excellent story.  I’m looking forward to the companion novel in the spring!

As an aside, for further reading please check out Leelynn’s review of this book on Sometimes Leelynn reads.  As a Black reviewer AND a huge fan of sirens and mermaids, this book is very much up her alley and her review is much more prevalent than mine.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★

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A Song Below Water Stays On the Shelf

Even though this is a bit of a chaotic book at the beginning, I think the messages are really good and I loved all the characters.  And, okay, so the ones I didn’t love I hated passionately but only because I was supposed to dislike them.  Because this book moved so quickly, I felt like I kept tripping over my own feet as I read it trying to figure out what was going on at times, and I think it would really benefit from some rereads.

Moreover, I think that there’s so much promise from this author (this is her YA debut) and I’m excited to see what else she has to offer.  I’ll certainly be checking out the companion book in this series, and watching Bethany’s Goodreads for more YA.

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What unappreciated mythical creatures would you like to see more of?  This has one of the three I’d really like to see more of (not telling which – it would spoil the surprise!) but I’m always keen for more.  Hit me up with your favorite, underused mythological creatures in the comments!

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