A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow ★★★½
"Are you okay?" I ask, pulling her back in the garage so no one - and nothing - can see us. "What happened? What'd you do?" "Nothing. I was driving while Black."
I received this e-book from Netgalley. This does not affect my review or opinion. All thoughts are my own and I'm being 100 percent honest. Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Teen for providing me this e-book for reviewing purposes.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Mostly because the fantasy felt a bit lacking and the story was pretty slow. However, the author tackled so many important issues in this book and created lovely characters that made me want to keep reading.
This book is about Tavia and Effie. 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.
I will be honest, I wanted to read this mostly because of the cover. The artwork on this cover is absolutely gorgeous and I definitely need more of these kinds of covers. This cover is so magical and it definitely drew me in.
Of course I also read the description and I was very intrigued. I was so down to read a unique book about a black siren. I wouldn't necessarily call this book ya fantasy. As a fantasy book, I didn't like A Song Below Water. The fact that the main character is a siren is very intriguing because you don't see a book written about sirens that often, especially not sirens or other magical creatures of color. The fantasy part of the story was just lacking and it was very slow. Sometimes I got lost in the story and I really missed that fantasy element. A Song Below Water felt more like a ya contemporary novel set in a light fantasy world. What is it called? Magical realism? The fantasy aspect didn't add anything to this book. The world-building wasn't that amazing either, a lot of things were left unexplored which is a bummer. I would've liked to see more of all these different magical creatures Morrow mentions.
As a contemporary novel it's a good book. Morrow tackles a lot of important issues in A Song Below Water. The most important issue in this novel is racism. Sirens are being discriminated against in this world Morrow creates. While reading we learn that only black girls and women can be sirens. I think the author is trying to make a comparison between sirens and black women because they both have powerful voices but are being silenced.
Now, I am not a person of color so I will never experience racism and I am very aware of that. I read this book and the characters felt very real to me as did the story of Tavia. I really loved the characters in A Song Below Water. Tavia was definitely my favorite character. As a reader you follow her and go through all the discrimination, racism, and sexism. I also really loved the fact that Tavia has both her parents! I haven't read many books in which the main character still has both parents. Usually at least one is dead. I also really loved the fact ASL is an important part of this story.
Would I recommend this book? As a contemporary novel about people of color (who sometimes happen to be sirens) yes absolutely. As a ya fantasy novel? No I don't think so. The fantasy aspect wasn't strong enough and didn't feel relevant to this story. I do get that adding magical elements to a story makes it more appealing to a larger public. Fantasy is a popular genre.
Bethany is a recovering expat splitting her time between Montreal, Quebec, and upstate New York - yet another foreign place. A California native, Bethany graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a BA in Sociology (but took notable detours in the Film and Theatre departments). Following undergrad, she studied Clinical Psychological Research at the University of Wales, Bangor, in Great Britain before returning to North America to focus on her literary work.
Though sociology and forensic psychology will always be among her passions, writing has been a lifelong endeavor. Whether in novels for the YA or adult market, novellas, short stories, stage plays, television pilots or short film scripts, Bethany's speculative literary fiction uses a focus on character and language to engage with, comment on and investigate worlds, not unlike our own.