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, Bethany C. Morrow
June 2nd, 2020
A beautiful tale of Black Girl Magic at its finest, of the tragedy of family and love, and of sisterhood through the hardest of times and uncertain futures. A Song Below Water blew me away and it belongs on the hallowed list of amazing YA Contemporary Fantasies.
Bethany Morrow builds characters like she’s tearing apart her own heart and soul to make them. Tavia and Effie were some of the most wonderful girls I’ve read about this year. I can’t state enough how much I loved their sisterhood and friendship bloom throughout the story. They made me want to keep turning the page every time I picked up the book.
A Song Below Water encapsulates the story of a teenage Black siren, Tavia–a double whammy in profiling and discrimination in this fantasy Portland, where mythological creatures exist–and her friend-turned-sister Effie, a girl whose power is yet unknown but slowly coming to the forefront. Tavia has had to keep her power a secret for her entire life; not only are Black folks as under fire as they are in the real world, but sirens are infamous and primarily black women. Her life is in danger all the time, and she may very well be targeted and forced to wear a siren call suppressing collar if caught. Effie survived a harrowing and traumatic childhood experience which catapulted her to internet fame as the sole survivor of a sprite attack which left her childhood friends as statues.
Their lives are turned upside down when the murder of a black woman is put on national headlines because it’s speculated that she was a siren. Tavia’s favorite YouTube beauty guru, Camilla, shortly comes out as a siren herself, leading to protests and a call to action.
There’s love, there’s magic, there’s strange and new mythical creatures. I’m especially fond of the elokos, a forest spirit with a mean bite and an enchanting song from Congo myth (as far as my rudimentary Google searching has shown. I’m 100% going to dive deep into this research hole). Elokos have a similar song that enchants and beguiles people, but due to their mythical beauty they’re not nearly as stigmatized as sirens.
I docked a star for the ending, which seemingly wrapped up everything with a neat little monologue from a character that was introduced half a chapter before. I would have liked to have seen a tenser climax, but that’s just the action-adventure loving side of me. I loved that the twist of Effie’s magical identity was unexpected but made so much sense, and I loved Tavia’s newfound ability, though it erased one of my favorite moments leading up to the finale.
All in all, A Song Below Water is a must read for anyone who loves contemporary fantasy, mermaids and sirens, Black Girl Magic, and girls loving and supporting each other, through thick and thin, mistakes and failures, happiness and success.
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