Synopsis – 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.
The Great: The plot twists/major reveals in the second half of the book, are maybe my favorite parts of the story. I did not see ANY of them coming. It has been a while since an author was able to completely and utterly shock me. And Morrow did just that. I’d thought I knew exactly where the story was going and could predict where the main characters would end up. But I was so wrong.
Also, I’ve found three new characters to love. Tavia and Effie’s sisterhood really stood out to me. They are two sides of the same coin. And their differences and similarities compliment each other. Their fierce loyalty to one another made the story that much better.
Tavia and Effie face similar struggles like being young black girls in a re-imagined yet still a predominantly white city. But they each have their own separate battles as well. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and try to make sure the other knows that they’re there for them. It isn’t perfect, but it’s really great to see.
And the third character I adored is Gargy the Gargoyle! Want to know more about him? You have to read the book.
The Good: Simply put, plot! Tavia and Effie are battling layers of social injustice. Whether it is based on race, gender, or mythology. Tavia’s identity as a siren and Effie’s involvement in an incident when she was younger makes them targets for scrutiny and hate. Morrow does a great job tackling these various themes with fantasy elements as a bonus. It felt comforting to see conversations I’ve had with my family and friends on the page. However, it is sad and disheartening to read the social injustices we are currently protesting against almost verbatim in the story. I so easily related characters in Morrow’s world to people who we are currently fighting for.
Morrow also brought to light how, often times, black girls and women are overshadowed in these matters as well. That we are quick to scream justice for black men but forget that these injustices also happen to black women. I myself am guilty of doing this and as a black woman, I need to do better.
The not-so-good: Unfortunately, the pace, especially for the first half of the book. This is something I expect in a debut fantasy novel. And it usually doesn’t deter me. But I have to say that it took me longer than usual to get through it. I’m not sure if it is because of the usual reasons like, setting the world/ world-building, introducing the magic system, and mythology. Or whether it was because I was reading it during the George Floyd protests when I was angry and hurt and terrified. And reading those same feelings and injustices in the story made it just a bit harder to read. I haven’t fully decided yet.
However, the pace did pick up about halfway in and up until the end of the book.
Overall, I recommend this book to lovers of YA Fantasy, to readers who want to see themselves as glorious mythical creatures, and to readers who need to better understand the black experience.
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Author: Bethany C. Morrow
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Special thanks to the TorTeen team, the author Bethany C. Morrow and Netgalley for the physical and e-ARC copies of A Song Below Water. Receiving these copies did not affect my rating or review.
I also implore you to support black-owned indie bookstores! Purchase this book from one in your local area!