A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
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 here, and it promises to stay.
Dealing with both Black girl joy and Black girl pain, A Song Below Water has already proven itself one of summer 2020’s most outstanding YA releases. In less than 300 pages, it tackles sisterhood, misogynoir, and the power of voice, whether one or many. Between Effie, Tavia, and the magic that surrounds them in this alternate Portland, nothing is forgettable, and everything is about to change.
Easily my favorite feature of A Song Below Water is the bond Effie and Tavia share.
Sisters in all but blood, they know one another with a clarity no one else can claim, and that’s the kind of content I crave the most! When characters remain completely, entirely devoted to one another even as they balance their different desires, my heart grows three sizes. And in Effie and Tavia’s case, this is especially powerful. Tavia longs to be rid of her siren’s voice and the danger it poses in a society that sees her existence as a threat. On the other hand, Effie dreams of following her mother’s footsteps as a renaissance fair mermaid. She’s desperate to uncover the truest parts of herself and her history in the same way Tavia wants to hide from her own. Their goals are fundamentally opposites, but their sisterhood is even stronger than any apparent differences they have.
Did I mention I’m just a sap for this kind of thing? Whether or platonic or romantic or whatever, this trope is just impossible to get enough of! 😍
The question of voice, though, is the strongest feature of the book.
Both Effie and Tavia’s goals, different as they are, come back to a central question: what will you do with your voice? Maybe today’s answer isn’t the same as tomorrow’s, but that’s okay. You can always ask again, try again, change your answer again until it feels right.
For Tavia, concerns about the power of her voice, for better or for worse, lead her to a variety of conclusions until she knows with crystal clarity what must come next. And for Effie, it was always one dream until suddenly it’s something new and frightening and wonderful all at once, but she has to claim it. Both of them learn to speak up in pursuit of what they need, what they are, and I love it so much. The cherry on top is, of course, that they use their voices to help each other, too. Their sisterhood is never far from center stage.
And on a more abstract novel, the voice of the novel is outstanding as well! Bethany C. Morrow excels at crafting a vibrant, unique voice for each of the girls, and it lends their individual POVs so much extra heart. They feel all the more real for it, and it lends the story a strong contemporary contrast to the fantasy elements. As far as craft goes, this is an excellent example of creating individual voice for your characters!
Though I’m not much of a rereader until lots of time has passed, I already want to go back.
Some magical aspects of Effie and Tavia’s world go unexplained, which won’t change with a second visit as much as I would like it to, but I want to return nonetheless. It’s a captivating story from first to last, and it blends reality and fantasy almost seamlessly. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough, especially if you’re on the fence about giving it a try.
CW: loss of a loved one, domestic violence, misogynoir, racism, child death, self-harm, police brutality