Book Review – A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrison is the book I have been waiting for since childhood. I have loved fantasy and science fiction books for as long as I can remember. However, being a Black female meant the chances that a Black female would appear in a story I read were slim. If a Black female did appear, there was no way she would be the main character. In A Song Below Water, readers were given two Black protagonists, Tavia and Effie.

Tavia is a Black female who is also a siren. In Greek mythology, sirens were creatures known for singing songs that caused sailors to crash their water vessels leading to their deaths. Morrow had the idea to bring mythical creatures to the present-day by having them live in society with non-magical humans. This story reminded me a bit of the X-Men comics, where mutants with powers lived with humans who did not have powers. Not to spoil the plot for people who have yet to come across the X-Men comic books or movies, but the integration into society did not go so well for the mutants. 

Tavia, a Black siren, finds herself in a similar situation in this novel. Not only does she have the pressure of being Black in America, but she also has the pressure of being a siren. Although it was not always this way in this mythical world, the only sirens now are Black sirens. No other race of people has them anymore. Tavia is a minority within an already minoritized community. The intersectionality of her being Black and a siren reminded me of the intersectionality of people being Black and part of the LGBTQIA+ community in our society. They are not accepted by some because they are Black and not accepted by others because they are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Effie, who lives with Tavia as her sister, although they are not sisters, experiences this same duality of being Black and something else. Since one big element of this book is what that something else is, I will not spoil the plot in this review.

This intersectionality makes both Effie and Tavia feel like they do not belong anywhere and have hatred from all sides. Most importantly, they feel like they cannot be themselves, and if they want to have a place in the world, they have to give up parts of who they are. 

Though painful, going through the process of not being accepted and not being heard helped both Tavia and Effie learn that they could not live that way and should be all of who they are. They should live in their true form … all parts included.

I do not always like duo narrators, but Morrow made it work.

I prefer books like A Song Below Water because of how racism is covered in the text. Even though racism was included, it centered Black sisterhood. This sisterhood helped both narrators, Effie and Tavia, become who they were meant to be. When Tavia says, “My voice is power,” at the novel’s end, it gives the reader hope and joy. Some days you just want hope and joy, not a book that centers on Black trauma and pain that never seems to redeem the Black main character.

As much as young adult (YA) books are known for taking the youth protagonist on an identity journey, I wish certain journeys were not lifted up more than others. Black people belong in YA, science fiction, and fantasy. In chapter 8, Morrow acknowledges this gap when one character says, “I get it, fantasy wasn’t created with me in mind.” This book is Morrow’s response to that statement. 

My only issue with this book, though a small one, is that it took too long to get to the reveal about Effie, especially since there were many clues that any person familiar with Greek mythology could have easily used to figure out the big reveal. Despite this minor issue, I would reread the book and plan to read the next book in the series, A Chorus Rises.

Rating: 4.5/5

Suggested Grades9-12
LexileHL820L
HL stands for high-low
Accelerated Reader Level5.5

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