Book Review: A Song Below Water

Title: A Song Below Water
Author: Bethany C. Morrow
Genres:  Contemporary Fantasy
Pages: 288
Publisher: Tor Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: 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.

Review: As I was preparing this review I was trying to classify it and came up with a new term for this unique novel – Contemporary Fantasy. In the past Urban Fantasy has always had a “grittiness” to it but Bethany C. Morrow’s novel read like a contemporary YA novel, but with magical beings that exist in the world. A world where gargoyles, elokos, mermaids, and most importantly, sirens exist. It really felt like our contemporary world, with our contemporary issues, just with a little extra “magic” sprinkled in. And this extra sprinkling of story I really enjoyed and really brought me into the world that Morrow created. 

The heart of the story is the sisterhood between Tavia and Effie. Effie comes to live with Tavia’s family and the two friends strike a bond so deep that they call each other sister. The reader is not privy to how their relationship was born as we are dropped in the middle of their already close sisterly bond. I loved that about the book because we do not see them as friends, but only as sisters. And as the saying goes, “no one knows you better than your sister”, the novel is told from both Tavia and Effie’s POV, so not only do we get the character’s own personal thoughts, we also get their insight on their sister. It is a unique style of storytelling but one that is effective because it allows the reader to feel the bond between Tavia and Effie instead of just reading it. 

Bethany Morrow has stated numerous times that Tavia’s siren ability is a metaphor for being a Black woman in America and this aspect of the novel truly resonated with me. A few times Tavia is so upset that she refuses to speak afraid of what would truly come out her mouth and I know so many girls and women who feel that same way. It is especially tough when one is a teenager and trying to make sense of the world. Tavia, however, begins to recognize how to use her voice and acknowledge her power. She is able to connect with her grandmother (and I greatly loved how her grandmother was a reflection of her) who helps her find her voice, her power, which was denied to her because of her father’s fear. By finding her voice, Tavia also finds herself. 

Effie, on the other hand, is on a different journey as her body is going through some extreme changes and she doesn’t know why. She knows deep down that she is some sort of magical being, but like Tavia, her family has kept it hidden from her, so her journey is about discovering who she is. I liked that through Effie we see different types of family (her grandparents are not biological, and Tavia’s family were surrogate parents) and how strong those bonds really are. While Tavia is finding her voice, Effie is searching for her place in her world and I feel like she understands where she fits in it all by the end. 

While I enjoyed the novel, it did leave me wanting – for more. I wanted to spend more time in the world/the community of the sirens (the network that Tavia references) as well as more insight into the different magical communities that exist. I hope Morrow intends to write a sequel because I want to continue with Tavia and Effie on their respective journeys and see how each move forward from the events of the end of the novel.