I dove into A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow thinking I would just get a fun, young adult novel about mermaids and Black girl magic, but it was so much more in the best of ways. It’s a magical realism story serving up the beauty of sisterhood and showing that racism and misogyny are not just “timely” topics, but are instead, “ALWAYS” topics.
Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water is the story for today’s readers ― a captivating modern fantasy about black mermaids, friendship, and self-discovery set against the challenges of today’s racism and sexism.
In a society determined to keep her under lock and key, Tavia must hide her siren powers.
Meanwhile, Effie is fighting her own family struggles, pitted against literal demons from her past. Together, these best friends must navigate through the perils of high school’s junior year.
But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice at the worst possible moment.
Soon, nothing in Portland, Oregon seems safe. To save themselves from drowning, it’s only Tavia and Effie’s unbreakable sisterhood that proves to be the strongest magic of all.
What a fresh magical realism story that confronts current politics, racism and misogyny. It did a wonderful job weaving in the mythological elements and relevant topics that had me absorbed from chapter one.
Right when you dive in, the story confronts the reader with a murder of a Black woman named Rhoda Taylor, whose name doesn’t spread like wildfire until it’s revealed she’s a siren, making her different, so much so that it somehow justifies her death—sound familiar?
So, this book feels relevant to say the least, releasing on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, but if anything, reading this book showed me racism and misogyny are ALWAYS relevant.
“The fear gets quiet, but it doesn’t disappear, and that might be what sets us apart. When we smile, or we dance, or we march, or we win, it isn’t because we didn’t have a reason to be afraid. It isn’t because the uncertainty is gone. It’s because we did it anyway. Because we cannot be exterminated.”
Set in today’s Portland, Oregon where sirens, gargoyles, and sprites live. Each mythological creature has its own type of existence, and I’ll leave it up to readers to unwrap most of them, but sirens are rejected and feared by society because they can compel people with their voices. Sirens fear exposing themselves because if revealed they’ll get a collar that literally silences their voices. Two things to know: (1) Not all Black women are sirens, and (2) All sirens are Black women, which brings light to how Black women are treated, making a siren an excellent allegory for misogyny. All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter, and this book shows that Black lives can’t matter until siren lives matter—get it?—until black women’s lives matter.
Told from two point of views, Effie and Tavi, who are raised as sisters, and it’s this sisterhood and bond between them that I enjoyed the most about this book. They were always there for one another. I love stories that are about women lifting each other up. Their relationship is endearing and what got me through this book, which at times can be as heartbreaking as it is wonderful. I enjoyed navigating their adolescence with them. I felt for these characters; Effie and her lack of self-confidence, and then Tavia’s need to hide her true self.
I almost wish this book could have been longer to have more time to give descriptions on the mythological elements. I wanted to know more about the sprites and gargoyles, and although it seamlessly felt part of the story, I would have liked to see that developed more.
Overall The Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow was a powerful and captivating read about identity and the price of giving up the power to be who you are. Not only are the mythological elements wonderful, but they beautifully veil the societal issues the author is trying to convey, and I think everyone who reads this book can learn something.