Do you have any idea how RELEVANT this book is in the crappy year of our lord 2020? Please allow me to start with saying that yes, Black Lives Matter, which I still can’t believe has to be said as loud as it has been the last few weeks.
A SONG BELOW WATER
by Bethany C. Morrow
288 pages | Published June 2nd 2020 | Tor Teen
Audiobook narrated by Andrea Laing and Jennifer Haralson
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.
This book starts with the murder of a Black woman named Rhoda Taylor. No one was saying her name until it was hinted at that she was a siren. One little word, just the tiniest seed of suspicion in the minds of folks who can bring down justice, and she gets none because of who she is. Her murder is suddenly justified because she might be a little different from the people in charge. Sound familiar?
I fell in love with this story so hard from the beginning. This is a world where sirens, sprites and gargoyles live. Sprites are left alone, even though they turn children to stone in parks—keep Portland weird, folks—and gargoyles are very rare stone guardians. Sirens, on the other hand, are ostracized from the moment they reveal themselves. This is why they keep hidden, and only share their identities within unique communities that protect them. People are scared of them because they can compel people with their voices. Their fear forces them to contain sirens with collars that suppress their voices. Not all Black women are sirens, but all sirens are Black women. This brought in an interesting twist to what we’re seeing now. All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter, and this book adds in the addendum that Black lives can’t matter until siren lives matter.
This story is told from two points of view: Tavia and Effie. They are adopted sisters of a sort who are endearingly close and will protect each other, no matter the cost.
🎶 Tavia is the siren of her family, but that knowledge stays within the family to protect her. She struggles with controlling her voice and keeping her siren call down, and compensates with using sign language to communicate as necessary. She has even adopted a disability that presents similar to what she deals with as an excuse. I felt so bad for Tavia because no one should ever have to hide who they are out of fear of what society will think. Still, she’s strong, and finds ways to make it work, like joining her school’s choir.
💧 Effie is the adopted sister who is … something. Much of her story is trying to figure out what and who she is. She is a very self-conscious girl who hides behind her twists. Effie has what doctors think is severe eczema, and it embarrasses her. She feels her best when she’s swimming and following in her mother’s footsteps as part of the Renn Faire. I found her backstory to be the most interesting of the two. Not only in the reveals that come at the end, but in her role with the park statues. When she was younger, her friends were playing Red Rover, but were turned to stone by the sprites living there at the time. Effie is famous because she’s the only one of the children who didn’t become a statue.
As I said, this book was very timely. While I’m sure the author didn’t want this book coming out during both a global pandemic and a time of major societal upheaval, it was beneficial to me in further shedding light on the importance of the Black Lives Matter protests. Even topics and subjects I had learned just the day before, like Devonte Hart, were brought up here. There is a scene with Tavia being pulled over by the police, despite doing nothing wrong. I had no choice but to give this scene my full attention because I was terrified it would turn into something it absolutely shouldn’t. There is also a Black Lives Matter protest that Tavia and Effie attend. It brings up the same questions about why this innocent boy died. If he’d pulled his pants up or used the cross walk, would he be graduating next month?
There is only one part of this book that didn’t quite click for me, and that was the Renn Faire/Hidden Scales. Perhaps I missed the explanation, but it was hard to figure out because of how the characters treated it. At first I thought it was a TV show, but it’s actually an annual Rennaisance festival. At this faire, Effie plays a mermaid whose beloved is the blacksmith’s son. However, there didn’t seem to be a divide between this make-believe life and the real world. When Effie meets her ‘beloved’ for the first time outside of the faire, the boy doesn’t once break character. I dunno, it’s clearly important to the story, especially the ending, but I was more confused than intrigued.
A final note: the dual audiobook narrators were excellent, and their voices were distinct enough to give both sisters clear personalities.