Book Reviews

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow


Released: June 2020
Publisher: Tor Teen
Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5

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.


From Goodreads:

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.


The synopsis and absolutely stunning cover alone would have been enough to make me want to read this book. It presented a unique premise in that this was a fantasy story that exclusively focused on women of color navigating their way through the world. It’s hard being a black woman in America. Add in a power that everyone is afraid of? Even harder.

Weaving mystical creatures and social justice together, this was a refreshing take on the YA fantasy genre. It is set in an alternative Portland where sprites, gargoyles, and mermaids are not creatures of lore, but actually exist. Two teenage girls, one a siren and the other her foster sister, are not only having to battle the normal trials of being teenage girls but are having to fight racial prejudices that extend beyond the color of their skin.

Sirens have evolved into being exclusively black women and are universally feared because of their ability to control people with their voices. This adds an extra layer of societal racism onto sirens and black women alike, forcing any with the powers of a siren to remain hidden in plain sight.

It was a little difficult to get into the story at first because the initial worldbuilding was somewhat lacking. I felt like I had been thrown into the middle of a story without any explanation and found myself wondering if I was missing something. Luckily the narrative soon found its stride and I began to fall in love with the setting and characters as it all breathtakingly came together.

It was worth pushing through because as the story came alive, I felt fully swept away in the lives of these two impressive young women. And those final, utterly explosive chapters…omg. I hope that this isn’t the last time we will be seeing Tavia and Effie because I’m fully invested in them now and what comes next.
A Song Below Water did end in a way that makes it holds up as a standalone, but there was just enough there at the end to leave it open for further books. Let’s hope this is the start to a much-needed addition to the YA fantasy world because I’m so here for it.


While any book about racial inequality in America would be relevant no matter when it was released, A Song Below Water‘s publication last week came at an incredible time. One of the most powerful aspects of the book was about how the girls came to grips with things like police brutality against blacks and the way the justice system fails them. At one point the girls even take part in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the murder of a suspected siren.

That’s why it almost seems like kismet for this book to have been released last week when the streets of America (including Portland) were erupting in frustration over the systemic racism in our country. I’ve seen some reviewers mention that the author should just pick a theme, fantasy or social justice, but I think those reviewers fail to understand that if you’re a POC in America you don’t get to choose a “theme.”

Even though some of the creatures in this book could hide their gifts, they couldn’t hide their skin color. So much like it is for people in real life, the color of their skin is not something that they can choose to turn off. It’s simply impossible to separate the two and to expect that to happen in a book because it’s fiction is, in my opinion, definitely letting your privilege show.



5 thoughts on “A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow”

  1. Excellent review. 🙂 I totally agree with you that 1) it has a gorgeous cover and 2) it was a stroke of luck for this book to be published at this time. Racism is not a problem in America alone; it is prevalent in many other countries, including mine. Books like these need to be read more and more to sensitize people towards such ills.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I’m American but have lived in several countries and am currently in the UK. Racism has been a problem in all of them from what I’ve seen. Especially here. Shortly after Brexit I was assaulted when someone heard my accent, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like for POC.

      Books like this aimed at younger readers are so essential in helping educate people.

      Liked by 1 person

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