Review: A Song Below Water | Bethany C. Morrow

A Song Below Water | Bethany C. Morrow

Book Details

Hardcover: 286 pgs.

Publisher: Tor Teen

Publication Date: June 2, 2020


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 world is better off when we’re silent, and if the system skews toward making that happen…Well. Everybody’s safer for it.

This book caught my eye for several reasons: the gorgeous cover featuring gorgeous black women, sirens, and the parallels drawn between a fictional ostracized minority group and our own realistic community of black men and women. There was much to love about this book. And while the author manages to tackle numerous social issues, the characters and their personal narratives are sorely lacking.

The best part about this book is how relevant it is to the current social climate. Morrow highlights the plight of the black American but also shines a spotlight on the oft-forgotten (or dismissed) issue of the black woman in America. As a black woman myself, it felt like a breath of fresh air to see the troubles that we might face day to day in a YA book.

I loved the conversations the author sought to inspire among her readers, though, it could all be overwhelming considering the large number of topics she explores: victim blaming, police brutality, murder, bigotry and racism, sexism, protest and social justice, racial profiling, and much more. The book felt too small to cover so much ground. And so each issue felt skimmed over rather than completely exhumed for social discussion.

They just went along with her post-mortem character assassination because she was already the worst thing she could be: a Black woman .”

Themes aside, the sister relationship between Tavia and Effie was wonderful. They had a solid, supportive relationship that felt free of drama. There was no hidden jealousies or discontent. It was all love and encouragement from the start.

Strangely though, the girls as individuals were very flat. I could barely tell the other apart. Their voices were indistinguishable from each other and their personalities held nothing beyond their roles as black women.

Besides the lackluster characterization, there was barely any explanation about the author’s alternate universe. I was very unsure of what the rules were concerning magical creatures living among humans. Morrow creates her own versions of well-known creatures, such as sirens and gargoyles, but their abilities and appearances are incredibly vague.

Some things were simply left unexplained. An eloko is mentioned throughout the book, a creature I’ve never heard of, yet not once was it properly explained what is an eloko. And though there are sprites, they never actually appear on the page. So what are they in this universe? What do they look like? What is their purpose? The questions are many by the end of this book.

Other issues (or questions) I had with this book are small but still negatively impact the narrative: Why are all the adults terrible? What is the point of a mean girl who seemingly has NO motivations whatsoever? Why are ALL of the classmates useless as people? Why are all the people in a supposed supportive network unsupportive?

I wanted to LOVE this book, but there was too much that didn’t really work out. As a commentary on current events and black America. it succeeds, but as a novel with a solid plot, characters, pacing, and setting, it doesn’t quite.



8 thoughts on “Review: A Song Below Water | Bethany C. Morrow

  1. This is on my wishlist! I’m still intrigued to read it even after hearing all of this. Its been a while since I’ve read a book that I’ve found fault in and in a strange sorta way I want to find one because I need to question a read and have something to think about as opposed to just thinking something is great and not imagining ways it can be improved if that makes sense. I wanna have a debate in my mind, so I hope I like it but I kinda hope I don’t at the same time 💫😂 Great review as always! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having a good think about a book is sometimes really necessary. It’s great when you read books that just blow you away, but books that offer both good and bad can also be good experiences 😀 Great exercise for the mind! I hope you enjoy this one a little more than I did! There is quite a bit to appreciate about it! And thank you 😊💕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have this book on my TBR as I love the cover so much! It does sound extremely relevant given the climate atm. It’s really a shame that the characters were rather flat. I don’t care for mean girls who have no major role in my books too, so I’ll have to remember that going into it. Thank you for the detailed review! I appreciate it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s worth giving this book a go for it’s messages. But yeah, the characters were pretty lackluster and I just really didn’t understand the mean girl’s motives. Maybe you might have a better experience with it though. I really hope you do! And thank you! 😊


  3. I’ve seen so many people talk about this book lately! I had been wondering if I should give it a try … I’m sorry to hear it didn’t live up to your expectations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s perfect for allowing readers to take a glimpse into the lives of black women/black individuals in America, but besides that, I can’t say that it really succeeded elsewhere. So I’d recommend it for political and civil reasons if that’s what you’re on the lookout for!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just recently read this book and I feel mostly the same as you about it. The sister relationship was probably my favourite aspect of the whole book. 🙂 Sadly the voices of the girls were indistinguishable from each other. I expected to enjoy this book a lot more than I did. Side note: the cover is absolutely gorgeous! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, it was disappointing in a lot of areas, but the sister relationship was golden and the cover is stunning. My shelves look 10x better with it there haha. But yeah, wish the story was as amazing :/

      Liked by 1 person

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