Jenna Rideout's Reviews > A Song Below Water

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
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really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks

A Song Below Water is an alternate reality YA Urban Fantasy set in Portland, in a version of our world where mythical creatures like sirens exist as regular people with special abilities, and mundane racism is intermixed with magical racism. Black teens Tavia, a siren who wishes she wasn't, and Effie, an orphan of unknown but probably not human origins, are trying to live ordinary high school student lives in a predominantly white and wealthy area. When a murder case is dismissed as self-defence after the victim was revealed to be a siren, everything changes.

Unless I've missed something, it would appear that all sirens in this version of the world are black. This world also suppresses sirens, pressuring them not to use the magic in their voices and collaring them in magic-suppressing collars if they do. Sirens who come out publically are feared and mocked in equal measure, frequently assaulted, and non infrequently murdered. This book is very clearly using the more family-friendly and detached "because they're sirens" label in order to call out and expose racism in the real world, rather than writing a contemporary fiction where ordinary black women are going through these things like their real-world counterparts constantly are. The message of what's happening and the fact that it's wrong definitely gets across. Since our two POV characters are on the receiving end, the reader is automatically put in a position of being sympathetic to their plight. I don't feel like this book has offered any commentary on solutions, and I fear that putting it all on the fact that they're actually not human rather than putting it on mundane racism erases the fact that this is how millions of real people are treated in our real modern world every day.

I listened to the audiobook version, and as such didn't have the visual queues of chapter headers and such to help keep track of which POV we were in. I'm not sure if it's a point against the narrator or the original writing she read from, but at times I found it difficult to keep track of which girl was the siren and which girl was going through some other change because the voice (literal and figurative) of both POV characters sounded the same.

Given how much "day in the life" ordinary circumstances scenes we got in this book, particularly early on, I wanted just as much if not more explanation on the mythology and lore, how these creatures came to coexist with humans, and what exactly lies at the roots of the human vs magical beings racism. As mentioned above, it feels like we're lifted real-world Black America racism issues as a whole and put it under the magical beings label without any tweaks or explanations. Normally when racism (or speciesism) is present in a fantasy novel, it's either magical races being racist toward non-magical races (seen as inferior) or everyone vs races seen as violent or immoral by nature. In this book we have sirens being treated as inferior beings with differences to be feared, but we don't know why. What happened between humans and sirens in the past to get here?

I do absolutely love the relationship between the two teenage protagonists. They love each other like true found family sisters, deeper than best friends, and this extends to the way they interact with and are received by one another's parents/guardians. The relationship between Tavia and Effie alone makes this book worth reading.
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Reading Progress

October 5, 2020 – Started Reading
October 5, 2020 –
32.0% (Audible Audio Edition)
October 6, 2020 – Finished Reading
October 13, 2020 – Shelved
October 13, 2020 – Shelved as: audiobooks

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