I know you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover but listen . . . if the cover suggests the book might be about mermaids . . . I’m reading it.
I couldn’t wait for Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water to arrive in the mail. It was summertime, I’d just discovered Bookshop.org, and it was the start of COVID, leaving me pretty much all day, every day, to sit outside in the shade with an iced coffee and a mermaid book.
Set in the modern-day, A Song Below Water is about two best friends — sisters in bond — who live extraordinary lives.
“Part of the reason we immediately glommed on to each other must be that we know what it is to feel like there’s something wrong with us. And like our families know it. I didn’t know anyone else understood the sting of love mingled with the obvious disapproval.”Morrow 18
Octavia — Tavia — is a siren. However, society seems to have it out for black girls who have siren powers. As a result, Tavia’s father is highly protective of her and does not allow her to show her true self to hardly anyone.
“It doesn’t really matter when what the world believes about you isn’t a matter of life and death. And it isn’t. Unless you’re a siren.” Morrow 10
Effie lives with Tavia’s family but is highly curious about her own family and origins. She plays a mermaid at the local Renaissance Faire, but she wonders if there is more to her mermaid-ness than just pretending.
“This is when I feel like myself. When I’m not afraid to speak, whether out loud or singing underwater. This is where I don’t feel nervous looking people in the eye and having all their eyes on me. I’m not Effie, the weird girl who survived the park, whose mom died and who never knew her dad.”Morrow 67
“‘What’s she becoming?’ ‘Herself.’”Morrow 169
As a siren murder trial goes viral, so do protests across the country. Tavia and Effie find themselves at the forefront of these protests, wanting to use their voices to speak out against injustice.
“‘Her life mattered.’ . . . ‘Whether she was a siren or not.’”Morrow 24
Despite feeling paralyzed by fear and prejudice directed at them, Tavia and Effie stand up for what is right.
“I knew someday I would have to stand up, even if I was scared.”Morrow 129
“it feels so good, like I’ve been in a vise until now, like I’ve been on eggshells for the world and now I’m standing flat on my feet.”Morrow 97
In the process, they find their voices and unleash their true identities.
“My voice is power.”Morrow 128
With a focus on female friendships, social justice, and the power of identity — all with the magic of the sea sprinkled throughout — A Song Below Water is a unique blend of fantasy and reality. I can’t wait to share this one with my students — fantasy and realism fans alike.
A Song Below Water is available on Bookshop.org; or, look for a copy / order one from your favorite local independent bookstore. A great way to help the economy and your community is to shop local. Check out more information here!
Trigger Warnings: black trauma; bullying; colorism; faked suicide; fantasy racism; forced hospitalization; forced outing; misogynoir; murder; police brutality; racial profiling; skin removal; throat injury