I adored this book and the beautiful relationship between its two narrators, Tavia and Effie.
The story lines in A Song Below Water feel timely, but would have fit decades ago, too (with one exception: this YA fantasy is anchored to the present by Tavia’s devotion to a fictional YouTube star). Its themes are comprehensive: activism, fear rooted in bigotry (through mythos), racism, sexism, the drive a parent feels to keep a child safe from that discrimination and, rising above them all, friendship and found family.
Tavia’s voice is power—literally, when she uses her siren voice. But being a siren is dangerous, tied into the fact that only black women and girls have been sirens in recent times. Tavia’s throat burns when she suppresses her voice, but—according to her father—being outed as a siren is the worst thing that could happen. She’s worn down by a life spent wading through society’s fears, her father’s and her own.
A Song Below Water‘s other protagonist, Effie, is the antidote for all that, even if she can’t take it away. They aren’t really sisters, but now that they live together they might as well be. Oh, and she’s a mermaid. Not in real life, but she plays one at the Renaissance faire she loves. Effie’s love for it goes back to her mother, who was a performer, too, and since her mother’s death, it’s how she holds on.
She might not be a real mermaid, but it’s clear Effie is something. As the girls negotiate a sometimes cruel and frequently, dangerously misunderstanding world (same goes for their high school), their bond of sisterhood guides them through and propels the story line. That and the mysterious gargoyle that roosts on Tavia’s roof.
This is a great story, well told, and more. A Song Below Water is chuck full of lessons in empathy for non-black readers. Morrow does some of her best work in Tavia’s narration. “I’m not up for educating anyone on how many things exist that they don’t know about or support, even if we are basically friends,” says Tavia, too worn to explain when she’s questioned about why she watches hair videos on YouTube. And, later, “the only ones who seem to stand for Black girls are Black girls.”