Friday, February 19, 2021

Freeform Friday: A Song Below Water - Bethany C. Morrow


Summary: 
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. (Summary  from goodreads.com - Image from us.macmillan.com)

My Review:  There are a lot of things that are really great about this book. First off, the premise is so fun—I always love a good story that involves mythical creatures, especially ones that live in a society where they’re acknowledged and just part of things. It’s a fun parallel reality that I think plays really well for YA Fic readers. As an adult I always love a little fantasy with my reality, and I think that the younger one gets the easier it is to accept fantasy and myth into your everyday world. Once old age (and possibly learning, experience, curmudgeonism) hits, it doesn’t flow as smoothly into your world view of reality. Or maybe it does? Nothing wrong with that! But I think you may be in the minority…

So the premise of mythological creatures existing in the real world in this book is fun. That being said, I really wish there was more description and explanation. Everyone holds a phone in their hand now so it’s easy to look these things up, but the fact that there were a lot of random mythological creatures from all different cultural backgrounds that just kind of co-existed was a little weird. There wasn't much backstory, and for a book that spent a lot of time with characters who basically did the same thing over and over again, I would have liked to sacrifice a little bit of that for some space of descriptions of what was going on, especially because when I looked up some of the mythological creatures discussed, a few of them didn’t seem to match up with what Morrow had wanted them to be. I’m totally fine with mythology being flexible, but if it’s your story, you’ve got to do some background work for us or we’re all confused, especially because a lot of these mythological creatures are not the normal ones that have been flitting around literature for the last decade or so.

I liked that the story was written in two different viewpoints. I really enjoy reading YA Fic in first person when it is done well. I think that well-written first person connects the reader in a way that creates a way to have an authentic understanding and learning situation occur, which is one thing that I think YA Fic is important for. The different viewpoints in this book were clearly demarcated in that the chapter headings were the names of the two different girls (Effie and Tavia), but I have to say, their voices were not distinct. Sometimes I was confused about who was talking. Also, Effie and Tavia are nicknames of their real names, so that made it a little more confusing as well. I would have liked more individual voices for each person. I did read this in the kindle version, so maybe the font was different in the chapters or some other way to differentiate, but in the kindle version (and I’m assuming the hardcover as well) we just had to hope that we remembered who was at the chapter heading. Both have characteristics that are obviously one or the other, but it was also a little confusing as to who was who because they just weren’t that different when reading about them or hearing their first-person voice.

The premise of this book is obvious, and indeed I think that even YA Fic readers will see that the not-so-subtle subtext of silencing a siren is actually what silencing a Black girl in the real world is like. And to be honest, I loved the idea that sirens were Black girls only. It was cool and was a really interesting and unique way to address society silencing a Black girl. This didn’t play completely smoothly, and in some situations I felt like it was kind of a stretch and an unnecessary schtick, and almost like we were being banged over the head with the idea of it. If Morrow had really wanted this to be about sirens and cool mythological creatures she should have just gone for it, or if she had wanted this to just be about silencing Black girls; instead there was political subtext and mythology that both seemed out of context. Indeed I do think that both of these could have co-existed well, and they almost did, but not fleshing out the part of the mythology in this book made it a weak front for what Morrow was trying to do. I think Morrow could have easily spent more time fleshing out the world and what was happening with the mythological characters, and doing so would have given more weight to the important social issues they were exploring. 

 There are lots of very epic fantasy books that have changed the whole of society for what they’ve taught in a fantastical setting. Although I’m not sure this book would be something that changed the whole of society (but maybe?), it had the potential to tell a story in a very effective way with a very effective medium but sadly, it fell just a little short. Plus, straight up, mythology is fun and there are lots of fun mythological characters in this book, so Morrow not fleshing them out and using their characteristics more fully to explain her purpose and further the story was a serious oversight in my opinion. It was basically a weak-sauce mythological story, which is too bad because it really had a lot of potential to be something awesome and forward the cause for which Morrow wrote this.

That being said, I believe that YA Fic readers will still really enjoy the mythology and the story of it and may not be as critical of the weakness of the story and details. Sometimes a fun story with fun characters is just fun.

My Rating: 3 Stars

 For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

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