Friday, October 8, 2021

Freeform Friday: A Chorus Rises ( A Song Below Water #2) - Bethany C. Morrow

Summary: Teen influencer Naema Bradshaw has it all: she's famous, privileged, has “the good hair”— and she’s an Eloko, a person who’s gifted with a song that woos anyone who hears it. Everyone loves her — well, until she's cast as the awful person who exposed Tavia’s secret siren powers.

Now, she's being dragged by the media. No one understands her side: not her boyfriend, not her friends, nor her Eloko community. But Naema knows the truth and is determined to build herself back up — no matter what.

When a new, flourishing segment of Naema’s online supporters start targeting black girls, however, Naema must discover the true purpose of her magical voice. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Here’s the thing. This is the sequel to A Song Below Water (you can read my review for that book here) and while there’s a lot I love and think are admirable about both books, I’m not sure I’d read another in this series. Let me start with what I liked.

I always like a story about an alternate universe where magic is a thing and everyone is cool with it. This is a cool alternate universe because some Black girls are magical sea creatures, like sirens, and gorgons, etc. It’s pretty fun. I feel like there’s lots of mermaids running amuck in literature but not as many of the fun supernatural sea creatures in this book, which is an exciting addition to the mythical creature books running rampant in YA fic these days.

And I think the subject matter is really important. (Not the siren/gorgon stuff, the real story.) The story itself is a not-so-veiled discussion of race and the expectations society has of Black girls, and how some people claim to be allies when they are anything but. I thought it was complicated and yet a timely and pertinent discussion that was well-done and could easily lead to important discussions. I do wish there was even more outright discussion of race and society; I think this would have given the reader more understanding of how to address it themselves, and maybe even given them some vocabulary to use when doing so.

But all that said, this book was a lot to take. And I don’t mean in terms of subject matter. It’s about girls in high school, but I think Morrow really expects a lot from her readers. For instance, the size of the font is actually pretty small. I know this is a weird thing to comment about, but most YA fiction has bigger font than this book, and it makes the chapters longer and the book deceptively longer than you’d thing a YA book would be. And while I realize that Morrow herself probably didn’t make that decision, it’s an example of the overall issue I had.

The language Morrow chooses is mature. Not mature as in swearing (although there are a few instances of swearing, but not much), but mature as in she uses big words that I think the average teen reader who wants to read about sirens probably doesn’t know. I’ve been around lots of teen girls and have never heard them utter such intelligent vocab. Also, the voice of the characters and the strong voice of the protagonist are a lot. I appreciate the skill Morrow exhibits in creating the feel of the characters. But it’s intense, reading like that. The main character has got a huge personality and is smart (possibly savvier than a girl her age would really be), so I think some intelligent readers will really dig it, and others might be a little put off. It isn’t super smooth and effortless easy reading like so many YA fic books. Now that being said, I’m totally cool with an author bringing the readers up to a higher level. I think a book like this could easily be the type of thing that exposes less-experienced readers to more complicated material and a really positive way. But I personally found these aspects of this particular book a little alienating.

Here’s the bottom line. I’ve read many YA books with challenging subject matter that I feel like I can connect to, and relate to, and some that even bring me back nostalgically. Unfortunately, in spite of it’s other strengths, this is not one of those books. I felt old and although I could definitely see the importance of the discussion, these girls were too cool for me and too hip. I don’t know that I would read another in the series just because I feel like it’s not for me. To be fair—I am old and not hip, so it is what it is.

If you enjoy supernatural books, especially ones with a strong female protagonist and relevant social discussion, this book is for you.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are a swear words, but not many, and the love story is sweet and not too sexual. I’m surprised at how clean this book is.

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