A Song Below Water

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
A Song Below Water Book Poster Image
Emotional fantasy about two girls who seize their power.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author uses existence and life paths of supernatural beings as a metaphor for racial marginalization.

Positive Messages

Don't hide your light under a bushel. Your vulnerability may be your strength, and your voice is your power. Have as much compassion for yourself as you do for other people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main characters are Black teen girls living in Portland, Oregon. Explores complexity of their identities and experiences in that community. They are deeply engaged in swimming, the Renaissance Faire, natural hair, and honors studies in high school. One of them, Tavia, is secretly a siren. Sirens are exclusively Black women and are regarded as dangerous, evil. This status underscores all the reasons she feels silenced. Subtle promotion of value of psychological counseling, as Tavia occasionally calls on self-regulation tools she learned in psychotherapy.

Violence

A boyfriend murders his girlfriend. Peaceful protesters are roughed up by police with military gear. Characters use supernatural powers for revenge and self-defense, including turning other people to stone.

Sex

A couple of instances of romantic kissing and talk of crushes.

Language
Consumerism

Being an influencer on YouTube is central to one of the main subplots.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bethany C. Morrow's A Song Below Water is the story of two African American teen girls, Tavia and Effie, friends who live as sisters in Tavia's family home in Portland, Oregon. Each of them has suffered a trauma that haunts her. Tavia is secretly a siren, a type of supernatural being; sirens are exclusively Black women and girls, and they are considered dangerous and evil. A boyfriend murders his girlfriend. Peaceful protesters are roughed up by police with military gear. Characters use supernatural powers for revenge and self-defense, including turning other people to stone. There are a couple of instances of romantic kissing and talk of crushes. Being an influencer on YouTube is central to one of the main subplots.

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What's the story?

When A SONG BELOW WATER begins, teen friends Tavia and Effie are living as sisters in Tavia's family home in Portland. Tavia is a siren with a powerful, magical voice -- a condition she inherited from her grandmother. Her father demands she keep her identity tightly under wraps because sirens, who are exclusively Black women and girls, are targeted as dangerous and evil. Effie lost her mother and dreams of stepping into the mother's role as a mermaid at the Renaissance Faire. When a woman is murdered, the perpetrator pleads self-defense on the grounds that his girlfriend was a siren. Meanwhile, Effie's mysterious physical symptoms and blackouts suggest that there's something more to her mother's mermaid costumes.

Is it any good?

Though it starts a little slow, this clever fantasy goes deep and stays there. Tavia and Effie, the main characters of A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow (author of MEM and editor of Take the Mic), are such believable teens that it's easy to follow them from swimming in a pool at the community center to flying around town in the wings of a gargoyle. Literal Black girl magic illuminates how young women can discover and embrace their real-life superpowers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role of keeping secrets in A Song Below Water. How do secrets protect people, and how do they harm?

  • Do you have a friend who understands you in a way that no one else does?

  • The author of A Song Below Water uses sustained metaphors to communicate her ideas. Did this help you understand the book's messages?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and friendship stories

Themes & Topics

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