ARC review, book review, young adult

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow (ARC Review)

Title: A Song Below Water
Author: Bethany C. Morrow
Type: Fiction
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Contemporary
Publisher: Tor Teen (Macmillan Publishing)
Date published: June 2, 2020

A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review.

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.

⤖ My Review ⬻

For some reason, I misread the atmosphere of A Song Below Water when I first requested it in February. I don’t know much about the states and cities of the U.S., so even though the synopsis said Portland, Oregon, I for some reason imagined a little coastal town in Maine or something of the sort. The world has also gone through so many changes since February, and many things have been made visible to me through the BLM movement. I have learned a lot and continue to listen and learn.

Having read A Song Below Water recently, after some of the impacts of COVID and, more importantly, the BLM movement, I find that I experienced the book very differently than I might have if I’d read it earlier this year. I also couldn’t believe how timely A Song Below Water is, although, thinking about it, people of colour were dealing with the issues addressed in this book long before those of us who had the privilege to be unaware of said issues became aware of said issues through BLM. So, I really shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Some of you might be asking, “But Flavia, this book is about mermaids. What does it have to do with BLM?” Yes, there are certainly mermaids in A Song Below Water, as well as other fantasy elements. But I found that (in my opinion at least), A Song Below Water is more of a social commentary than a typical contemporary fantasy book. I can’t go into a lot more detail about that without spoiling some important parts of the plot though, so I’ll shift focus to the structure of the book, characters, plot, etc.

When it comes to world-building, I found that I was a little confused at first (and the same goes for some of the plot points and characters). A Song Below Water is under 300 pages long, so, I found that just when I was starting to get the hang of things, the plot wrapped up and the book just ended (though the ending was natural rather than forced, I’d like to add). The same goes for the characters. So, part of it, of course, is that I couldn’t relate to Tavia and Effie, and their experiences for obvious reasons, but I also found that the length of the book made it so that I didn’t spend as much time with them as I have with characters in other, longer books.

All of that aside, I can appreciate what Morrow tried to do with A Song Below Water and a lot of it was fascinating as well as eye-opening for me. I recommend this timely book to those who enjoy contemporary fantasies as well as those looking for the social commentary aspect in their fiction books (especially social commentary that is so timely).

⤖ About the Author ⬻


A somewhat-recovering expat living in the American Northeast (with one foot still firmly planted in Quebec), Bethany C Morrow writes speculative fiction for both the adult and the young adult market. Her adult debut, MEM, was an ABA 2018 Indies Introduce pick, and a June Indie Next pick, and was featured/reviewed in: Locus Magazine, the LA Times, Buzzfeed, Book Riot, Bustle, and, among others. She was editor and contributor to TAKE THE MIC: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance, which released with AAL/Scholastic in October 2019. Bethany’s YA debut,, A SONG BELOW WATER is a contemporary fantasy, and releases in June 2020.

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8 thoughts on “A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow (ARC Review)

  1. You know, I find I have the same problem with YA books with social commentary, especially if they have sf/f elements. They’re often so short that the author is forced to pick between their commentary, character development, or world-building, and at least one tends to suffer. Why couldn’t these books be a little longer so the author has time to delve into it all more? Nobody didn’t read THUG because it was 100 pages longer than the average YA book…

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me! And I completely agree! I mean I don’t know what happens between authors and their editors behind the scenes, maybe the author gets rushed to meet a deadline? But since the ARC for this was ready pretty early on…I don’t know.

      1. I wonder if maybe editors pressure certain authors to keep the books short so the reader doesn’t lose interest? If so I wish they would hold a higher opinion of teen readers, because honestly.

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