A Song Below Water Book Review

Goodreads 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.

I thought about how I want to discuss the books I’m reading and how I really want to speak about what the book is saying. Books can be so much more than a story if you take the time to listen to them. I’m aware everyone reads the same book a different way but these are my thoughts and opinions of this book.

Thank you to Tor Teen for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.

Overall: I really enjoyed all aspects of this book from the themes, characters, writing style, etc. I love fantasy books that mix aspects of our world into their world. Its a great escape while still taking time to reflect on what is brought up in the book. I really enjoy getting a chance to look into the mythology of this book and hearing from the author to learn more.

The ending of this book is a shock and such a twist. I love the way this book reveals Effie and Tavia’s secrets to others and to the reader.

Themes: I like how this book is a fantasy book yet it still connects to the way that Black people are marginalized and silenced. I like how they discuss the way that sirens are not welcome in their world and how they have been pushed to the side. I also thought it was important to note the way sirens were always Black girls and the silencing of the sirens using silencing collars or other methods.

There’s a portion in the book where Tavia comes into contact with a police officer. She references a photo and talks about how what is going to heal the world is Black people offering unlimited love. This reminded me of the way that Black people are portrayed in the media or by others and how those images perpetuate racism. It reminded me of how Black people are expected to not show anger or a range of emotions yet others are free to express themselves in any matter they see fit.

There are so many moments in this book that reflect the current climate towards Black people. Tavia talks about how sirens are viewed, how sirens are all Black and the complexity behind holding both those identities at the same time. I really enjoy how she mentions how this isn’t an individual problem but its institutional.

There are also many moments in which you see Tavia and Effie attend protest or outraged at the instances of police brutality that are included in this book. I think Tavia’s thoughts at the protest and her thoughts surrounding how one person gets people outraged yet the other is dismissed because she may be a siren. I love Tavia’s comments about the police not being around to protect and how her community of Black people can’t be “exterminated.”

I really enjoy how the way that Tavia gets through her world is by building a network. I like all references to this network and how this network gets her through a lot. I like the importance of community and how community builds you up instead of tearing you down.

Characters: I really like all the characters that are introduced throughout this book. I like that each person is well developed and you get to see them change throughout the story.

Tavia is so thoughtful about all that she does and everyone that she comes into contact with. She spends a lot of time reflecting on her identity as a siren and a Black girl.

Effie/Euphemia is a secretive person who doesn’t want to harm anyone else. She has two separate lives, one from her time at the ren fair and the rest in her regular world. She keeps to herself and doesn’t let anyone in. I love her excitement about everything and how much she loves everything she does.

Tavia’s parents only want to keep her and Effie safe. Effie’s guardians have tried to keep her safe by keeping secrets from her. I really love seeing the parents and guardians in this book as YA books tend to not have them be a large portion of the story. I like that this book shows growth and development not just for the two girls but also for the adults.

Writing style: I enjoy how the book goes back and forth between Tavia and Effie’s perspectives. It allows you to see the story unfold from two different girls who are telling two different stories. Not only are you getting both of these perspectives but each of them is written in a different style. I really like how each of the girls sounds different from the other.

I also listened to this one on audio because reading this way has been easier on me. I really like how there are two narrators to read each chapter differently depending on if the chapter belongs to Tavia or Effie. I also like that both narrators have a difference voice for additional characters.

You can purchase this book at Barnes and Noble, Eso Won Books, or look for it at your local library.

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett Book Review

Goodreads Description: Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…

Thoughts

I decided to listen to this on audio since it was available immediately and I needed something new to read for Pride month. I’m really glad that I decided to pick this one up as I loved it from the first 5 minutes of the story. This book tackles a range of important subjects and the intersection of those topics. It discusses racism, queer identity, and HIV status.

Overall Opinion

I like how this book handles the topic of HIV and how this book doesn’t dismiss this topic. While this is a lighthearted book it doesn’t dismiss the reality of being HIV positive which is something that I enjoyed. This is a story that shows that HIV+ teenagers can lead happy lives and fulfilling lives without worrying about being treated in a poor matter due to their status. I think that it is important to show these types of stories and show that there is more than one narrative for HIV+ people.

I really enjoy the way this book shows Simone struggling with her queer identity and everything that she feels the need to hide from others. I thought that the way that this was portrayed was done quite well. I like how she thinks about her sexuality and how she doesn’t like not knowing how to define herself. I like how you see her support her friends and being so happy that they have a place that they belong in but wishes that she had the same thing for herself.

I love the complexity they show behind Simone deciding that she is bisexual. I kept having to stop the book and cry because so many of her thoughts around sexuality are thoughts I’ve had recently. I really enjoyed her wondering what it meant to be bisexual and being upset that she even had to decide how she identifies. I connected with her so much around the thoughts on her sexuality and figuring out how to define your sexual

I like the way this book openly talks about sex and sexuality, it doesn’t skirt around the topic or make it something that is taboo to talk about. I love how much is in here that can educate teenagers about safe sex and more. There is so much that isn’t taught in a high school health class and it includes things about queer sex.

Something else this book touches on is racism with Miles having an all white friend group as those are his team mates. I like how Simone reacts about their comments and how she is holding Miles accountable for not calling out his friends. I like the conversation that happens between Miles and Simone about their Black identity and what that means for the both of them. Its important how the discussion points out how they view their Blackness differently and how that contributes to the way they interact with others.

Characters

I love each of the characters that you get to meet throughout this book. There is an abundance of LGBTQ+ representation which is something that I look for in everything that I read. As the main character you get a bisexual MC, and Simone is surrounded by plenty of queer people. She has two dads, a asexual lesbian as a best friend and her other best friend is also bisexual. It is due to her being surrounded by all of these queer people that Simone feels that she can’t call herself bisexual if she’s only crushed on female celebrities and one girl.

There are so many layers to Simone beyond her being HIV+ and that is something that I love. While her HIV status plays a large role in the way she lives her life and interacts with others it isn’t all that we know about her. I love that they include her love for musicals and her involvement with that group alongside her involvement with the support group for HIV+ teens.

Writing Style and Narrator

Simone is written in the voice of a teenager which is great, the tension of her figuring out her identity is intermixed with the lightness of her living her life. I like how you get to hear all of Simone’s inner thoughts as she processes so many different things.

When listening to an audiobook the narrator is very important to me as they can make listening to something great or bad. The narrator of this book is great and helps to tell Simon’s story and immerse you into the book.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble, The Lit Bar, or look for it at your local library.

LGBTQ+ Books by Black Authors

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum 

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus 

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo 

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance – and Papi’s secrets – the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann 

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera 

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye 

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other. 

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow 

Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.

Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.

Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.

Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both. 

Diverse Books Published May 2020

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson 

When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.

Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.

Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit. 

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar 

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

Once Upon an Eid by S.K. Ali  (Editor), Aisha Saeed (Editor), Randa Abdel-Fattah, Huda Al-Marashi, Sara Alfageeh, Hanna Alkaf , Ashley Franklin , Asmaa Hussein, Hena Khan, Rukhsana Khan , Ayesha Mattu , Candice Montgomery, N.H. Senzai , Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, G. Willow Wilson

Once Upon an Eid is a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid!

Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift-giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy. The anthology will also include a poem, graphic-novel chapter, and spot illustrations.

The full list of Once Upon an Eid contributors include: G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen, Ms. Marvel), Hena Khan (Amina’s Voice, Under My Hijab), N. H. Senzai (Shooting Kabul, Escape from Aleppo), Hanna Alkaf (The Weight of Our Sky), Rukhsana Khan (Big Red Lollipop), Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?), Ashley Franklin (Not Quite Snow White), Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Mommy’s Khimar), Candice Montgomery (Home and Away, By Any Means Necessary), Huda Al-Marashi (First Comes Marriage), Ayesha Mattu, Asmaa Hussein, and Sara Alfageeh.

The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos 

Living in a small town where magic is frowned upon, Sam needs his friends James and Delia—and their time together in their school’s magic club—to see him through to graduation.

But as soon as senior year starts, little cracks in their group begin to show. Sam may or may not be in love with James. Delia is growing more frustrated with their amateur magic club. And James reveals that he got mixed up with some sketchy magickers over the summer, putting a target on all their backs.

With so many fault lines threatening to derail his hopes for the year, Sam is forced to face the fact that the very love of magic that brought his group together is now tearing them apart—and there are some problems that no amount of magic can fix.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender 

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

What diverse books are you looking forward to reading?