By: Bethany C. Morrow
Right off the bat I will say this book is a five star read and a necessary one. A book that Black girls can see themselves in is rarer than it should be. The two girls, Tavia and Effie are best friends, play-sisters (family not related by blood but as Tavia says “REal doesn’t matter when it comes to family”.)
The story takes place in Portland. The world is populated with mythical creatures, Elokos, universally loved, naturally charming with an otherworldly melody that is all their own. Any race can have an Eloko child. There are sprites, mischievous creatures that nothing can be done against so when things go missing like keys are when hair gets tugged, it’s blamed on the sprites and laughed off.
Then there are the sirens. Sirens are always Black women it seems. The intersectionality between hatred against Black women and Sirens is a theme that cannot be escaped. Sirens are said to be controlling, manipulative, dangerous, loud, all things that are applied to Black women. Racism isn’t shied away from because how could it be? The characters are Black living in America.
Gargoyles also exist and there’s hardly any information known about them.
When the story starts, Tavia learns about the murder of yet another Black woman by her boyfriend. The defense claims it was a siren. As if that should excuse it. There is no positivity around Sirens. There’s even a show about one siren who chose to wear a silencing collar, a piece of equipment that silences the siren’s calls.
It’s disturbing to say the least.
Taviatavia’s desire to get rid of her voice is what sent her family to Portland in the first place. Her father’s hatred of sirens is obvious and she feels like he hates her as a result, even though, in her words, it’s his fault she’s a siren because his mother was one. She says her parents took that chance when they had her and she was the only one with no say in it.
The steps she took to get rid of her voice left her with a keloid scar and her father moving the family back to his hometown because of the Network, a group that knows who are the sirens, who knew his mother, and will protect them.
Tavia met Effie because of the move and now the girl lives with her because Effie’s grandmother thinks it’s good for her. Both girls gained a sister and it’s the strongest and realist bond I’ve ever read.
Effie has “sort of eczema” and to her it’s worse than it is to anyone else. She never feels free and hides behind her twists. I’m just going to say that seeing your life represented in fiction is something that cannot be understated and for those of us who rarely get it, it’s amazing.
Effie’s life hasn’t been easy even though she’s not a siren. When she was a young child playing with her friends in the park something happened. Every child but her was turned to stone. She was the only one left unscathed. And that event has followed her and molded her into the shy anxious girl we see.
Her mother has passed and she’s begged her mother and her grandmother for information about her father. Her mother refused to give it but was kind but when it comes to her grandmother she’s harsh in the way that the people that love us the most don’t see hurts us. She belittles Effie’s questions, makes them out to seem childish and tries to get her to quit the Ren Fair, the one thing in the world Effie loves aside from Tavia.
Her mother was part of the Fair as a mermaid and now Effie is too, and this year is supposed to be big. In her tank with her tail on, Effie feels free, like she’s who she’s meant to be.
Due to the tank, Effie knows sign language. Tavia learned it because when her emotions get high, her siren call burns her throat and opening her mouth is dangerous. It’s one thing that makes their bond stronger as Effie translates for her and it’s also how they have conversations when Tavia just can’t talk and vice versa. Just because Effie isn’t a siren doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult to get the words she needs out. Sometimes it’s just difficult.
Tavia wants to find her grandmother so she can ask her to take her voice because she just can’t handle it. She wants to be “normal”. And the Network isn’t as trustworthy as it’s supposed to be thanks to the eloko girl dating Tavia’s ex boyfriend–also an eloko and the son of a police officer.
A mild spoiler, Tavia gets pulled over driving her father’s sports car. My heart hammered the entire time reading that scene because her fear was palpable and real and that fear is the exact reason I don’t drive. Who knows what could happen.
As Effie isn’t there, Tavia can’t sign. What makes it worse is that her ex’s dad is one of the cops to stop her. The stop goes the way a lot of us fear it will, with us being treated as criminals already and Tavia can’t stop herself from using her call to get herself home safe. Unfortunately her ex’s father wasn’t affected by it and now he knows her secret.
It’s difficult not to spoil the rest of the book, it’s a must read. By the end of it, I was teary eyed to say goodbye but also because it was just so good a book and a book that actually spoke to the experiences I’ve had, that many Black women and men and children have had.
There’s a protest due to the police killing another young Black child, just like there are now. Nothing is shied away from because it’s a lived experience and the girls feel like they could leap from the pages.
Tavia, who learned to take care of her hair from natural hair youtube videos and Effie who had to unlearn truth Black children grow up with like Black hair doesn’t grow and that it’s only “good” if you’re mixed. It speaks to being Black and the way that feels can’t be put into words.
I’m thankful for this book. I’ll be recommending it to everyone I know. I’m thankful to Bethany C. Morrow for writing it. The world between those pages is fully fleshed out, there’s not a bit of magic out of place and the girls; stories are incredible. Solid worldbuilding, beautiful characters and real families. People that are painfully underrepresented in fiction today. Stories that never get a chance to be told are finally getting read.
I’ve never been moved by a book the way this one moved me. It’s a beautiful blend of magic and reality and everyone should read it.