June 2020

Hand-drawn image of a five-point starJune 2020 Stars & Big Picture

Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.

Caletti, Deb Girl, Unframed.          Simon Pulse, 2020      [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781534426979        $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781534426993     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*       Gr. 9-12

Frick, Kit     I Killed Zoe Spanos.   McElderry, 2020         [384p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781534449701        $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781534449725     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*       Gr. 8-12

Jasinska, Alicia     The Dark Tide.            Sourcebooks Fire, 2020          [336p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781728209982        $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781728209999     $17.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*   Gr. 9-12

Kelly, Erin Entrada        We Dream of Space.   Greenwillow, 2020     [400p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780062747303        $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780062747327     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*     Gr. 4-7

Lockhart, E.           Again Again.   Delacorte, 2020          [304p]
Library ed. ISBN 9780375991851     $21.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9780385744799        $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780385391399     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*      Gr. 8-12

Morrow, Bethany C.        A Song Below Water.  Tor Teen, 2020           [288p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781250315328        $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781250315311     $9.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*   Gr. 9-12

Ness, Patrick          Burn.   Quill Tree/HarperCollins, 2020          [384p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780062869494        $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780062869517     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*       Gr. 7-10

Salaysay, Cynthia Private Lessons.         Candlewick, 2020       [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5362-0960-0  $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5362-1181-8            $17.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*       Gr. 9-12

Scott, Libby Can You See Me?; written by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott.    Scholastic, 2020          [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-338-60891-5  $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-338-60892-2            $10.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*      Gr. 5-8

Weiss, Elaine          The Woman’s Hour: Our Fight for the Right to Vote (Adapted for Young Readers).           Random House, 2020            [224p] illus. with photographs
Library ed. ISBN 9780593125199     $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593125182        $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593125205     $10.99
Reviewed from galleys                       R*       Gr. 6-10

A Song Below Water

by Bethany C. Morrow

In folklore and fiction, monsters represent very real human anxieties and fears, and the supernatural is often a way of talking about painful subjects. Morrow’s YA debut deftly twines myth and folklore with realism, creating a compelling narrative in which the fantastical elements, drawn from a range of folkloric and mythological traditions, amplify contemporary issues of gender, race, and power that Black women and girls face in their everyday lives.

The story unfolds through alternating first-person narration by Tavia and Effie, who live in a Portland, Oregon much like ours—but in a world where sprites wreak mischief, elokos charm all and sundry, and gargoyles come and go as they please. The girls are sisters in all but blood; their mutual love and individual journeys of identity are the twin poles around which the action revolves. Tavia is a siren, with a voice that can command and compel listeners with her siren calls. Sirens’ voices are considered threats to be suppressed and controlled, especially since sirens are now exclusively Black women in a world that already demonizes them in multiple ways. “Now that it’s just us, the romance is dead,” remarks Tavia. “Instead of inspiring songs and stories, now our calls inspire defensive anger. Our power’s not enchanting or endearing anymore; it offends.” While her parents would prefer that Tavia suppress her power, she’s seeking out her grandmother’s spirit to learn more about her voice and how to use it. Effie’s journey is about understanding who and what she is. Haunted by a traumatic incident in her past, in which a group of childhood friends were turned to stone, Effie finds solace in swimming and performing as Euphemia the Mer at the local Renaissance Faire. Unanswered questions about her parents, the mysterious Hidden Scales tent at the Ren Faire, and literal and metaphorical discomfort in her own skin drive her to seek answers from the reticent grandparents who raised her after her mother’s death and sent her to live with Tavia’s family.

This magical realist world has as much realism as magic: the murder of a Black woman rumored to be a siren, police violence at a protest, and the self-outing of a popular YouTube star as a siren bring urgency to the girls’ need to answer questions about who they are and how their voices can empower as well as endanger them. Friend and frenemy dynamics and boy troubles ring true alongside the mystery of the hunky gargoyle who perches on the girls’ roof. Morrow skillfully balances acerbic social commentary and relatable teen angst with understated, heart-pounding tension: for instance, faux-woke behavior from friends and teachers receives the disdain it deserves, while a “random” police stop incident is utterly [End Page 419] harrowing; currents of racism and misogyny are palpable beneath a surface veneer of civility that threatens to erupt into violence at any moment.

Though it’s unflinching in its depiction of the trauma of silencing and disempowerment, the novel is far from a grimdark misery fest. It offers supportive versions of community in Tavia and Effie’s sisterhood, their complicated but loving families, Tavia’s gospel choir that lets her use her voice safely, and Effie’s Ren Faire home where performing frees her to be another version of herself. Morrow’s prose flows easily between the sisters, giving each her own voice and finding magic in self-knowledge as well as in the fantastic. There’s plenty here to interest a broad audience: this is a must-read for readers committed to a nuanced understanding of racial (in)justice and for fans of Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor.

–Fiona Hartley-Kroeger, BCCB reviewer

Cover art from  © 2020. Reproduced by permission of Tor Teen/Macmillan.