Teen influencer Naema Bradshaw has it all: she’s famous, privileged, has “the good hair”— and she’s an Eloko, a person who’s gifted with a song that woos anyone who hears it. Everyone loves her — well, until she’s cast as the awful person who exposed Tavia’s secret siren powers.
Now, she’s being dragged by the media. No one understands her side: not her boyfriend, not her friends, nor her Eloko community. But Naema knows the truth and is determined to build herself back up — no matter what.
When a new, flourishing segment of Naema’s online supporters start targeting black girls, however, Naema must discover the true purpose of her magical voice.
Thanks, NetGalley for this eARC, in return, here is my honest review. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoy this book. But at the same time, I wasn’t surprised because I absolutely loved A Song Below Water (reviewed here). A Chorus Rises is set in the same urban fantasy world, but in this one we follow Naema, who wasn’t a super nice person from Tavia’s perspective in A Song Below Water.
Despite actively disliking Naema for the first third of this book, I ended up really loving her. Our first look at Naema is in A Song Below Water which is from Tavia and Effie’s perspectives. These three girls do not get along at all. I think it’s important to mention that this is totally okay! Naema mentions often that just because they’re all black, doesn’t mean they all have to be best friends. They can want better for one another and still actively dislike each other. And I totally agree with that. You don’t have to be friends or even like someone to wish that they’re not being discriminated against because they’re a magical or black.
But the further we get into this story, the more I couldn’t help but like Naema. She’s genuinely funny. She has a confidence in herself that most people would love to have. But she’s also still growing. This book takes place about a year after the end of A Song Below Water. So, Naema has had some time to heal, emotionally, from being stoned. But Portland doesn’t feel the same to Naema anymore. She takes a break and goes to visit her family for their yearly reunion in the south. It’s here that Naema discovers that there’s more to being an Eloko than just the popularity she has in Portland. I really enjoyed getting to see Naema spend time with family she never sees and getting to know more about her Eloko abilities. I absolutely loved her cousin, Courtney. He’s hilarious and I think he was a great support system for Naema. Their relationship made me think of my cousins that were my best friends while I was growing up.
This story covers some really interesting topics that I didn’t see coming. There’s discussion of how easily online voices can be weaponized to do real harm to real people. I think the spotlight on “keyboard warriors” was an excellent one because what it takes to go from talking about doing something to actually doing it? It isn’t that much and it’s something that I don’t think is discussed enough or taken seriously enough. I liked how the friend group worked together to stop this aspect of the story. We get to see some unlikely allies and some healing. And we also get to see these teenagers be brave and do the right thing.
I would have liked for this book to have been longer. I think there were definitely some things mentioned in the story that didn’t really get explored. I’m thinking specifically of the Professor that was mentioned so many times. But we never actually meet her, even though what she’s researching aligns with what Naema is learning about herself. I would have liked to see more about Naema getting more of a handle on talking with the Ancestors. We do get a scene toward the end where things sort of click for Naema in regards to listening to the Ancestors and they help Naema realize that what she and her friends have done isn’t enough, that there’s still more to be done. But we didn’t get to see anymore after that.
Overall, I really grew to love Naema. She’s fierce and outspoken in the best ways. She’s brave and so smart. She knows that what she says hold weight because of her online following. She knows that even though she’s black, she has privilege that comes with being an Eloko. But she also talks about how being an Eloko doesn’t negate the struggles she faces as a black woman. As a queer, white woman, I could appreciate that aspect of the story. I think Namea’s voice is what made this story so gripping for me. Her internal voice was so thoughtful, even when she was angry or unsure. She’s funny and smart, caring and loyal, snarky and passionate. I really loved her by the end of the book. If you haven’t read A Song Below Water, please go do that. If you have, I think you’ll love A Chorus Rises just as much as the first book.
Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.