Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker
Delacorte Press, 2019, 336 pages
Trigger warnings: Sex, drug use, alcohol, racism, homophobia, mental illness (anxiety and depression), mention of suicidal ideation
About the Author: Morgan Parker is a poet, essayist, and novelist. She is the author of the poetry collections Magical Negro (Tin House 2019), There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House 2017), and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015). Her debut young adult novel Who Put This Song On? will be released by Delacorte Press on September 24, 2019. A debut book of nonfiction is forthcoming from One World. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and has been hailed by The New York Times as “a dynamic craftsperson” of “considerable consequence to American poetry.”
You can follow Morgan on Twitter at @morganapple, Instagram at @morganapple0 or visit her website at www.morgan-parker.com!
“Darkness isn’t a bad thing. Darkness is just real.”
The year is 2008, and Morgan Parker is in her final year at Vista Christian High School in sunny Southern California. Who Put This Song On? is a semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the emotional and external events of Morgan’s senior year of high school. She struggles with her identity as a black teenage girl who happens to recognize herself as “emo” (a subculture surrounding a certain kind of fashion and music, plagued by exclusion and racism), as well as the reality of being one of the only black girls in a predominantly white town. Now, as if that wasn’t enough, Morgan has been diagnosed with major anxiety and depressive disorders and has to see a therapist whom she feels she can’t relate to on any level. Morgan’s senior year sees her finding a solid group of supportive friends, questioning everything she’s been taught to believe, grappling with the confusing realm of boys, and most of all, trying to find her purpose in life.
Who Put This Song On? handles heavy topics such as racism, homophobia, recreational drug use, questioning faith and religion, and mental illness. If it sounds too intense for you, have no fear: Parker’s writing style is rich with humor and relatable commentary, making these issues a little more palatable. The novel is told through a variety of diary entries, text messages, emails and narrative chapters, and combined with its autobiographical nature, contributes to the strong voice that makes Morgan and her life easy to relate to on at least some level. Between the generous helping of fashion, music and pop culture references and the gritty, realistic portrayal of life as a teenager with mental illness, Who Put This Song On? is an incredibly realistic novel. Beyond that, Parker ends the book with a touching author’s note in which she gifts the reader with a kind of real life epilogue that’s neither happy nor sad. It’s simply life, and I appreciate Morgan not forging a fake happy ending for the reader’s sake.
Despite dragging at some parts, and some details or subplots not seeming to always be terribly meaningful, any fault I can find in this novel can be excused by the fact that it’s based off of the author’s actual life and the value in which Morgan’s story holds. This is a book for struggling teenagers, for kids who don’t feel like they belong and worry they’re the only person in their world that thinks the way that they do. Morgan Parker is an important new voice in the YA sphere, and I can’t wait to see what she does next! Fans of Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces will eat this up.
PRR Writer and Web Editor, Caroline Ross
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