Saturday, October 5, 2019

Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker

WHO PUT THIS SONG ON? is a young adult novel about a teenager named Morgan struggling with depression and anxiety. Her mood is exacerbated by being a young, liberal black woman in a highly conservative, highly religious suburb in Southern California, where she feels like nobody-- including her parents-- understand her and her struggle to come to terms with her identity. Morgan's refuge are emo culture and emo music, as this book is set in 2008, and she identifies strongly with the impact of the unhappy music that reflects her own emotional landscape.

There are some things I really liked about WHO PUT THIS SONG ON? and things that I thought were less well done. First, this book really captures the dichotomy of the 2000s: aggressively normalized preppy culture vs.  emo/scene culture, and all of the products that tied in to those two things, be it skinny ties and striped shirts and Sunny Day Real Estate, or Maroon 5 and puka shells and dELiA*s. I really felt like I was seeing my own high school experience brought to life, and the music soundtrack was A+. I freaking love emo music. #NoShade

This book also really captures what it can feel like to be depressed. Too many people out there think that depressed equals sad, and while depression can manifest itself as a persistent sadness that lasts for many months, it can also manifest in other ways, like absence of emotion (like a void) or irritation and anger. Morgan's experience with depression was very close to my own as a teenager and I wish so hard that this book had been around when I was in my teens, because the only book I ever read at the time that really resonated with me was SPEAK, and since the heroine of that book had undergone a major trauma to feel the way she did, SPEAK also made me feel unworthy as well, as though I didn't deserve to be unhappy since nothing bad had happened to me. WHO PUT THIS SONG ON? captures that bewilderment, as well as the lack of control. Morgan knows she isn't like everyone else and tries to assign it to external factors, even though deep down, she knows it's physical. Coming to terms with her depression and anxiety is a major point of the book, and I really appreciated that.

There are also some good dialogues in her about racial identity. Morgan lives in a suburb that is very conservative and mostly white, and the people around her say ignorant and hurtful things-- sometimes accidentally, but sometimes not. Since this is set in 2008, Barack Obama's run for presidency is happening in the background, and his courage inspires Morgan to do research into black history and black excellence, and she ends up finding a wealth of information that literally no one around her is talking about, and decides to take it upon herself to educate her peers-- with interesting results.

The downsides of this book were actually the writing. I see that this author got her start in poetry, and I can see that because while she does have a way with words, the dialogue often felt rushed and artificial, like the author was speeding through point A to get to point B at times. I recognize this because I have similar problems in my own writing, and I find it's a typical problem for introverts who might be more interested in setting the stage than the people who are on it. I also think that because the book was so short, all of the things the author tried to cram in it ended up making it feel very back-heavy and, again, kind of rushed. I thought all of the messages in this book were important, but if they had been explored more gradually, the messages might have been more meaningful.

WHO PUT THIS SONG ON? isn't a bad book by any means. It's a nostalgic portrayal of the 2000s from the eyes of a young woman of color trying to figure out where she belongs-- and it's got a kick-butt soundtrack from some of the major artists of that decade. Maybe it could have been written better, but I had a good time reading it and it got me listening to some music I'd half-forgotten. I'd say that, for the music lovers out there, it's worth picking up for the nostalgic value alone.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

3 out of 5 stars

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