Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Trapped in sunny, stifling, small-town suburbia, seventeen-year-old Morgan knows why she’s in therapy. She can’t count the number of times she’s been the only non-white person at the sleepover, been teased for her “weird” outfits, and been told she’s not “really” black. Also, she’s spent most of her summer crying in bed. So there’s that, too.
Lately, it feels like the whole world is listening to the same terrible track on repeat—and it’s telling them how to feel, who to vote for, what to believe. Morgan wonders, when can she turn this song off and begin living for herself?
Life may be a never-ending hamster wheel of agony, but Morgan finds her crew of fellow outcasts, blasts music like there’s no tomorrow, discovers what being black means to her, and finally puts her mental health first. She decides that, no matter what, she will always be intense, ridiculous, passionate, and sometimes hilarious. After all, darkness doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Darkness is just real.
The first book on my “WOW, I REALLY NEED TO CATCH UP ON THESE ARCS” list was Who Put This Song On?, which was published back in September. I was super excited about this one and then life happened and I totally forgot about it until well after it was published.
I have some conflicting thoughts about this book, but overall, I really enjoyed it.
The first thing I want to mention is the nostalgia factor. This book is set in 2008, when emo music was at its height and Barack Obama had just been elected. This was such a throwback for me. I was 18 in 2008, and Morgan is 17. It felt like I was reading a book about my own teenage experiences, because let me tell you… I also can sometimes not make it through a party without crying (or at least getting super anxious) and, back in 2008, I also got joy by locking myself in my bedroom and screaming along with Bright Eyes. (Road to Joy was my go-to.)
Morgan’s struggle with her faith while attending Catholic school was another thing that took me right back to 2008. I attended thirteen years of Catholic school and everything that Morgan talks about is accurate. Going to mass every week with your class because that’s what you’ve always done, listening to teachers awkwardly drone on about resisting temptations, weird religious versions of popular songs, the lack of sex ed (which in this book leads to a pregnancy scare)… all of that was my high school experience.
And the music! I loved how Morgan loved all of the same music that I did back then. (And, okay, I’m still an emo kid even though I’m in my late 20s.) I’m a sucker for music references, and I loved how Morgan and her friends made mixes for each other all the time. I loved making mixes for my friends back then!
I also appreciated the exploration of Morgan’s anxiety and depression. While mental health is a big thing now that people make a point to talk about and prioritize, it definitely was not in 2008. It was something people actively avoided talking about, and if they did talk about it, it was in whispers or just vaguely alluded to. That’s really captured well in this book, and the intersection between Morgan’s depression and her race adds another level to the story.
There were, however, some things I didn’t particularly like.
The pacing was, I think, my biggest issue. The book is only 336 pages, but it definitely drags at times, and especially at the beginning. There were some chapters that didn’t really seem to serve a purpose, which, because this is a semi-autobiographical novel, I feel kind of bad saying.
Another issue I had was the sheer amount of issues this book tries to tackle. I’ve included several of them in my list of content warnings below, and there are definitely more that I’m forgetting. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a heavy book, but it does deal with some very difficult topics. This on its own wasn’t really an issue for me, but the fact that very few of these issues were actually resolved was. A lot of things happen to Morgan, and then the book just kind of ends. I know that this book is based on the author’s life and real life doesn’t always have a neat and tidy ending, but, at least for me, that didn’t translate into a novel very well.
Overall, I think this book is definitely worth a read if you can relate to being an anxious teenager who felt like an outsider and was obsessed with emo music in 2008. That might be a very specific demographic, but it’s one I fit into.
Content warnings:depression (including suicidal thoughts), anxiety (including panic attacks), homophobia, drug and alcohol use, racism, attempted sexual assault
Have you read Who Put This Song On? Is it on your TBR?
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