Book Review: “No Sad Songs” by Frank Morelli

by | May 28, 2021 | Featured Resource, Involving Others, Resources

Review of “No Sad Songs” by Frank Morelli, a young adult book that deals with the topic of a teenager caring for a loved one living with dementia.

Teenagers have plenty of life to navigate … school, homework, driving, friends, fitting in, bullies, making the team, crushes, dating, and figuring out who they are. “No Sad Songs” deals with all those issues, plus much more. Much, much more. In this award-winning book for young adults, author Frank Morelli also addresses topics such as betrayal, racism, death, dying, and disease.

Morelli’s book is filled with both tragedy and comedy. In other words, it’s filled with real life.

The book’s protagonist, 18-year-old Gabe LoScuda, is a student, a friend, a family member, a baseball player, and an Alzheimer’s caregiver. I found “No Sad Songs” at my local library while searching for books related to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. I’m glad I found it, because this is a book I can now highly recommend to families facing the challenges of the Alzheimer’s journey. It’s not a “how-to” book, but it paints a vivid picture of a teenager trying to find his way in life while caring for his grandfather. The book is clearly aimed at teens and young adults, but caregivers of any age will relate to Gabe’s struggle to find balance between caring for a loved one and caring for himself.

Intelligent and Thoughtful

For the record, I am decades away from my teens, but I have continued to search out and read books for children and young adults. In the past few years, I have enjoyed books by young adult authors such as Gary D. Schmidt, Jerry Spinelli, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Richard Peck, Gary Paulsen, and Andrew Clements. I rank Morelli’s “No Sad Songs” with top works by those authors.

I would recommend the book to teens based solely on the complex and insightful leading character. As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about Gabe, his friends, and his family – particularly his grandfather. The novel artfully alternates between first-person narrative accounts and school essays written for an influential teacher. The resulting narrative reveals an intelligent and thoughtful young adult who honestly confronts his own fears, flaws, and mistakes.

Parents, be careful about giving this book to children or tweens. Younger readers may not understand some of the complicated motivations and resulting behavior, and the book includes a smattering of coarse language. As a movie, this story would likely earn a PG-13 rating. The underlying issues, however, might well be worth discussing with children, so some parents might want to read and discuss this book as a family.

Personalized Preparation

Baseball fans will enjoy the narrator’s stories about playing the game, listening to games on the radio, and attending a game in person. Literature lovers will appreciate references to poets such as Robert Frost, John Donne, and Christina Rossetti. Baseball and classics intertwine beautifully in a denouement chapter titled “Elysian Fields.”

The book’s title is drawn from Rossetti’s powerful poem, “When I am dead, my dearest.” Gabe draws multiple insights from the poem, penned by Rossetti when she was a teenager herself.

Talking about the poem, Gabe beautifully compares those closest to him to Rossetti’s image of “the green grass above me.” In doing so, he shares a truth beneficial to caregivers of any age: Caregivers need the support of other people.

The 18-year-old learns other important lessons during his caregiving journey, eventually recognizing that some things are impossible to control. In the closing lines of “When I am dead, my dearest,” Rossetti writes:

Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Gabe shares his own paraphrase of those lines, providing this hard-earned perspective:

“No, for me, it’s all about taking the hardest moments as they come — dealing with them one by one — each instance a personalized preparation for the next impending challenge — and dwelling only long enough to remember the good without getting sullied by the bad.”

Morelli wraps this bit of wisdom inside an engaging story told by a memorable narrator. “No Sad Songs” is a rewarding balance of tragedy and comedy, marked throughout by honesty and authenticity.

 

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