Who Put This Song On?

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Who Put This Song On? Book Poster Image
Eccentric teen girl fights depression in moving story.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Presents a realistic view of what it's like to live with depression and anxiety. Through the main character's interests, the reader learns about Black history, including Harriet Tubman, the Black Panthers' social programs, and the election of Barack Obama.

Positive Messages

Life gets better when you claim your truth, even the hard parts.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are a multiracial group of friends. One is gay. Another is Black and Jewish. The group of friends support one another.


There's a suicide attempt. A few upsetting scenes of bullying and verbal abuse.


The descriptions of sex are frequent and graphic, including several passages about oral sex and a sexual encounter that includes racial "dirty talk" that the character experiences as hurtful.


Profanities include "s--t," "f--k," "motherf----r," "p---y," "damn," "nigga," and "a--hole."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The kids are regular cigarette smokers, pot smokers, underage drinkers. In one scene, very drunk and stoned kids bully a gay boy. The main character drinks alcohol with the intention to get drunk, even though she's on prescription antidepressants and has been instructed not to drink at all. Another girl misuses her Adderall. Some adults drink to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Morgan Parker's Who Put This Song On? is the story of Morgan Parker, a 15-year-old Black girl, that's based on Parker's own journals she kept as a teen. The fictional Morgan is dealing with a recent diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorders, undergoing psychotherapy, and taking antidepressants. Morgan lives in a small Southern California town, where she's one of the few Black students at a conservative Christian private school. Her mental health issues and being a racial outsider complicate the typical difficulties of adolescent search for identity. Morgan has good friends, but her shaky self-esteem leads to behaviors like cutting school, shoplifting, setting herself up for some degrading sexual encounters, smoking cigarettes, drinking to excess, and smoking pot. A character takes Adderall. There's a suicide attempt. The descriptions of sex are frequent and graphic, including many passages about oral sex. A sexual encounter includes racial "dirty talk." The main characters are regular cigarette smokers, pot smokers, and underage drinkers. In one scene, very drunk and stoned kids bully a gay boy. Morgan drinks alcohol with the intention to get drunk, even though she's on prescription antidepressants and has been instructed not to drink at all. Some adults drink to excess. Profanities include "s--t," "f--k," "motherf----r," "p---y," "damn," "nigga," and "a--hole."

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What's the story?

As WHO PUT THIS SONG ON? opens, 17-year-old Morgan has started psychotherapy after a suicide attempt. Morgan has episodes where she can't stop crying. She attends a conservative Christian school where she's one of just a few Black students. She's not so sure about Christian doctrine. And she's not a girly girl; the boy she's crushing on thinks she's gay, and she herself is only about 90% sure she's straight. Fortunately, Morgan has a crew of friends. Each one is an outsider in some way, they accept and support one another, and they find their voices through the work of their favorite musical artists. Morgan has two heroes: Harriet Tubman, who gives Morgan hope that escape from her narrow circumstances is possible, and Barack Obama, whose election as the first Black president of the United States serves as a reminder that the world at large can change. 

Is it any good?

Mature teens who feel hopelessly different will take solace in this very intelligent book. Who Put This Song On? is the debut novel from award-winning poet Morgan Parker (There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé). The story is drawn from diaries she wrote when she was a troubled teen. The fictional Morgan's bouts of tears she can't stop and her suicide attempt demonstrate that she suffers from mental illness. At the same time, this book presents an informative view of existential depression: The realities of Morgan's life conflict with her highly developed sense of truth. She's determined not to have her perceptions squashed by other people's beliefs about race, religion, and gender.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how mental illness is portrayed in Who Put This Song On? Have you ever seen a counselor or therapist? Have any of your friends or family? Does it strike you as a helpful way to address anxiety and depression? 

  • Morgan and her friends communicate with one another by sharing their favorite music. Do you have favorite songs that help you understand and express your feelings?

  • All of Morgan's friends in Who Put This Song On? have some way that they don't fit in. Feeling like outsiders brings them together. How do those differences affect the characters' lives?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of mental illness

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