It’s not everyday you have a world-class author with impeccable publishing credentials provide you with a glowing review of your upcoming novel, but that’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago.
ANN Y.K. CHOI is the author of the Toronto Book Award finalist, KAY’S LUCKY COIN VARIETY (Simon & Schuster CA), a beautifully-written and haunting coming-of-age story. Choi’s novel details the family secrets, forbidden loves, cultural customs, and domestic altercations of a rebellious, female protagonist growing up in a Korean community in Toronto during the 1980s. Believe me, this book was chosen as a finalist in the Toronto Book Awards and landed Choi on the longlist for the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors for more reasons than I can recount in a blog post. You owe it to yourself to find out why.
Here is what Ann Y.K. Choi had to say about my debut novel, NO SAD SONGS (FOW Books), which is due out on February 20:
Frank Morelli’s impressive debut novel, No Sad Songs, was inspired by his grandfather’s battle with Alzheimer’s and the impact that disease could have on a family. Gabe LoScuda, Morelli’s 18-year old protagonist, finds his life turned upside down when both his parents are killed in a car accident, leaving him alone with his grandfather. Things turn from bad to worse when his grandfather is involved in a hit-and-run accident.
But this is far from a grim YA novel. Morelli uses music, poems, and humour to immerse us in 1990s Philadelphia, “where pizza parlours dot the horizon like freaking tumbleweeds in an old Western”. At a glance, Gabe appears emotionally distant, but the reality is he doesn’t have time to mourn his parents or his new life circumstances. His grandfather suffers from Pick’s disease that like Alzheimer’s, has severely compromised his memory and behavior. Gabe is determined to protect him at all costs.
No Sad Songs has no villains and instead includes an ensemble of characters typically found in high schools, hospitals, and the local pizzeria: John Chen, Gabe’s best friend since grade one, Marlie McDermott, Gabe’s cheerleader crush, and the edgy Sofia, whose love of classic punk rock and tattoos sustain her through her mother’s illness. There are plenty of adults as well, including Mr. Perdomo, the pizzeria owner who gives Gabe a job, Dr. Weston, his grandfather’s doctor, and Uncle Nick who “never visited or bothered to even send a birthday card”. Each play an essential role in Gabe’s growth and development until he becomes a “hero” in his own right.
Also effective is how Gabe’s story is told. Morelli balances the narrative with Gabe’s “personal essays”, which are really journal entries that further draw the reader into his world. Thanks to an English teacher, Mr. Mastro, who “actually listens to your thoughts and opinions about literature”, Gabe develops a deep appreciation for poetry and the written word. Filled with reflections and flashbacks, the entries take the reader through a series of memories including a moving scene with a lost eight-year old Gabe being found by his grandfather at Veterans Stadium during a ballgame.
From Maya Angelou to Dylan Thomas, an eclectic mix of writers shed insight into Gabe’s state of mind and reveal his compassion and fear. In one unlikely case, Gabe compares Charlotte Bronte, “one of the most influential feminist writers of her time” to his deadbeat Uncle Nick by noting how Bronte’s poem “Regret” is relevant to Nick. Christina Rosetti’s words, “When I am dead, my dearest/Sing no sad songs for me” finally allow Gabe some peace after he is forced to confront his realities which end in disappointment and heartbreak.
Morelli shared in an interview that he hopes “readers will finish No Sad Songs with a new respect for what it takes to be a caregiver…” He has succeeded. A story of great loss, sacrifice, and struggle, this novel is a look at resilience and what it means for young and old (Uncle Nick finally gets his act together!) to come together in life, love, and friendship. A highly recommended read.
Originally from South Korea, Ann Y.K. Choi immigrated to Canada in 1975. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and the Creative Writing Certificate Program at the University of Toronto. Most recently, she completed an MFA in Creative Writing at National University in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was a finalist for the Toronto Book Award. The story, set in the 1980s, was inspired by her experiences working in her family-run variety store. A teacher with the York Region District School Board, Ann lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter. (credit: Simon & Schuster CA)