Crafted With Care And It Shows: "On The Way To Birdland" by Frank Morelli

§ I received an ARC of this book from the author to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel. §

Cordy lives in a small southern town where nothing ever happens. It is a comfortable "turtle shell" which he has never left. However, when his brother Travis runs away, everything starts to change. Cordy his expelled from school, and he also learns that his father has cancer. 

In an effort to reunite the family before the unavoidable happens, Cordy sets out to find Travis. For this, he needs to travel with all means available across the country. Once he finds him, they are going to watch a show in Birdland (NYC) so that Travis remembers who he really is, and forgets all about the pills he got addicted to and returns home. 

A plan that is far from simple, since Cordy has no means of transportation, and lacks money to his name. However, he is filled with music and hope in his heart, and finds helpful strangers on the way ... 

On The Way To Birdland by Frank Morelli

The first time we meet Cordy, the bad things that derail his life have already happened. And yet, Cordy lacks almost all of the tools to deal with them. His world still seems rather simple. This is mostly noticeable until he has  to face hard truths, he a) believes that getting to Philly with no money to his name is easy, and b) that he believes  a piece of sheet paper is going to break through months, of not years of addiction. 

It also shines through in smaller moments: when he is faced with a new task and basically thinks "how hard can it be?" before making a real mess of it. This stems mostly from the fact that his world had always been simple up until now.

And so throughout his journey, he learns that life is anything but. He meets different companions along the way, all with other backgrounds who guide Cordy and show him what their life is like. As such he is able to see different perspectives, to see how other people got to this point in their lives, and what drives them. As such, Cordy meets a runaway from an abusive home who claims to be tougher than anything. A scary looking truck driver with the softest heart, and even an Amish who risks punishment for the sake of music. 

While those characters fall into specific tropes at times (e.g. big guy with a soft heart; tough runaway etc.), Morelli never stereotypes them or portrays it in a negative light. Instead the "most" stereotype line is Cordy being mocked for liking Jazz despite being a White Boy. 

His love for Jazz music, and in particular John Coltrane shines through each and every page of the book. It is actually an honest and lovely touch, even if - like me - you have no idea about Jazz music or who Coltrane was. The idea that music brings us together and is a way to express one self is a comforting if not universal one. 

Despite the love and gentleness that this book was crafted with, it provided to be a slow read. I doubt that it was meant to be thrilling but I never "got into" it either. The characters did not get me hooked, and I never itched to pick it back up. As such, it took me a long time to even finish it. 

There are also a series of flashbacks, which indicate a trauma and then lead to a twist at the end of the book. Thus, I was able to predict the twist early on. However, I doubt that it was meant to be a shocking twists but rather one you were meant to expect and see the journey as a way to learning to cope and leading up to it. So even knowing about it, did not reduce any aspects of Cordy's journey for me. 

In fact, it does exactly what you'd expect from it. It helped Cordy to accept what had happend to him, his brother and his family. 

Overall, "On The Way To Birdland" is a book which has been crafted with a lot of care and the story reflects this as well. Even though the pace is slower than expected it is an enjoyable read that focuses on family bonds, and dealing with unexpected negative events and trauma. 

On The Way To Birdland by Frank Morelli
Published2021by Fish Out of Water Books
Add to your shelf on ... The StoryGraphGoodReads
Content warnings:mentions of drug abuse

About Frank Morelli 

Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novel, No Sad Songs (2018), a 2019 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. His fiction and essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, Boog City and Jersey Devil Press. You can connect with him on Twitter @frankmoewriter or on his author site ( 

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