On the Way to Birdland

Young Adult - Coming of Age
300 Pages
Reviewed on 05/22/2021
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

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 middle grade 'Please Return To' series provides young readers with a roadmap to end bullying. Morelli's fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, Boog City and Jersey Devil Press.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite

On the Way to Birdland by Frank Morelli is an enjoyable coming-of-age story that is deftly written. Cordell Wheaton feels like living in a shell after his brother Travis goes off without warning. He has had one of his habitual quarrels with his father. Now, sixteen-year-old Cordell feels empty, unsure of how to cope with life without his brother in High Point, North Carolina. On the night that Travis’ addiction got the better of him and he disappeared with his saxophone, something died in Cordell. When his father eventually falls sick, the young boy sets out on a mission to reunite the family. His plan is simple: bring his brother to a show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City. Perhaps that will remind Travis of his dream and who he once was. Cordell has only forty bucks in his pocket, but he is off on an adventure that will shake him psychologically and bring him face-to-face with himself. Will he succeed in finding Travis and bringing the family back together?

Told in an engrossing first-person narrative voice that reflects Cordell's moods, streams of consciousness, thoughts, and reflections, this story explores the inner world of a young man when the one person he looks up to walks away. Travis has always told him that there was more to life than High Point, and it is interesting to discover how he learns this truth. Character development is finely accomplished, and Frank Morelli explores the psyche of Cordell in a way that is brilliant and illuminating, unveiling someone at their lowest point. The descriptions are terrific, and I particularly enjoyed the way the author talks about the hollowness the young boy experiences: “sometimes it grows heavy; sometimes it suffocates; and most times, I want to escape.” The writing is lyrical with a musical feel that touches the reader in the deep recesses of their heart. Frank Morelli writes with ingenuity about family dynamics, allowing the relationships to unfold naturally before readers and using them to infuse the writing with humanity and realism. On the Way to Birdland offers a great reading experience, with an introspective young main character who feels how most of us have felt in our lowest moments; it is deft, nuanced, and balanced.

Vincent Dublado

A touching coming of age novel by Frank Morelli, On the Way to Birdland tells the story Cordell Wheaton, who takes on a soul-searching journey after his father and his brother Travis had a falling out. Bearing the heart and soul of a philosopher, Cordell has always felt alone and often engages in deep, profound thoughts. His brother is the only true friend that he has, and their mutual appreciation for John Coltrane’s music further strengthens their fraternal bonds. Travis, who often locks horns with their father, tells Cordell one day that he has had enough and is going to follow the sound—kind of like Coltrane when he followed his vision elsewhere. In his brother’s absence, their father falls ill, and Cordell, who never lost his love for music, decides to leave their small town to bring his brother back and make the family whole again. What he will come to learn during his journey, and perhaps the most important thing that he will ever learn, is that what a person envisions for himself is not often the way things turn out.

Cordell may strike you as being too mature a thinker for his age, but that is the beauty of his story. Considering his introverted personality and the circumstances surrounding the domestic crisis in his family that requires him to find balance demands that he should be. The storyline is deep when it comes to addressing issues of family, meaning, and the self. Just like jazz music that forms the core of the story, Frank Morelli has given On the Way to Birdland the vitality in prose that mirrors the individuality of characters. To say that the target readers of this tale are young adults would be an understatement for this story can very well appeal to readers from teens to adults who are way into their senior years. You have a simple but relatable plot where sympathetic characters operate, and what you get is a touching story that celebrates the courage of taking chances. If you have a penchant for deep introspection, this is the kind of story that will appeal to you.

Lisa McCombs

Cordell Wheaton lives his sixteen-year-old life in High Point, North Carolina, home of jazz musician John T. Coltrane, whose words and music compose the magical symphony of guidance. Wrapped in a world of bullying, without the Trane and his brother’s role modeling, Cordy wouldn’t recognize the great out there as anything other than being the victim. When he learns that his father is dying from lung cancer, Cordy is determined to locate his wayward brother, Travis, and bring him home to reunite with his family. Travis has “followed the sound” of his hero’s saxophone genius that directs Cordy to do the same. As his travels to the Trane’s residence in Philadelphia progress, he meets and is motivated by the lessons of a plethora of characters that eventually lead him to his final stop along the way.

On the Way to Birdland by Frank Morelli is a delightful mixture of Forrest Gump and The Wizard of Oz. Probably the most entertaining and heart-tugging story I’ve read in a long while, the character of Cordell Wheaton will haunt the reader’s thoughts for days after the final page is turned. Throughout his journey, Cordy references the many accomplishments of the great musician he reveres while proving himself to be a philosophical mentor. Picturesque detail and believable dialogue move the story convincingly in this magical tale of self-discovery as the main character undergoes a unique rite of passage. Various themes and plot points make On the way to Birdland a valuable addition to any young adult library. I loved this story!