June 24, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Lauren J. Sharkey's Inconvenient Daughteris one of the year's strongest debuts, both moving and startling.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"In Sharkey's stirring...debut, a transracial adoptee of Korean descent endures a crisis of identity...Sharkey achieves a moving account of Rowan's difficult reckoning with her identity. This is an adept portrayal of the long shadow of abuse and the difficulty of being an adoptee."
“Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra
When I was sixteen, I was getting ready to go to my first formal. I had been to dances in middle school where boys and girls cling to opposite sides of the wall, but this was different. After all, I was going with a date and it was a big deal. A day or two before the dance, though, I started having a meltdown because I realized I didn’t really know how to dance. My father took me into the living room, played “Summer Wind”, and showed me the steps. It’s one of the happiest memories I have, and I gave it to Rowan. The song and the moment it represents are nostalgic for me, but they’re also telling for Rowan. It’s about how some loves have the life expectancy of a season. Frank says, “one day it called to you/I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind” almost as if to tell Rowan she too will be losing someone to the summer wind.
“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths
Windows down, music up is the de facto for any Long Islander between the ages of sixteen and twenty-something. This song is the perfect song to cruise to whether you’re on the way to Long Beach or coming home from the diner. Rowan’s date to her first high school formal – an older guy with green hair and a penchant for British rock – plays her this song. Rowan is someone who’s always felt misunderstood, out of place, and unwanted by the people in her life. She’s looking for a place, or a person, to call home, “Because it’s not my home, it’s their/Home, and I’m welcome no more.”
“If You’re Not The One” by Daniel Bedingfield
I remember this song coming out when I was a sophomore in high school and thinking it was the most romantic song I’d ever heard. It was a natural fit to the scene where Rowan and Cole finally make it to the dance floor. What I love so much about this scene is not only how it shows the difference between their ages and tastes, but it also shows how desperate Rowan is to be wanted by someone. Cole remarks how terrible the song is and Rowan is so afraid of how he’ll look at her for liking it she pretends to hate it too.
“Pictures of You” by The Cure
So, not only is this a love song for the ages, but I think “Pictures of You” captures another theme in Inconvenient Daughter: how we imagine things to be versus how they really are. Rowan clings to different ideas of what it means to be loved, to be her mother’s daughter, to be Asian American. Rowan needs to find “all your courage to let it all go” and embrace who she really is.
“Till I Collapse” by Eminem
The beginning chords of this song, before the lyrics kick in, remind me of a funeral march. It’s also Rowan’s fight or flight moment. As Eminem talks about finding the strength to pull yourself up, I imagine Rowan giving herself that same talk. By this point, she’s suffered so much. I listened to this song on repeat while I was writing Rowan and Hunter’s final scene together. As a survivor of domestic violence myself, this song is an anthem.
“Comforting Sounds” by Mew
To me, there’s no better chill song than “Comforting Sounds” by Mew. I also think there’s nothing more intimate than someone handing you an earbud to share a song with you. Cole and Rowan find each other later in life and while they’re able to get closer, but they’re not on the same page. They’re sensing each other through a lens, trying to share their solitude and yet not wanting to give it up.
“Say You’ll Be There” by The Spice Girls
Rowan is nothing if not a 90s girl. She shops at Delia’s, wears Steve Madden platform sandals and butterfly clips, and has every flavor of LipSmackers lip balm she can get her hands on. The Spice Girls are peak '90s girl, and this is my favorite of theirs.
“About Love” by MARINA
I was OBSESSED with this song after hearing it in the final scene of To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. Not only is it catch AF, but I think it really captures how it feels to be a teenager in love. When you’re young, everything feels so immediate and huge. You feel like you’re being crushed under the weight of all these feelings and all you know if that you’ve got to get close to your crush – some way, somehow. At sixteen Rowan doesn’t know a whole lot about love except for the fact that it’s all consuming, “But you're in my head, you're in my blood/And it feels so good, it hurts so much”. This is the ultimate crush vibe.
“Belong” by Cary Brothers
I love the way this song builds – soft at first, a bit desperate in the middle, then soft again at the end. I first heard this song on Grey’s Anatomy and there was this line Cary sings, “I was born with a broken heart” that stuck with me. Adoption – whether you’re a biological parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, or adoptee – begins with loss. Rowan carries that loss with her every day of her life, and I imagine this is one of the songs she carries in her heart as well.
“The Graveyard Near The House” by The Airborne Toxic Event
Music is a huge part of my writing process. No matter what I’m writing, The Airborne Toxic Event is always on my playlist. This song is my favorite of theirs. Mikel is vowing to love this girl – I’m assuming it’s a girl – even if she dies first. Rowan is always worried she’s going to be left behind or forgotten. This is her plea to all those she loves.
“Que Sera Sera” by Pink Martini
Pink Martini’s version of this song has almost a sinister tone to it that I really dig. While I don’t think the relationship between Rowan and her mother is particularly sinister, I do think it’s rife with complications. I always thought Doris Day’s version was so hokey and cheesy. If having a mother has taught me anything, it’s that the relationship between mothers and daughters is never easy. I guess that’s why I like this version so much – it feels sincere in a way Doris’s doesn’t. It feels true.
“Every Time I Hear That Song” by Brandi Carlile
If Inconvenient Daughter were a movie, I imagine this song would be the one to play when the credits rolled. This song is Rowan Kelly. I always used to play this song after a break-up. In fact, I’d call it the perfect break-up song. But the more I listen to it, the more I feel like this song is kind of like a lullaby Rowan would sing to her former self – a way to forgive herself: By the way, I forgive you/After all, maybe I should thank you/For giving me what I’ve found”.
Lauren J. Sharkey is a writer, teacher, and transracial adoptee. After her birth in South Korea, she was adopted by Irish Catholic parents and raised on Long Island. Sharkey's creative nonfiction has appeared in the Asian American Feminist Collective's digital storytelling project, First Times, as well as several anthologies including I Am Strength! and Women under Scrutiny. Inconvenient Daughter is her debut novel, and is loosely based on her experience as a Korean adoptee. You can follow her at ljsharks.com.