If you do one thing this summery weekend, please promise it won’t be whine to your friends and parents alike: “I’m bored.” If those words even teeter on the edge of your tongue, you best look at this amazing list of music-themed YA books I’ve compiled for you to attack with literary gusto this steamy weekend. Indoor kids, unite!
In the summer, there’s nothing better than reading in the sunshine or sweating the night away at a loud, loud show. Well, now you can combine those two activities, as I have found a passel of amazing books that will erase the word “bored” from your brainpan once and for all.
And, I’ll do you one better: I asked the authors of a few of those books to suggest still more tomes for you to tear through before the calendar flips to fall.
Fire up your library card.
Whether you’re just “finding yourself” (ew, I know) as a teen or doing so belatedly as an adult, Blake Nelson’s devastatingly accurate portrayal of teenage Andrea Marr’s entrance into the Portland music scene is for you. Pull on your ill-fitting thrift store dress and start experimenting with the Manic Panic in prep.
Two outsider kids who bond over their mutual love of Joy Division on that gauntlet of high school shame, the school bus? Yes please. This book will make you cry harder than “The Fault In Our Stars.” That’s a promise.
Sure, there are tons of books about girls being all moony-eyed over musicians. This is not one of those books. Watch 16-year-old Elise Dembowski go from outcast to master DJ and consider hitting the decks yourself.
Another book in which girls — plural — are in the band and not with it, this is a novel for the Riot Grrrl in all of us.
“Supergirl Mixtapes” by Meagan Brothers, about a music-obsessed young woman who leaves a stable and boring life with her father in South Carolina to spend some time with her less-stable mom in New York City. This book has a cool, melancholic vibe, with lots of references to alternative music and culture. (Another Brothers book, “Debbie Harry Sings in French,” is high on my TBR list.) – Suzanne Kamata
“So Punk Rock and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother” by Micol Ostow, is about a geeky Jewish boy whose band becomes an underground bar mitzvah sensation after their ska version of ‘Hava Nagilah’ takes off. This one is partly told in graphics by the author’s artist brother. – Suzanne Kamata
Read this for the title alone. This is a gritty novel about a young woman who tries to get close to her mother, who has abandoned her, through music. – Suzanne Kamata
This book is about the reclusive lead singer of an all-girl band who is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one herself – subversive and funny. Pohl’s previous novel, “A Girl Like Sugar,” is about a young woman haunted by her dead rock star boyfriend. Published only in Canada and now out of print, it’s a bit hard to find, but worth looking for. – Suzanne Kamata
“Nana” by Ai Yazawa is a Japanese manga (translated into English) about two 20-year-old women named Nana who become friends. One is the lead singer for a punk band, and the other is kind of straight and naive. This was a huge hit in Japan and was made into a very popular movie as well.” – Suzanne Kamata
A dryly funny and accurate take on how real musicians are formed by their circumstances. By Frank Portman a veteran indie rock star. – Blake Nelson
A technically talented but totally uncool high school jazz bassist gets recruited into the hottest band in his town. Lessons on coolness ensue. – Blake Nelson
A rock star in Juvie recounts how he got there — very funny and you know this author did most of this stuff in real life. – Blake Nelson
Explains how music is a distraction for normal people, but often life-saving for marginalized people. – Blake Nelson
Captures the loose, fun, recklessness of midwestern punk. – Blake Nelson
This book is one of the funniest YA novels I’ve read. Her writing reminds me of Meg Cabot (which is just about the highest compliment I can give any writer). The premise is that a teen girl breaks up with her pothead boyfriend… only for him to write a song about their breakup that becomes a number-one hit and skyrockets her into a bizarre sort of stardom. It’s a clever concept, but the voice and humor is what makes this novel shine. – Leila Sales
This book is worth reading even if you’ve already seen the movie. It captures the magic of being young and going out and feeling like anything is possible. There’s so much poetry and wisdom in this book. Also some very funny lines, like this one: “Caroline’s about to say something really harsh, but suddenly Hunter and Dev launch into a fucking Green Day cover, and we’re all seven years old again and dancing like we spit out the Ritalin while Mom wasn’t looking.” – Leila Sales
From the time I was 15 until I was, oh, say, last night, I had this life dream of running away with a band (specifically the band Matchbox Twenty, though I’m not fussy and would go with pretty much anyone who’d be willing to have me). Philana Marie Boles’ “Glitz” is a story about what happens when a “good girl” and her best friend do just that. Only they are not running off with mb20 (that’s what us cool kids call Matchbox Twenty; it’s really normal) — they are running away to go on tour with a hip-hop star. It’s the perfect “what-if” premise, and I love seeing their life on the road. Plus, with all the talk about #WeNeedDiverseBooks, this is a perfect example of a YA novel starring minority characters who feel authentic and who are having awesome adventures. – Leila Sales