Hello, fellow book junkies! Have you ever noticed how so many book lovers are also passionate about music? I know I sure am. Music and books are a wonderful combination, and they have a lot in common. Both books and music are powerful forms of expression and artistry. They transport us, help us navigate emotions, and can even elevate us as human beings. In honor of the beautiful duo known as books and music, let’s take a look at YA books which incorporate music as a theme. (Music about books would be an interesting topic too, but that one we’ll save for another day.)
Without further ado, here are the top ten, music-themed YA books. If you can suggest other good, music-related YA books–especially in YA fantasy–I am all ears. 🙂
10. The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb
This is one of those books that always has a song reference going. The main character is Aden, a high school senior with a beautiful voice who’s looking to get a solo gig. Heavy themes of grief, teen pregnancy, and drug addiction abound, but they’re strangely glossed over. One of the most compelling aspects of the story is Aden’s struggle to connect with her Jewish identity, which she lost as a little girl when her mother passed away.
9. The Midnights by Sarah Nicole Smetana
Susannah wants to follow in the footsteps of her rockstar father, with whom she has a complicated relationship. The story has a cool, dreamy atmosphere steeped in music, though the plot is a little disjointed . The Midnights represents yet another music-centered story that’s rife with heavy themes likes grief and loss. Wouldn’t it be great to encounter a music-themed story with depth but also an uplifting feel? I’d also like to see more music-themed stories in YA fantasy. That’s why I’m writing one. 🙂
8. The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
Fair warning: You might want to be in a strong emotional place before plunging into this book about three characters dealing with grief and loss. Music is a central theme–Sasha is a music blogger; Logan is a songwriter. And Woodfolk’s lovely, poignant writing will appeal to fans of Nina Lacour and Jeff Zentner.
7. The Haters by Jesse Andrews
This book totally captures what it’s like to be in a band with friends. Okay, so it’s also littered with F bombs and explicit sexual descriptions that don’t add much to the story. That being said, the adventure this music-loving band of jazz camp dropouts goes on is really entertaining. Jesse Andrews, of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl fame, is a genuinely funny writer who aptly describes the interactions and special chemistry of different personalities in a band, kids who are in the trenches together as musicians but who also have complicated friendships, emotions, and desires.
6. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Nick, a guy in a band, asks Norah, daughter of a famous music producer, to pretend to be his girlfriend after his ex brings a date to his gig. Half-assed pick-up line aside, Nick and Nora spend the entire night hopping to different venues in New York City and forming a deep connection. Except, is it really that deep? The 2008 film adaptation starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings suffers from the same weakness as the book in that Nick and Norah don’t really talk to each other that much. Still, the music is a great factor, and so is the New York City setting.
5. Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Carmen is a violin virtuoso raised by a stage mom who was once a rising opera star but whose career was cut short when she became pregnant with Carmen. Forging through the cutthroat world of music competition, Carmen unexpectedly bonds with her biggest competitor, Jeremy, both of whom live, breathe and adore music. As a main character, Carmen can be a bit wishy-washy, but her scenes with tutor Helen are super good.
4. The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
Though this isn’t technically a YA book, The Ensemble is a glorious celebration of music and enduring friendship. Over a 15-year period, starting when they are young, the story follows four high-level classical musicians who perform together in a string quartet. Shades of Mozart in the Jungle.
3. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
This story about humans and alternative dragons who can take human form, has a strong plot, smart writing, and super unique world building. Plus, all the main characters have a growth arcs that are satisfying to read about. The main character is Seraphina, an unusually gifted young musician hired to work at the palace as a court musician.
2. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Though this isn’t totally centered around music, science-y Haitian girl Natasha and Korean-American boy poet Daniel meet in a record store, Natasha wears earbuds a lot of the time, they go on an awesome karaoke excursion, and both are music lovers, so I’m including it on the list.
1.This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Introvert Elise has always felt like an outsider, and music is her escape. At a warehouse party she finally meets people she can connect with and discovers her love of DJ’ing. Serious themes but also lots of humor.