One of the best parts of my adolescence was finally discovering music—not the Simon & Garfunkel my dad played for me (though I love them too), or the Michael Jackson CD I thought was really badass (it was), but my own personal taste. High school for me was Nirvana, Offspring, Rage Against the Machine, Dispatch, Less Than Jake…and one really random No Doubt concert. I was lucky enough to be of the mixtape era (what apparently now qualifies as “historical”), back when New York City still had a rock station, and some of my favorite nights were spent just trying to capture the exact spot where Blur’s “Song 2” or Blind Melon’s “No Rain” faded out. Music just makes everything better, and these music-loving YA books are no exception.
Audrey, Wait!, by Robin Benway
This contemporary YA about a teen girl who finds unintentional fame as a muse for rock stars is one of my all-time favorite fun reads. Watching the hilarious heroine navigate life and love following the end of her relationship with the guy who immortalized her and their breakup in song is a trip, and whether you grew up with vinyl or MP3s, it’s a great read. (For bonus points, give a listen to Rooney‘s “I’m a Terrible Person,” which Benway has said was the inspiration for the titular song.)
Virtuosity, by Jessica Martinez
Some teens live to listen to music; Carmen lives to play it. Her entire life is about her passion for and skill with the violin, but she faces a dangerous combination of anxiety, chemical dependence, and a rival who threatens both her dream and her heart. A must for teen performers, lovers of orchestra, or people who just like good books. Up the experience by throwing on some Tchaikovsky, as one does.
Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
It’s been three years since the tragic events of If I Stay, and Adam and Mia still have one thing very much in common: music is their lives. She’s taken her skill in cello to Julliard in New York City, and he’s made a life for himself as a rock star. When they meet again, both in the spotlight in their own, independent rights, they relearn each other and what they’ve missed, and see that once you’ve mastered the solo, you just might finally be ready to duet.
Ballads of Suburbia, by Stephanie Kuehnert
Some of these books are about kids with the drive and passion to make their own beautiful music. This is not one of those books. (Though Kuehnert’s debut, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, hits closer to that theme, for the Riot Grrl set.) This is about music as survival; music as soundtrack to all the gritty, painful moments in life. This is the music that gets us through the day, or doesn’t. This is drug culture, and what life becomes when there isn’t anything else. Not for the faint of heart, but recommended nonetheless, preferably with Nirvana playing in the background.
Amplified, by Tara Kelly
Jasmine has a dream, and it doesn’t involve following her father’s orders to send her butt to college. Though running off to L.A., moving in with strangers, and joining an industrial rock band with actual street cred even though she has no experience playing live may not seem like the wisest choice, it’s hard not to get behind Jasmine once you see how her passion for guitar bleeds onto every page. Even during her moments of failure, it’s impossible to ignore that she seems to have been born for this, and it’s immensely fun to watch her grow into the life she’s always dreamed of.
This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
There isn’t much Elise Dembowski loves about her life, but the way music plays into it is at the very top of her list. Watching Elise find her strength and path in life through the one thing that’s always been her passion is a great experience, and I think this is one of 2013’s strongest offerings in the contemporary YA department. Put all your favorites on one playlist, wince at how they bleed poorly into each other because you’re not a professional DJ, and enjoy…before passing on to that teen in your life you know needs to read this one.
Lovestruck Summer, by Melissa C. Walker
This book is Hipster Heaven in the best possible way. Set in Austin, indie rock capital of the world, the story of a teen expecting a fabulous record-label internship and ending up having all her plans turned upside-down and expectations and stereotypes tossed out the window is the perfect light, funny summer read…for any time of year. So pick this one up and rock out to all those bands you loved waaaay before they were mainstream. I promise not to tell anyone you aren’t being ironic.