Note-Worthy New Titles | Reading to a Soundtrack

In these new titles readers will meet characters who grow through their music or bridge difficult relationships to a soundtrack.
For most of us, it’s our tween and teen years when music becomes so meaningful. The melodies, lyrics, and emotions, along with the musicians and vocalists we adore, merge to form a backdrop to those formative years and friendships. In these middle grade and YA titles readers will find both characters who grow through their music and/or bridge difficult relationships to a soundtrack. ACAMPORA, Paul. Confusion Is Nothing New. 192p. Scholastic. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781338209990. Gr 5-7–A tribute to family, friends, and Cyndi Lauper, this is a story of a young girl's search for answers and her journey towards a deeper appreciation of the people who love her. Fourteen-year-old white American Ellie Magari has never known her mother, who left the family soon after Ellie's birth. Although Ellie's father appears to be satisfied with their long-time understanding that they do not discuss Wilma "Korky" Korkenderfer, Ellie wants to know more. When she learns that her mother has died, her questions become more urgent; luckily for Ellie, there are people around her who may have some answers. Her closest friends, Daniel, who walks with a limp due to a mild form of cerebral palsy, and Anya, who is a biracial adoptee, are empathetic to Ellie's need to know more about her biological mother and eagerly help her solve the puzzle of Korky's life. She is close to her school principal, Sister Stephanie, who knew Korky when they were both teenagers. There's also Mr. Leary, Sister Stephanie's brother, who becomes the director of the St. Francis Marching Band of which Ellie and Daniel are enthusiastic members. Mr. Leary, in scenes reminiscent of School of Rock, turns out to be a treasure trove of information about Cyndi Lauper and U2, among other 80s rock groups, but more importantly, he is someone who leads Ellie to answers and acceptance. VERDICT Filled with references to 80s pop music, Acampora's fast-paced and entertaining novel will satisfy lovers of family stories that have a touch of mystery.—Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA redstarBIGELOW, Lisa Jenn. Drum Roll, Please. 320p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jun. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062791146. Gr 5-8–The day before 13-year-old drummer Melly heads to Camp Rockaway, her parents drop a bombshell: They're getting divorced. Suddenly, the next two weeks become about more than just hanging out with her best friend Olivia, swimming in the lake, and playing the drums. In this sweet and sincere summer story, Melly confronts a whirlwind of feelings as she observes Olivia's newfound intense interest in boys, learns to play in a band with strangers, and develops her first crush on a girl: her bandmate, Adeline. Camp Rockaway, with its endless music-related puns and earnest belief in music's transformative power, provides the perfect setting for Melly to navigate these major life events. Bigelow captures the emotional intensity of camp, where each day stretches long, and relationships can come together and fall apart in seconds. It is Melly's first-person narration that truly drives the story, always honest and self-reflective, even as she makes mistakes and struggles to understand and express her own feelings. Both fun and substantial, readable and empowering, this novel is a master class in balancing real issues with a light-hearted tone. Bigelow's compassionate take on the classic middle school topics of family, friendship, and first romance hits all the right notes. VERDICT Highly recommended; a perfect summer read for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Jennifer Holm.—Molly Saunders, Homewood Public Library, AL CHAMPION, Lindsay. Someday, Somewhere. 280p. KCP Loft. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781771389310. Gr 9 Up–This story about first love will engage readers with the lyrical voices of the characters. Ben (an uber-violinist in New York City) and Dom (who is helping her mom in her failing laundry shop in Trenton, NJ and living on rice and beans) are in such separate worlds they should never meet. But a school field trip to Carnegie Hall places Dom in the balcony at the back of the hall while Ben is front and near-center, playing the most awesome violin he has ever played. The audience, the conductor, and Dom are floored and stand for the ovation. The pacing throughout is fast and furious. The author has created a story told through expertly crafted dialogue and monologue. The composition mimics music with arpeggios and crescendos as Dom seeks out the boy she saw on her school field trip. Ben, trying to find a mystical girl he saw, posts flyers around his school, New York City, and on Instagram. "Have you seen this girl?…Wild, curly hair…a voice like liquid gold." Teens will root for Dom and Ben and won't want to leave these characters. VERDICT Add this music-themed YA to shelves needing more romance.—Cathleen Ash, Manor High School, TX DOKTORSKI, Jennifer Salvato. August and Everything After. 336p. Sourcebooks/Fire. May 2018. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492657156. Gr 9 Up–After the death of her best friend August (for which she blames herself) and a humiliating and very public error in judgment involving a young, male teacher at her school, Quinn ends up fleeing to her rock and roller aunt's beachside home. Ostensibly there to work, reflect, and make a "life plan" for the fall, the teen instead teaches herself to play drums and falls in love with a recovering addict who shares her understanding of what it's like to lose someone. Malcolm is picking up the pieces after his former band members died in a car accident, and he enlists Quinn and their friend Liam to record an album of new, soulful songs that he hopes will relaunch his career. Through their shared love for music, and as they both try to come to terms with their grief and guilt, Quinn and Malcolm form an intense bond that transcends fairy-tale romance. It's not an easy or straightforward relationship, and Quinn does end up reflecting deeply on who she is and what she needs as she makes decisions for her post-August future. Readers will be glad to know that Quinn emerges from this back-and-forth stronger, wiser, and more herself than ever. Fans of Leila Sales's This Song Will Save Your Life and Sarah Dessen's Just Listen will likely enjoy this romance. VERDICT Recommended for general purchase.—Nora G. Murphy, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, CA
ENGLE, Margarita. Jazz Owls.  192p. Atheneum/S. & S. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534409439. Gr 7 Up—Set during the Zoot Suit riots, this novel in verse tells a fictional account of a dark time in American history. Marisela and Lorena are jazz owls who work all day and dance all night. They also dance during the day as they twist and turn trying to navigate their place in Los Angeles during World War II. They face racism at home for their Latino heritage despite having family members serving overseas. Marisela falls in love with a musician, while Lorena dreams about saving enough money to go to school. Zoot suits—loose suits perfect for dancing to jazz and rumba music that has heavy Afro-Latino influences—are frowned upon. Tensions rise as newspapers print headlines that invoke fear. Sailors start pouring into the streets as they round up young Latino men, beat them, and burn their suits. This becomes a nightmare that repeats too many times, and while the forces that be ultimately end it, the Latino and African American communities are still raw from their physical and emotional abuses. The novel focuses on Marisela and Lorena with occasional verses from her parents, brother, and friends. Engle's approach to a topic that may seem hard for teens to grasp is successful as readers will be cheering for the jazz owls to be able to not only dance, but to overcome racism. VERDICT A quick read perfect for history buffs, dance enthusiasts, poets, and just about anyone looking for a great story. Recommended.—Katie Llera, Bound Brook High School, NJ
redstarGansworth, Eric. Give Me Some Truth. 400p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. May 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338143546.  Gr 9 Up–Carson is a senior in high school. He loves his Chevelle, his imperfect family, and music. He dreams of starting his own band with his friend Lewis, whom he treats horribly, because Lewis lets him. Maggi has just moved back to the Rez after living in the projects in the city with her mother and sister for seven years. She's 15 and works with her family selling beaded work to tourists from a script her mother wrote for her to recite when she was a little girl. She dreams of creating her own high-concept art, but life at the fictionalized Tuscarora Nation reservation and the lack of modern conveniences of their home are taking its toll on Maggi. Carson and Maggi seem to have an instant attraction, but Carson soon discovers that Maggi has embarked on a relationship with 31-year-old Jim, a white man who works with her on her job who is not quite as nice as he may seem. Gansworth's follow-up to If I Ever Get Out of Here has an incredible voice. Told in alternating perspectives, this novel places readers right at the center of young adult lives in a reservation on the outskirts of Niagara Falls. His characters are rich, well developed, and will stay with readers for a long time. Lovers of his debut novel and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie will fall in love with this incredibly written novel. VERDICT A stellar choice for YA realistic fiction shelves.—Christina Vortia, Hype Lit, Land O'Lakes, FL LARSON, Hope. All Summer Long. illus. by Hope Larson. 176p. Farrar. May 2018. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780374304850; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780374310714. Gr 5-8–It’s a summer of changes for 13-year-old Bina. Her best friend Austin is off to soccer camp, her oldest brother and his husband are adopting a baby, and nobody has time for Bina. An aspiring guitarist, she takes solace in music; it grounds her when she feels adrift. Over the course of long weeks filled with babysitting, mini-golf, concerts, and family, Bina experiences a full range of emotions as feelings are easily hurt, moods are topsy-turvy, and friendships are formed, broken, and reshaped in different ways. This sensitive, relatable graphic novel explores many familiar touchstones of adolescence as Bina seeks her place in the world. Constantly looking up to the older, more accomplished people in her life, Bina finds it hugely satisfying when she realizes that she, too, has something to offer. A limited palette keeps the focus on the story and character development, and Larson’s expressive drawings add to the emotional resonance of the teen’s journey to self-discovery. VERDICT Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will eagerly embrace this work. A charming addition to any graphic novel collection.Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA MCLACHLAN, Jenny. Star Struck. 224p. (The Ladybirds: Bk. 3). Feiwel & Friends. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250061515. Gr 7 Up–A character-driven novel where a school bully gets a wake-up call. Pearl, who is white, is the school mean girl and that is just how she likes it. But when a new girl, Hoshi, who is white and Japanese, bursts onto the scene with her undeniable talent and knowledge of Japanese pop culture, things start to change. Suddenly, what once belonged to Pearl starts slipping away. From the lead role in the school musical to her newest crush's attention, Hoshi's entrance puts things in motion for Pearl's character growth. McLachlan has written a charming story of self-discovery. Her characters are a dynamic and realistic representation of teens in a modern world. Pearl is confronted not only with natural adolescent issues but also with the struggles of her home life and her sexuality. And though Hoshi initially serves as a catalyst for the mean girl's transformation, the secondary character is also fully developed by the story's end. While this is set in modern England, the dialogue lacks the Briticisms that might trip up some teens. The narrative is generally light and entertaining. Those who have read the other books in the series will be thrilled with this addition. VERDICT Purchase where the previous entries are popular.—Haley Amendt, Hinton Municipal Library, Alta. PARSONS, Ash. The Falling Between Us. 304p. Philomel. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399168482. Gr 7 Up–Roxy lives on the periphery after her boyfriend's meteoric rise to pop music superstardom. She travels on tour with Joshua Blackbird, "the girl from home" always present in the background. She gives him unconditional support while seething at the demands others place on him: the relentless schedule set by his prescription-pushing manager, a manufactured romance with a female pop star, a distant mother always asking for money, and unceasing frenetic attention from fans. The intense pressure makes Joshua distant and fragile, and Roxy's worry for his well-being increases. When Joshua goes for a midnight swim off a yacht and disappears, the protagonist spirals into profound grief even as she questions what happened to the boy she loves. Roxy is an engaging narrator who offers a perceptive glimpse into the celebrity industry alongside her own emotional landscape. She constantly compares their new reality to a circus and becomes obsessed with 1920s aerialist Lillian Leitzel, whose gravity-defying acrobatics and eventual tragic plummet are one means through which Parsons presents the pervasive theme of falling and losing control. The story moves quickly, its dark intensity crafted from raw emotion delivered in lyrical prose and staccato sentences. The novel includes a biting critique of celebrity culture and a hint of mystery, but the heart of the story is an exploration of grief, depression, and suicide. While the ending may feel too pat for some readers, it subtly delivers a positive message about choosing life over suicide. VERDICT With a shrewd and sympathetic narrator and multiple elements of interest—music, celebrity, grief, mental health—this novel is a recommended first purchase.—Elizabeth Lovsin, Deerfield Public Library, IL PHILIPS, L. Sometime After Midnight: A Cinderella Story. . 400p. Viking. Jun. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780425291634. Gr 9 Up–Nate Grisheimer is a musical prodigy, son of a legendary guitarist who killed himself when the record label he was signed to—Paradise Entertainment, run by power-hungry music mogul Richard Pierce—sapped him of his creativity. Nate's only dream is to follow in his father's footsteps and continue his legacy, but he's held back by his fast food job, his emotionally distant stepmother, and the fact that he can't sing. His voice doesn't capture his music and lyrics the way he wants, and he's desperate to find that perfect voice. Richard Cameron Pierce, Jr. is the heir to the Paradise fortune, along with his twin sister Tess. His real ambition is not to run Paradise, but to be one of its artists. He hasn't found musicians good enough to bring his words to life. Plus, he's promised his father that he would spend a gap year learning about the business. So when Cameron attends a small concert by a band that has potential, and meets a cute, mysterious guy named Nate, the meeting has unforeseen implications for both of them—especially when Nate realizes who Cameron really is, and what he represents. Philips (Perfect Ten) has created a realistic, not-overly-mushy, well-written romance with a mostly white cast. Nate and Cameron's relationship is rocky, sweet, tense, real, and not the driving force of the story, which is refreshing. Readers will love Nate's hipster-ness and Cameron's humility despite his privilege. VERDICT Teens should enjoy this quirky, tender romance. A recommended purchase.—Tyler Hixson, Brooklyn Public Library REDGATE, Riley. Noteworthy. 400p. ebook available. Abrams/Amulet. May 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419723735. Gr 8 Up–Jordan Sun cross-dresses as Julian, a male a cappella singer, to use her height and low singing voice to her advantage in a ploy that evolves from the mounting frustration she feels after not getting cast in plays. She's on theater scholarship far away from her San Francisco Chinese American parents, who are just barely scraping by financially. At Kensington-Blane, an upstate New York boarding school for the arts, Jordan is willing to risk aspects of her identity to audition for the Sharpshooters, a young men's singing ensemble with a long and proud tradition. She cuts her hair and dons a wig when in "girl mode." Once the teen makes the Sharps, she has to spend more and more of her time in cloaking glasses after raiding a thrift sale for boys' duds. Something of a whim becomes a commitment: she must pretend to be a dude for the long haul as the group preps for a high-stakes competition in December, and she is soon embraced by the tight club, which is focused on the prize. The seven other members of the group—all quite distinctively characterized—become an accepting clique, a sanctuary of friendship and artistic endeavor. As Jordan comes to know outsider Nihal, punctilious music director Trav, and talented and extroverted Isaac, she becomes embroiled in their ambitions and their rivalries. Jordan/Julian treats readers to an outsider/insider's perspective on gender. Setting and plot delightfully incorporate the arts, with themes of romance and self-awareness woven in. VERDICT This fun novel pushes against gender norms and will resonate with many teens. A strong purchase for most collections.—Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA SHINE, Joe. Bobby Skye: Boy Band or Die. 288p. Soho Teen. May 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781616958411. Gr 8 Up–Robert Hutchinson is sarcastic and charming, and readers will love to follow him in his journey from juvie-bound teen to secret agent trainee and all-star boy band member. Hutch is on the run from the cops, and this time his penchant for bursting into song can't save him. He lands in juvie and is met by an agent who tells him he can either leave with her, no questions asked, or die tomorrow. Hutch leaves with her and is knocked unconscious. He wakes up in a high security facility and is told to obey the rules at all costs if he wants to a) survive and b) pass the test to gain his freedom. If he passes, he will become a Shadow—a protector of a Future Important Person. After making it through the grueling tests, Hutch finds out his FIP is Ryo Enomoto, a world-famous boy band member. And now, so is Hutch. And worse off, he's got to sing, which is what got him in trouble in the first place. This is not what Hutch signed up for, but it's a job he's got to do—or else he dies. This fast-paced, fun, and all-around snarky novel can and should be read concurrently with Shine's debut novel I Become Shadow. VERDICT A great addition to any YA collection.—Caitlin Wilson, Meadowdale Library, North Chesterfield, VA STRAND, Jeff. How You Ruined My Life. Sourcebooks. Apr. 2018. Pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492662020. Gr 7 Up—A clever, relatable novel about teen competition, chaste romance, pranks, jealousy, and kindness. Rod, lead singer in a pretty awful high school punk rock band called Fanged Grapefruit, has an awesome life for the most part, with a beautiful, supportive girlfriend, a few tight friends, and a terrific, hardworking mom. Everything changes, though, when odious cousin Blake moves in for three months and begins to deliberately and sneakily destroy everything good in Rod's life. He seems to have everyone fooled about his true nature. Rod responds: game on, and may the best man win. Witty dialogue, ridiculous yet believable situations, and just the right note of self-deprecating introspection make this a perfect book for reluctant readers as well as those who are just not in the mood for angsty YA novels. VERDICT Sure to fly off the shelves, this delightful addition to the minuscule shelf of truly funny books for teens will be eagerly snatched up and passed hand to hand.—Susan Riley, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY WALTON, K.M., ed. Behind the Song. 400p. Sourcebooks/Fire. Sept. 2017. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781492638810. Gr 9 Up–This anthology about music hits all the right notes. Young adult authors and musicians share the power of music through essays and short stories inspired by particular songs. The 14 entries are sparked by a diverse group of artists, such as Bob Dylan, the Killers, Amy Winehouse, Oasis, and the Eagles. Readers will recognize some of the popular authors who contributed, such as Ellen Hopkins, Ellen Oh, David Arnold, and Elisa Ludwig. The pieces are about more than just the songs and reveal personal philosophies that will resonate even with readers unfamiliar with the music. A biography of each contributor is included to further explore the impact music has had on the lives of each author. All of the songs are listed on a comprehensive playlist so that teens can create their own mixtapes. Highlights of the collection are Beth Kephart's personal essay "The Opposite of Ordinary," inspired by "A Place for Us" from West Side Story, and Hopkins's "Tiffany Twisted," inspired by the Eagles' "Hotel California." VERDICT A perfect addition to school and public libraries—especially useful as a curriculum tie-in or for writing prompts.—Kevin McGuire, Woodland Hills School District, PA WARGA, Jasmine. Here We Are Now. 304p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062324702. Gr 9 Up–A deep dive into the history of a family she did not know she had shows 16-year-old Taliah Abdallat a great deal about things lost and found. Taliah has never known her father, but a few years back she began to suspect her dad was grunge god Julian Oliver (and not, as her mother, Lena, told her, just some guy back home with whom she had a fling). After sending him three years of unanswered letters, he appears while Taliah's mother is in Paris, confirms his paternity, and whisks Taliah off to his hometown in Indiana, where his father is dying. Everything is happening so fast, and while Taliah doesn't want to make it easy for Julian to suddenly be in her life, she is also desperate to learn the truth of her mother and Julian's past. Taliah is a pianist and songwriter, and the two bond over music, as Taliah attempts to take her best friend Harlow's advice and be open to letting people into her life. Julian and Taliah's present and Julian and Lena's past are woven together nicely, slowly revealing the full story of the parents' romance and their falling out. Some secondary characters are underdeveloped and unnecessary, but the main characters are outstanding. The rushed ending, though not dissatisfying, leaves many unanswered questions. A music-packed look at how we grow, change, and define or redefine relationships. VERDICT This thoughtful look at finding one's place, sometimes in the most surprising and unexpected ways, will have wide appeal.—Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN WILDE, Jen. The Brightsiders. 304p. Feiwel & Friends. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250189714. Gr 9 Up–Set in the fast pace of Hollywood, rockstar drummer Emmy King, 17, just can’t seem to get it right. Always caught up in drama with her parents and friends, the paparazzi have a field day when Emmy ends up in the hospital after a hard night of underage drinking. A few months later she is on stage and coming out as a bisexual. She eventually falls for Alfie, her irresistible, genderfluid band mate, which leads to a relationship that is physically mature. Emma is a complex, multifaceted character who doesn’t always make the right decisions, but she proves that relationships can be complicated regardless of one’s sexuality. The author adeptly captures the essence and confusion that young people may go through when trying to figure out their identities. This inclusive romance features multiple LGBTQ+ protagonists, including a nonbinary character who uses the pronouns they/them. The frankness and details of Emmy’s sexual experiences make this a better choice for older readers. VERDICT Perfect for collections seeking high drama and romance.–Karen Alexander, Lake ­Fenton High School, Linden, MI WOODFOLK, Ashley. The Beauty That Remains. 336p. Random. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524715878. G r 9 Up—Bring out the tissues: this deftly written tale of three teenagers coping with love and loss will pull heartstrings. Logan, Shay, and Autumn are loosely connected by the now-defunct band called Unravelling Lovely. As the band has imploded, so have their lives. In alternating perspectives, this novel presents each character coping with the loss of someone vitally important to their own understanding of who they are in the world. Singer-songwriter Logan struggles with his anger and self-destructive impulses after his ex-boyfriend's apparent suicide. Shay copes with her own fear and heartache after her twin sister, a music blogger, dies of cancer. At the same time, quiet, artistic Autumn has to break out of her shell of silence and self-control to find her way without her colorful best friend. The likelihood of three young people in the same world all coping with the tragic deaths of three different young people in their orbit definitely stretches the imagination. That said, the core characters live and breathe; they are contradictory, messy, and truly believable, making readers willing believe the premise. In her debut, Woodfolk has written a lovely and introspective coming-of-age novel that fully captures the way friendship, music, family, and romance dovetail to create a young person's identity. The self- and life-defining nature of grief and loss captured so well by authors such as John Green is explored here with humor, intelligence, and grace. VERDICT An excellent selection for YA collections.—Sara Scribner, Marshall Fundamental School, Pasadena, CAYA Graphic Novels

 

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