Young adult books that rock: a beginner’s list


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A rock and roll soundtrack gets teenagers through their ups, their downs and their angsts. It may evolve from classic rock to grunge to emo to pop to punk and beyond, but it’s a lasting, rebellious fixture. So it should come as no surprise that novels for young adults are as steeped in rock ‘n’ roll as teenagers themselves.

Cecil Castellucci, author of five books including the rock novel ‘Beige,’ picks eight novels with characters whose lives are changed by (turn that down!) music. In alpha order:


1. ‘Audrey, Wait!’ by Robin Benway

When Audrey breaks up with her musician boyfriend, he ends up writing a song about her that becomes an instant hit. Suddenly Audrey is notorious and everyone has an opinion about her. But do they want to know the real story behind the song?

2. ‘Born to Rock’ by Gordon Korman

Leo is a straight-laced honor student and Young Republican. Everything goes topsy turvy when he finds out that the guy he thought was his dad, isn’t; his real father is the lead singer for Purge, the most famous punk band ever. Leo gets a summer job working as a roadie and gets to know his dad, and learns something about himself (and punk) along the way.

3. ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’ by K.L. Going

Troy is a fat kid who doesn’t have any friends, just can’t take it anymore and decides to end it all. But high school music legend Curt McCrae steps in and saves him, and everything changes. Curt sees something in Troy that no one else sees; even though Troy can’t drum, Curt thinks that Troy should be the drummer for his new band Rage/Tectonic. It’s a funny thing how when someone starts seeing something special in you, you start seeing yourself in a different way, too.


4. ‘Heavy Metal and You’ by Christopher Krovatin

Sam loves heavy metal music. He’s smarty-pants enough to attend an exclusive, all-boy prep school in New York City, and he loves to hang out with his friends and smoke up, cut class and drink. But when Sam starts to date straightedge Melissa, he tries to change himself for her. Nothing stays the same forever, though; thank goodness music is always there to get you through.

5. ‘I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone’ by Stephanie Kuehnert

Emily is punk rock. She was born punk rock. Her mother split when she was little to follow a band, and her dad gave up music to raise her on his own. Now she has her own band that’s hitting it big. But everything is messy, and things rise high and swing low. And Emily’s looking for the song that’s going to bring all back together, with love.

6. ‘King Dork’ by Frank Portman

When Tom Henderson (a.k.a. King Dork) discovers a copy of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ that belonged to his dead father, his whole world changes. Clues and conspiracies seem to be leading to answer the puzzle of his father’s death while helping to figure out the secret to attracting hot girls. Being in a band definitely helps, but that’s not as simple as it seems.


7. ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

When Norah borrows Nick to be her boyfriend for five minutes at a rock show, it sets off an all-night adventure in New York City. They chase down the venue of the secret show of their favorite band and discover they have a lot more in common than Nick’s awesome music mixes. (This was a book before it became a movie.)

8. ‘Rock Star Superstar’ by Blake Nelson

Pete’s life is all about music. He practically sleeps with his bass. And he vows to never be a sellout. When he meets the Carlisle brothers, with no talent but lots of charm, he joins up as their bass player. Suddenly The Tiny Masters of Today is poised for superstardom and Pete wonders what he’ll have to compromise for a chance at success.

-- Cecil Castellucci

Images: Simon & Schuster, left, and Penguin Group, center and right