Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stories with a Soundtrack

I just finished the 2015 revision of my book What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use, adding over a hundred new titles. One of my favorite chapters is "Stories with a Soundtrack." Just as many movies have soundtracks that help define characters and move the plot forward, more and more books are including musical references that create a mood and provide background information.  Some authors even offer soundtracks online that complement the novel. Frequently, the main characters bond over a shared love of music or friendships are initiated by one character introducing another to her favorite tunes.  If readers have a working knowledge of the music incorporated in a novel, it helps them understand the personality of the characters and the stage upon which the story plays out.  A variety of projects can be assigned to help students explore the story soundtrack and analyze how it impacts the novel.  These projects are detailed in the book. Four books I recently added to the chapter will be reviewed in this month's blog. Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly is about a young Filipino girl who moves to Louisiana and is obsessed with the Beatles.  Placid Girl by Brenna Ehrlich focuses on a drummer in a punk band.  For the Record by Charlotte Huang chronicles the tale of a reality show contestant who takes the place of the lead female singer in a popular band.  This Song is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin is about a love triangle which complicates band dynamics in an experimental noise rock trio.

In Blackbird Fly April Yengkoa and her mother move from the Philippines to Louisiana after her father dies. The only thing she has of his is a Beatles cassette, which she cherishes.  Hoping to learn all the Beatles songs on the cassette, she wants to take up the guitar, but her mother vehemently objects.  After becoming a social pariah when her name appears on the "Dog Log" list of ugly girls, she makes friends with a fellow listed girl and a new boy who encourage her to follow her dreams.  A music teacher, who discovers April has a natural gift for the guitar, takes her under his wing, providing her with a guitar and lessons.  Through music April is able to deal with her classmates' prejudice and the conflict with her mother, and find a way to follow her heart.  The subtitles of each chapter are Beatles songs which reflect what happens in the chapter.  The author also provides an "Apple Yengkoa" playlist on her website. 

Hallie, aka Placid Girl, is a drummer in a punk band with her best friend Sarah. They deal with their dysfunctional parents by embracing punk music, in particular the music of a masked musician named Haze.  Although he hasn't been heard from in five years, Hallie, who has begun an online flirtation with a mysterious stranger, wonders if it's him.  Aspiring music journalist Steve, who recently moved into her neighborhood, says he can get her into Haze's secret comeback gig, so she decides to hit the road with him and Sarah to solve the mystery once and for all. This story is filled with suspense and is also a cautionary tale about social media and obsessive fan behavior. 

Ever wonder what happens to reality show singing contestants who don't win?  In For the Record Chelsea Ford initially goes back to a life of anonymity after being voted off the show.  Then the lead singer of the band Melbourne quits and the manager of the band, who has seen her in the competition, invites her to take her place, sending Chelsea on the road with three hot musicians who barely tolerate her.  When teen movie star Lucas Rivers begins romancing her,  the band is furious with the kind of media attention it brings.  Suddenly she and Lucas are the focus, which threatens her already shaky relationship with the band. To complicate matters Chelsea and the band's guitarist Beckett are involved in a forbidden flirtation, which keeps readers guessing.  As Chelsea tries to prove herself before the end of the summer tour, she wonders if it's worth it. The band's tour itinerary and their song lyrics are included at the end of the book. 

Ramona and Sam are best friends and band mates in This Song is (Not) for You.  They are secretly in love with each other, but don't want to risk the band or their friendship by acting on it.  When they meet Tom, a guy who loves experimental music and glitter bombing, they realize that he is just what the band has been missing.  They quickly become inseparable. Then Ramona decides she is in love with Tom, and although she still has feelings for Sam, she and Tom become a couple, complicating band dynamics.  The story is told from three alternating points of view and deals with themes of unconventional friendships, musical experimentation and  different types of love.  In the author's note Laura thanks The Icebergs, an experimental noise rock band who let her "hang out with them during practice and call it research for her novel."  Their music can be found online.

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