Tuning Up: 18 YA Reads about Teens in the Music Industry

They negotiate with their band members, run from paparazzi, compete in epic talent shows, and suffer through rehearsals gone wrong. From teen celebrities to juvie wards, these are high schoolers who just want to live and breathe music. The books below capture their passions.



Amplified, by Tara Kelly

Jasmine’s mind is made up—she wants to be an on-the-road rock-band musician. She wants it so badly, she defers her admission to Stanford, angering her father who throws her out of the house. An engaging story about a girl following her dreams.


Audrey Wait

Audrey, Wait!, by Robin Benway

When Audrey’s boyfriend, Evan, writes the perfect “win you back” song after their breakup, they both instantly becomes famous, chased by crazed teenagers and harassed by paparazzi. This is a winning tale of teen resilience, friendship, and music.


Born to Rock

Born to Rock, by Gordon Korman

Leo is made to question his traditional values while on the road with a hard-core punk band called Purge. A rock opus with smartly written dialogue and a slow-burning romance.



Breakout, by Kevin Emerson

According to Anthony Castillo, eighth-graders “battle in the trenches between being a kid and being a teen.” All he wants is to rock the Fall Arts Night with his band, the Rusty Soles. This title will resonate with readers ready to break out of their own bunkers.



Exile, by Kevin Emerson

Amid a love triangle with her front man Caleb and drummer Val, high-school senior Summer Carlson hopes her band will make it big by releasing a dead rocker’s missing songs. Emerson talks rock history with a style and fervor that will send readers to YouTube to catch the classic moments mentioned by his music-savvy characters. Read the sequel, Encore to an Empty Room, and get ready for the third installment, Finding Abbey Road, out this August.


For the Record

For the Record, by Charlotte Huang

As the newly hired lead singer in a rock quartet, Chelsea has lots to adjust to: the exhilarating but exhausting rush of fame, and getting along with her new male band mates, who are all prep-school graduates that have been friends their entire lives. Having had first-hand experience in the industry, Huang’s story breathes vivid, exacting details to a life on the road.


The Frail Days

The Frail Days, by Gabrielle Prendergast

Stella and her awesome singer Tamara Donnelley want to enroll in an upcoming festival but they’re worried their style isn’t what the judges like. Should they change their style to please the crowd or should they stick to their roots? A pleasing choice for high/low readers with an interest in the music biz.


Guitar Girl

Guitar Girl, by Sarra Manning

Hoping to inspire a girl revolution, Molly and a few friends start their own band called The Hormones. Things unravel fast after some poor choices—Molly tells the story in retrospect, of how she ended up being sued for $5,000,000 by her former record company.


King Dork

King Dork, by Frank Portman

Tom Henderson is bored by the underwhelming AP classes he’s in. What does he do to engage his mind? Along with his best friend, he invents a new band every few hours—a band name, cover art, song titles—no matter that neither boy owns a guitar. A humorous, scathing indictment of the public education system.


My year of epic rock

My Year of Epic Rock, by Andrew Pyros

Nina is having trouble finding her place in middle school. She has a food allergy, and her best friend is suddenly ignoring her. When she joins a band and rocks out at the end-of-year talent show, she discovers how to stand up for herself.


The Scar Boys

The Scar Boys, by Len Vlahos

After an incident in his childhood that left Harry physically scarred, he always feels something like a freak—except when he’s playing with his band, The Scar Boys. A compelling first-person coming-of-age novel that will resonant with anyone who has felt out of place.



Snapshot, by Angie Stanton

Marti never dreamed she’d go for a “rocker” after the way her reckless rock-star dad ruined her childhood. But she’s got it bad for Adam. Readers looking for an against-all-odds love story will be enticed.


Song of the slums

Song of the Slums, by Richard Harland

After moving in with the well-to-do Swales under the pretense of an impending engagement, Astor Vance discovers a dark family secret and flees the household, joining a street band to make ends meet. When her side gig becomes so popular it reintroduces her to the Swales, she must face them again. Song of the Slums is set in an alternate nineteenth-century England, adding historical fiction elements to the music theme.


So Punk Rock

So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), by Micol Ostow

When Jewish-day-school-junior Jonas creates a successful indie-rock band, he suddenly has to deal with the way the success changes his band mates. Teens involved in faith-based communities will recognize Ari’s mild resentment toward his faith, and breathe a sigh of relief when he reconciles his musical ambitions with his beliefs.


Struts and Frets

Struts & Frets, by Jon Skovron

Mediating the squabbles between his band mates keeps 17-year-old Sammy busy, but then he falls in love and there’s more to worry about. Told in a lively, authentic teen voice, Skovron’s characters discuss reliably cool bands, giving this story solid indie cred.


This song will save your life

This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales

The girl most likely to be picked on. A halfhearted suicide attempt. Broken family, no friends, no future. Elise Dembowski will not be unfamiliar to readers. When she comes across an exhilarating warehouse party and is taken under the wings of the performers there, she discovers she’s a natural DJ. Teens will find hope in the way Elise is awakened by finding her passion.



Vandal, by Michael Simmons

When Will’s older brother, Jason, returns from juvenille hall and joins Will’s KISS tribute band, the brothers rediscover what it means to be siblings. With lots of behind-the-scenes look at gigs, Vandal captures the joy of performing.


Wise Young Fool

Wise Young Fool, by Sean Beaudoin

Beaudoin’s coming-of-age ode to punk rock is told from the perspective of Ritchie Sudden as he describes the turn of events that landed him in juvie: he and his best friend Elliot Hella just wanted to make hardcore history with their garage band. This headbanger is right-on with passion and detail—readers will be smelling the garage-band funk and feeling the bass rattle their teeth.




About the Author:

Sarah Grant is the Marketing Associate for Booklist. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Grant.

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