Pairing Music with YA Lit: “Give a Little Love” Edition

“With the right music you either forget everything or you remember everything”–Unknown

Music is always around us, linking moments, people, and emotions to songs, genres, and artists that become special to us.  We carry our memories through a song’s lyrics, through the beat of a track, or just through that “feeling” a special song gives us.  Classic rock to bring back memories of an old crush. Anything by The Backstreet Boys to remember a particular summer.  “Paris” by Magic Man to remember a little one’s first dance moves.  We each have our own personal “soundtrack”; a mental playlist that might have a few special tracks, or more songs than there is room for on an iPhone.

You find yourself in music.

YA lit has the same effect.  Just as you can find yourself in a song, you can find yourself in the pages, in the characters, within a book.  So, why not join the two together?  YA authors have often used music in their stories–punk rock songs in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist; or the intro/outro music for Seth’s podcasts in Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto.

Given this, I decided to challenge myself (and my own knowledge of music and YA lit) by pairing YA novels with possible song counterparts.  Not all of us hear music the same way, just as not all of us see the books we read the same way, so these posts to The Hub are my interpretation of both.

And I’m very excited to start with a few recent titles which feature stories of love that overcome some pretty big obstacles.

every_last_wordEvery Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (2015)

Summary: At the beginning of her junior year, Samantha must leave behind the relaxed, confident, happy “Summer Sam” she becomes when she is away from her popular group of friends, the Crazy Eights.  To the Eights she is “Samantha”–a follower who maintains her role within the group in worry that they will kick her out.  Especially if they found out about how she suffers from Pure-O (thought obsessed) OCD.  To ease a panic attack, Sam finds a quiet place to control her thoughts.  In doing so, Sam is led to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room where a group of students secretly share their poetry.  This opens up Sam’s world to new friends, to writing poetry, and to AJ, a boy she tormented as “Samantha” but falls in love with as “Sam.”  Through Sam’s writing, AJ sees the person that Sam has become, instead of the person she was with the Eights, and helps her through some difficult times.

Musical pairings:

Samantha actually creates some pretty great playlists throughout the novel with artists like Adele and The Shins.  But as I read Every Last Word I kept thinking: Imagine Dragons.  Particularly a few tracks off their “Smoke & Mirrors” album.  “Polaroid” seems to fit Samantha’s anxiety well, especially her thought spirals (Can’t slow down/ I’m a rolling freight train), and the beginnings of her relationship with AJ (I’m a hold my cards close/ I’m a wreck what I love most).  But Samantha is also plagued by guilt that she feels due to her association with the Eights; that’s where “Shots” comes in (I’m sorry for everything/ Oh, everything I’ve done).  “Trouble” is another Imagine Dragons song that describes how much Samantha wants to be “Sam” (I looked a little lost at sea/ I keep trying to find me).

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli (2015)

Summary: Simon hasn’t told anyone he’s gay except for Blue, an anonymous boy he knows only through emails.  Simon and Blue tell each other the things they can’t tell anyone else, support each other through difficult times, and talk about coming out.  Unfortunately for Simon, he forgets to log out of his secret email account on a school computer.  And more unfortunately, his account is discovered by the class goof-ball who, in turn, blackmails Simon.

Musical Pairings:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an utterly charming story.  Simon and Blue’s email relationship is sweet, funny, and just plain adorable as their love grows throughout the novel.  Because of this, a super sentimental or serious song, like Journey’s “Open Arms,” just doesn’t have the right “feel.”  Instead, a musical pairing for Simon has to have the same soul as the book–something fun, something dance-worthy.  Thus: “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon (Oh we were bound to get together/ Bound to get together) is a great fit.  Especially when Simon realizes Blue’s true identity (Oh don’t you dare look back/ Just keep your eyes on me).  Another fun, cute song that compliments Simon and his feelings for Blue would be “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat (Wherever it goes/ I always know / That you make me smile).

Going Over coverGoing Over by Beth Kephart (2014)

Summary:  Set in the early 1980s, Going Over is a story of star-crossed lovers Ada and Stefan.  They live on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall–Ada in the West amid poverty and freedom;  Stefan in the East under lockdown.  Though they cannot see each other, though they cannot communicate with one another, they are deeply in love and think of each other every day. Ada desperately wants Stefan to find a way to cross over, but Stefan fears for his grandmother’s safety and puts off plans to escape.  But when Ada’s need for him becomes more urgent, Stefan realizes that he must escape the East to be with her, and hatches a dangerous plan to do so.


Musical Pairings:

An obvious choice for a novel set in Germany during the eighties is to pair it with a song or two from The Scorpions, like “Send Me an Angel” or “Winds of Change.”  However, for this story I’m drawn to a more modern song: Say Anything’s “Alive with the Glory of Love.”  Though the song references concentration camps (not the cold war), the feeling of urgency in the music and the need of having someone love you amidst a terrible situation (You’re lovely baby/ This war is crazy/ I won’t let you down) is shared in Going Over.

— Stacy Holbrook, currently reading I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios