Spotify playlists as courtship rituals. Driving with the windows rolled down and blasting the best song ever. Fantasies of falling in love with a glamorous, confident pop star—or becoming one yourself. From the clothes we wear to the friends we bond with, music defines so much of our young adulthoods. While we’re doing the hard work of forming our identities, we lean hard on our soundtrack of choice. These books understand that, and the soundscapes they create in your imagination make them truly unforgettable.
11 YA Books for Music Lovers
1. When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert
From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a “beautifully, achingly cathartic” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
2. Shine by Jessica Jung
What would you give for a chance to live your dreams? For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?
Get ready as Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Korea’s most famous girl group, Girls’ Generation, takes us inside the luxe, hyper-color world of K-pop, where the stakes are high, but for one girl, the cost of success—and love—might be even higher. It’s time for the world to see: this is what it takes to SHINE.
3. Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
When Liz Buxbaum’s childhood crush, Michael, moves back into town, she is determined to do whatever it takes to get his attention, snag him as a prom date, and get her happily-ever-after moment, just like the classic movie rom-coms she loves so much. There’s only one problem: Michael still sees her a “Little Liz” the odd girl from the neighborhood who used to make up songs, so Liz recruits the help of her annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor, Wes, to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment.
Liz dreams of one day making soundtracks for movies—just like the ones she grew up loving—and practices by making soundtracks for her relationships and life moments. So if you’re a fan of epic movie soundtracks, you’ll love this book.
4. Permanent Record by Mary H. K. Choi
Who hasn’t daydreamed about running into a beautiful pop star and falling madly in love? This daydream becomes a reality for Pablo during his crack of dawn shift at a New York bodega when superstar Leanna Smart stops by to pick up some snacks. The two of them have an instant connection, and Pablo is swept away from his mundane life of crushing debt and existential angst to the glamor of international stardom. But is it all too good to be true?
To everyone fascinated by Ariana Grande’s whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson, this one’s for you.
5. Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Rumi and her sister, Lea, love to write music together. They’re in the middle of writing a new song, something beautiful called “Summer Bird Blue,” when Lea is killed in a car accident. Rumi knows that the best way to honor her memory is to finish the song for her. Her mom needs time to grieve alone, so Rumi moves in with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer and tries to keep writing.
But music has a painful edge now. It reminds her of the sister she’s missing. She worries that she never had her own connection to music at all, and without her sister, all of her songwriting talent is gone. Even so, she knows she has to push through and finish a song that would have made Lea proud. And, in the process, she might be able to figure out who she’s going to be without Lea by her side.
6. Road Tripped by Pete Hautman
Stiggy needs to get away. He just lost his dad to suicide, his mom is deep in her own depression, and to top it all off, his girlfriend ghosted him. So he hops in the car, chucks his phone out the window, and hits the road. All that he has for distraction is his dad’s iPod. Not very promising, since he never knew his dad to be a music guy.
He’s shocked when he plugs the iPod into the stereo and finds it loaded with an eclectic collection of great songs. Now, he has another chance at knowing his dad better by listening to the songs he played when he was alone. He had everything from the B-52s to Snoop Dogg, the Pixies to Rihanna, Siouxsie and the Banshees to Miley Cyrus. The story is a beautiful reminder that music both comforts us when we feel alone and ultimately brings us closer together.
Plus, some of the chapters are titled after songs that Stiggy listens to. It’s great inspiration for your next road trip playlist—maybe you’ll even discover your new favorite throwback track!
7. Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch
Addie is having the worst summer ever. She’s fighting with her brother, Ian, more than ever, and her last relationship ended catastrophically. The only glimmer of hope is that, after dutifully attending her aunt’s destination wedding in Ireland, she’s going to Italy to visit her friend, Lina. (Remember her from Love & Gelato?)
But nothing is going right this summer, and that includes her travel plans. Instead of Italy, Addie ends up in a car that is practically falling apart on a road trip to see the final concert of Ian’s favorite band. Along for the ride is Ian’s Irish friend and fellow music enthusiast, Rowan, and Addie has to admit that he’s not terrible-looking. And a music festival might be just the magical, transformative environment she needs to change her luck.
8. Wild Roses by Deb Caletti
Cassie Morgan is not a musician, but she finds herself suddenly surrounded by them. After her parents’ divorce, her mom marries Dino Cavalli, a world-renowned violin player and composer. But to Cassie, he’s an erratic, self-centered bully whose paranoid behavior is only getting worse.
When she meets Dino’s first-ever student, the brilliant young violinist Ian Waters, Cassie immediately feels drawn to him. But Dino sees her as a threat to Ian’s promising career, and their burgeoning romance will have consequences she never imagined.
Even though Cassie doesn’t play music herself, Deb Caletti describes music with such ease and clarity that you’ll feel like you’re in the room with these talented violinists.
9. Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn
Wonder Blake steps into a fantasy when she’s plucked from her job at the Dairy Queen and given the chance to become a teen pop idol. But it’s not her fantasy—it’s her older sister’s. Lucky died before she was able to achieve her dream, so Wonder is determined to do it for her.
A recording contract means escaping from her small town, fractured family, and even high school itself. She has a fresh new look, a chart-topping single, and a tour opening for the biggest pop star around. But the shallowness of the industry is getting to her, and she can’t help miss a simpler time when people liked her for being herself. Maybe being an ordinary teenager isn’t so bad after all.
10. Consent by Nancy Ohlin
Seventeen-year-old Bea has two secrets. One: She dreams of going pro with her piano skills. Two: She’s found a great guy who encourages her in pursuing her dream, and she’s never felt so understood. The only problem? He’s her music teacher.
Even though Bea has never felt so wanted and so deeply seen, she knows that she has to keep their relationship a secret. When the news gets out and they become a public scandal, Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about her teacher, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced.
11. Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell
Neo is a huge music fan. She works for a local radio station, and she’s a regular in the Cape Town, South Africa music scene. One night, she goes to a show by herself and falls in love with the lead singer, a girl named Tale. The two of them form a deep bond that begins with their shared passion for music.
Although Cape Town is a big city with a large pride parade, there is also a high rate of violent crime against the LGBTQIA+ community. When Neo’s life is turned upside down by a vicious and deadly attack, she knows she has to use her voice to speak out.
The author includes a list of the songs Neo plays on the radio, as well as the songs he listened to while writing key scenes.