Three realistic teen books today, all with musical characters – two from authors who would have been on the YA panel at KidLitCon, as well as the teen book from the Black Music Month section of the Generations Book Club from the Brown Bookshelf. (They’ve now announced the new theme, Community and Culture.)
I often encounter parents at the library who don’t want their teens reading books with sex or drinking in them. All of these books have drinking and talk of sex to sex. These behaviors have consequences that the characters have to deal with. I’ll stand by my opinion that I’d rather have my teen learn from books like this than learn from his peers. But, if it’s something you and/or your teen are uncomfortable with, be aware.
American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott. Christy Ottaviani/Henry Holt, 2018. 978-1627797412. Read from library copy.
It’s 2008. High school junior Teodoro “T” Avila and his best friend Caleb Ta’amu have been living in video games and coasting through the rest of life. T’s parents haven’t gotten along so well since his older brother, Manny joined the military. Their finances suffered during the Great Recession, and they’re now living in a tiny dump of a house. The only bright spot is his older sister Xochitl and her beautiful voice. T hopes that when Manny comes home, everything wrong with his family will be right again.
Then multiple events pull T back into the real world, with a vengeance. Not so good: Manny comes home, and the military has changed his once-happy brother into a sullen, hard-drinking wreck of a person. Running an errand with his mother, he meets a childhood friend, Wendy Martinez, whose college dreams make him want to go to college, too, just to be with her. But he’s never believed college was meant for people like him, and he’s got a long way to go to earn grades that could get him into any kind of college, let alone the best state university where Wendy wants to go. He’s in the middle of a frantic effort to turn his grades around when Xochitl decides that what Manny needs is a road trip with just his siblings.
This is a story of a Mexican-American family dealing with the double whammy of PTSD and an economic downturn that’s hit people of color hardest. It’s sweetened by the romance, though that has believable ups and downs as well. The author is clear that while he’s Latinx, he is white, writing about his wife’s Mexican-American heritage for their sons, to whom the book is dedicated. He does not consider it an #OwnVoices story. I found it powerful, though I can’t personally vouch for the authenticity. I would recommend it for fans of John Green’s books.
You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn. Read by Emily Lawrence and Tristan Morris. MacMillan, 2019. ISBN 978-1250192882, ASIN B07KRHL958. Listened to audiobook on Libby.
Two up-and-coming country music stars have to decide if they can deal with their demons enough to make a relationship work in this gritty-sweet summer romance. Clay Coolidge is a bad boy darling of country party music, but he’s using alcohol and the high of performing to avoid dealing with the pain of his older brother’s death in the military. Annie Mathers has been living with her grandparents on their farm in Michigan and has been posting her band’s songs on YouTube. But though music is her passion and a release for her pain, she’s terrified that she’ll end up like her parents, country music superstars who drugged themselves to death when she was 13.
Clay has made a big public spectacle of himself, and his label sends him to recruit Annie as the opening act for his summer tour, hoping her good girl image will rub off on him. Annie can’t really turn down the opportunity, but she’s determined not to let herself get sucked into a system that cares more about filling stadiums than the people making the music. Both our leads are white, as are Clay’s bandmate and Annie’s cousin, though her drummer is Latinx and his manager marries her girlfriend partway through the book. I listened on audio and didn’t love the narrators – both narrating with very smooth, standard American accents that switched to more country twang for dialog. Your mileage may vary. I also wasn’t sure I got to know the secondary characters well enough to believe in their romance, though the focus is definitely on Annie and Clay. I am not a country music fan, but I have been on music tours (not as the star, however!) and could relate to the tour life!
This book has a lot of pain, including a graphic description as Annie remembers finding her parents’ bodies. There is talk of teens having sex, lots of alcohol, and some drug use. It’s also a story of finding redemption and new beginnings, mixing the unbelievable glamour of music star life with the fun of a summer road trip and the reality of dealing with trauma.
Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert. Read by Maya Barton. Print from Little, Brown Young Readers, 2018, ISBN 978-0316349024 (paperback). Audiobook from Hachette, 2018, ASIN B07FTQ4BSJ. Listened to audiobook on Libby.
High school junior Yvonne is a classical musician suddenly realizing that she’s lost her passion for violin, when she’d been planning to apply to music conservatories. Violin has been what she’s turned to ever since her mother walked out on her father and her when she was six. She’s kind of dating, but definitely not yet exclusive with her chef father’s sous-chef Warren. Then, she meets a charismatic street violinist, Omar, who sets of instant sparks both of attraction and a renewed vision of what the violin can be. At the same time, her father’s mentor starts coaching her in baking, and Yvonne finds that baking, too, can lead to a place of happiness and calm.
Yvonne rarely sees her father, who comes home from work after she’s asleep. But she has a great relationship with her best friend Sabina, one of the only other Black girls at their private school. When Sabina makes comments about Yvonne’s active sex life, it hurts, and repairing this relationship is a major part of the story. All through, she knows that even if she’s going through the same thing her white peers are, she will be judged differently because of being Black. In the end, there are more difficult choices for Yvonne, made easier by the support of her father and her found family.
I’d been hearing good things about Brandy Colbert since Pointe, and I’m glad I finally read something of hers! Now I really want to read her new middle grade, The Only Black Girls in Town. This book pairs naturally with Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together.