When I was a junior in high school, my friends and I were obsessed with Girl by Blake Nelson. I had just found punk rock, and the book was filled with characters that dressed in thrift store clothes and loved underground music, just like me. This was in 1995, back when YA books weren’t the phenomenon they are now, so we read this book over and over and over (in fact, I’ve had to buy three copies of it over the years, as two that I loaned out were never returned to me). The YA lit landscape has changed, of course, and more and more YA novels feature storylines that involve punks and/or music obsessed characters. These are the books (besides Girl — it still rules!) that I’d like to take back in time and give my teenage self:
Kara, a teen living in Oak Park, Illinois in the mid 90’s, tries to replace her fractured family with a new family: a group of punk kids who hang out in a nearby park. Kara finds her place among them, but she also finds their troubles, including drug use, dating violence, and suicide. A heartbreaking story of the secrets that teens keep and the ways that friendships can both save you and tear you apart.
With her mom away on an archeological dig, straight-laced Katy is forced to spend the summer with the dad she hasn’t seen since she was seven. To make things worse, Katy’s dad is The Rat, the drummer of infamous punk band Suck. Katy doesn’t understand how music can affect someone so deeply, and so she feels incredibly out of place in the punk community she’s been thrown into. As Katy finds unlikely friendships and forges a real relationship with The Rat, she also finds a home in an unlikely place: music.
Leo’s life takes a sudden turn when he is accused of cheating on a test and his scholarship to Harvard is revoked. Having already rejected offers from other schools, Leo doesn’t know how he’ll come up with the tuition money. But then he discovers that King Maggot, lead singer of famous punk bank Purge, is his real father. King’s idea of bonding time is to have Leo (a Young Republican) be a roadie on Purge’s reunion tour. Life on the road with aging punks is unlike anything Leo has ever experienced, and it leads him to surprising revelations about his family, his friends, and his identity.
Unhappy with his weight and sad about his lack of friends, Troy is contemplating jumping in front of a moving train when the legendary Curt MacCrae appears. Curt’s a homeless punk rock kid, and a friendship quickly forms between these two outcasts. When Troy becomes the drummer in Curt’s band and discovers the acceptance of the punk music scene, Troy realizes that there is life outside of his sadness.
Emily Black grew up around music, with a basement full of records and a father who would fill the house with songs. Her mother left when Emily was four months old, supposedly to follow the music that meant so much to her, but really to run from a secret she felt ruined her. Emily finds punk rock in her small town of Carlisle, Wisconsin and it changes her life. As her band finds success and fame, Emily can’t help but wonder if her music will bring her mother back to her. The reader gets Emily’s mother’s side of the story as well, which reveals insights into her difficult life choices. A story of teenage feminism, family, and midwestern punk rock that older teen readers will love.
Written by one of the co-founders of legendary record store Amoeba Music, The Vinyl Princess tells the story of Allie, a 16 year old independent record store employee and vinyl junkie who writes a blog and zine. In the midst of sharing her love for music, Allie must deal with her crush on a mysterious boy, a mom who is jumping back into the dating scene, a best friend’s boy troubles, the danger of working in a neighborhood that’s being targeted by robbers, and figuring out just what (and who) it is that’s truly important to her.