As a musician (recreationally, mind you,) I’m always thrilled when I come across a novel about music or that centers around musicians. After all, they are a unique breed. Ergo, they ought to make for some pretty interesting fictional characters, right? Right!
But wait! (you may exclaim,) isn’t it kind of weird to read about music? I mean, isn’t it a topic that’s better portrayed in film or some other format where you can actually HEAR things?
True, one can’t deny the storytelling power of audio/visual aid. But! That’s not giving the novel enough credit. When done well, a novel about music does a superb job of capturing the essence of the music through imagery. It’s one thing to describe the scenery or a character’s outfit, but to describe music and its effect on the other five senses?
Now that’s some good writing right there.
And for all you music nerds in the room, you might actually go in knowing the songs or compositions mentioned, or can at least visualize the basic chord structure.
And for those who aren’t necessarily musically inclined, worry not! You are not excluded. All of these novels can be enjoyed no matter your level of musical expertise. And besides, these days, finding out what a song sounds like is often a Google search away.
Heck, some books even include supplementary material that has recorded songs or lyrics! (See: Daisy Jones and the Six.)
But enough nerd chat! Let’s dive into the best novels I know of about music and musicians!
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This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
This Song Will Save Your Life is an old favorite from my teen years about a 17-year-old social outcast named Elise who stumbles upon an underground indie dance club. (Yes, those exist!) She discovers a passion for DJing, makes friends, and even falls in love… maybe. As an awkward teen who also loved indie music, this book resonated with me quite a bit.
If you’re a fan of The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, and Joy Division, you’ll enjoy the music references in this YA coming-of-age novel!
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I listened to the audiobook version of Daisy Jones & The Six last summer and let me just say, it was a great listening experience. But the print version is great too! This novel chronicles the rise and fall of a 70s rock band whose fame turns to stardom when they pair up with solo artist Daisy Jones. I thoroughly enjoyed the immersion this book employs and (no spoilers) was pleasantly surprised by the conclusion.
If you read and enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Reid, you’re sure to enjoy this one, too! Also a good choice for fans of Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and The Rolling Stones.
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
I’m going back to my orchestra roots with this contemporary novel about (you guessed it) an ensemble. Specifically, The Ensemble follows the rise and fall of a quartet of classical musicians… and then, just, what happens to them in the ten years that follow. It’s pretty character driven, and there are some really touching moments between the quartet members. (As well as some aggravating moments, too, but what do you want? It’s contemporary!)
What I liked most about this one was how immersed it was in the world of classical music. But fear not: you don’t have to be an orchestra dork to enjoy this one! Plus, not to judge a book by its cover, but just look at it!
This novel would be a great gift for a classical musician friend. Also a big win for fans of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. You know the one.
The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
Here’s another fun throwback from my teen years that primed me for my introduction to punk rock a year or so later: The House of Tomorrow! This one is about a teenage boy who’s raised in a geodesic dome by his eccentric futurist grandmother and then… something happens? Wow, great summary.
Basically, he ends up staying with this family and becoming friends with the angsty teenaged punk rock-loving son. And then they start a punk rock band. And that’s all I remember except that the love interest was annoying. But hey, punk rock!
(P.S. Apparently this got made into a movie in 2018 with Asa Butterfield and no one told me???) For fans of Sex Pistols, Ramones, and Misfits. And quirky teen protagonists doing quirky teen things!
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Oh, I love playlists! And apparently so do the leads of this YA romance about two teens who go on an adventure around New York City and bond over music and broken hearts and all that fun teenage stuff.
So, I may not have read this one, but a lot of people have, and after thorough research (meaning I glanced at a few Goodreads reviews), I’ve determined that though it is probably a product of its time, it’s an enjoyable YA romp with musical references galore.
Also I heard the movie is pretty good. And from a passing glance at its soundtrack, I’d say that it at least has the music part pegged.
Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Perhaps playing off of the Nick & Norah title structure a bit here, this book follows a teenager named Amy, who begrudgingly allows old family friend Roger to help her move across the country.
So, this one may be a little bit of a stretch because it’s not totally about music, but there is A LOT of music involved–namely, the playlists that Roger makes throughout the roadtrip. I thought it was cute because music, at least for me, is such an integral part of traveling and I’m a sucker for a book with a soundtrack!
You can look up a compilation on Spotify, but roadtrips makes me think of three bands in particular: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, American Authors, and Hippo Campus. None of which made it onto Roger’s playlists, unfortunately.
All My Love, Alec Brock by Larissa Lopes
Of course I couldn’t compile a list of novels about music without mentioning this YA romance about a girl who cyber-dates a popstar. But when she flies out to LA to surprise him, he has no idea who she is! Once this comes back on the market, don’t think I won’t link to it! In the meantime, you can follow the author’s Instagram for updates on publishing dates!
For fans of 5 Seconds of Summer, The Vamps, and One Direction. And teen pop idols in general!
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Ah yes, a classic! Who knew the Broadway sensation (and 2004 movie, which I thoroughly enjoy) was based on a 1909 French novel? Not me! But yes, the Angel of Music first appeared in print, and apparently it is as emotionally impactful as its visual counterparts. Oh, and by the way, the Phantom’s name is Erik and they refer to him by name in the book. I don’t know why, but that just makes it so much better.
Do I even have to say what you have to be a fan of to like this book? Okay, I’ll draw non-musical parallels: Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and Edgar Allen Poe. Yeah, for real! It’s gothic as heck!
The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork
Ten months out of the year, I’m a normal human being. But as soon as the holiday season rolls around, I am a devoted Nutcracker fangirl. Is that a thing you can fangirl over? Well, apparently so.
And The Enchanted Sonata is a charming and whimsical retelling of The Nutcracker that imagines Clara as an aspiring pianist who receives a mysterious package on Christmas Eve. You can probably guess the rest. Or not!
Okay, so the plot was pretty predictable, but Wallwork does a fantastic job bringing the imagery of the ballet to life in a (pretty well-rendered) fantasy world. And while I had some issues with plot convenience, I absolutely loved the Nutcracker character. It was a perfect Christmas read.
Amplified by Tara Kelly
You can’t compile a list of novels about music and musicians without at least one “I’m running away and joining a band” story… right? Well, that’s apparently what Amplified by Tara Kelly is about, so check that box!
When 17-year-old Jasmine is kicked out of her house, she runs away to Santa Cruz to become a musician. She meets three guys with a band and tries to convince them to let her be the lead guitarist. The only problem? She has major stage fright.
I could see myself really enjoying this one. Apparently it’s kind of a scene book so… fans of The Cure, My Chemical Romance, and Nine Inch Nails unite?
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
I have never heard of this book but after reading the synopsis and a couple Goodreads reviews, holy cow is this going on my TBR faster than you can say “novels about music”!
This book starts with a story about a boy who gets lost in the woods and finds a magic harmonica. Already it sounds like a fairytale, but from there, we follow other characters at other points in time who also encounter this magic harmonica… so, like, Cloud Atlas meets Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants with a dash of Hansel and Gretel? Sign me up!!!
I don’t know who to recommend this to yet, but put a pin in this one because I’ll be back!
In the meantime, check it out here!
Guitar Notes by Mary Amato
Chalk this one up to yet another book added to my ever-growing TBR. Look, the synopsis is so short I can copy/paste it here from Goodreads: “Tripp, who plays guitar only for himself, and Lyla, a cellist whose talent has already made her famous but not happy, form an unlikely friendship when they are forced to share a practice room at their high school.”
Doesn’t that sound adorable? Sure, it’s not a new storyline by any means, but people say it was so well-done it doesn’t even matter! Sounds a little like High Strung or High School Musical, eh?
I immediately thought of the song “Check Yes, Juliet” so I’m just gonna roll with it and say fans of We The Kings and All Time Low. Oh, and One Republic because of that one song with the cello. (A.k.a. The Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite in G don’t judge me I said I was an orchestra nerd!)
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
What do North Dublin and soul music have in common? Apparently everything, according to this novel about a group of musicians who bring R&B to Ireland.
Also apparently, the 1991 Alan Parker movie is a worthy enhancement that brings the punchy slang and stage-direction type writing to life. I might just have to watch the movie first, because apparently this is one case where movie then book is an acceptable order.
Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Though I have seen Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (the Nicolas Cage film), I did not know it was based on a book until recently. Now I really want to read it, because apparently it’s way better.
This historical romance is set during the Italian occupation of Greece during World War II and follows a doctor and his daughter, who falls in love with an Italian soldier. (Corelli… and his mandolin, as you may surmise.) The result, apparently, is a complicated wartime love story with musical flair. Definitely worth a read if you’re looking for novels about music that are, perhaps, a bit more sophisticated than rompy YA.
Dead, Mr. Mozart by Bernard Bastable
Okay, I have a caveat on recommending this one: it’s less a novel about music and more a “what if” “whodunnit” quasi-historical comedy, but it DOES have Mozart in it and it DOES take place in an opera house. And for classical music nerds, the witty references to music history are an added bonus.
However, I’m reluctant to recommend it to everyone because it’s so exclusive towards non-music buffs. A snide remark about Rossini or a running gag about Handel’s Messiah is likely to go over their heads and leave them wondering why they’re reading a mystery about Mozart to begin with.
But if you are privy to musical innuendos, then you’re likely to enjoy this way, way more.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Gosh dang, my TBR list is a mile long. For fans of Daisy Jones & The Six, this oral history-style novel chronicles the story of an African-American rock singer and her British singer/songwriter counterpart, and how her fight against injustice impacts their career and their lives. Very poignant and hot off the press (released 3/30/21!) Hope I can get my hands on a copy soon!
Check it out here!
There it is, the best novels about music and musicians (that I know of)! I would just like to say that for the ones I haven’t read, I vetted them extensively by reading reviews and synopses.
However, if there are any not on this list that you think should be, feel free to let me know! And if you’ve read any of these books, tell me in the comments what you thought of them!
P.S. It’s good to be back in the blogging scene! I plan on posting way more content like this: informational, evergreen, and very *SEO FRIENDLY* But I’ll still try to keep my voice in it!