I’m really excited to start a new book journey with your orchestra class! Mr. Lytle had a fun idea to pair book ideas with the themes and moods of your orchestra performance pieces. Our current plan is that I’ll visit your class to give you short book talks (book previews) of a couple of books that I think pair nicely with your musical choices. But since I always have more book ideas than time, I thought I’d start a list for you here so you can always reference it later when you’re looking for a new read! And, as always, I love to hear your reading journeys as well— so please share your additional suggestions of books that you think match your music!
“Arirang”- Korean Folk Song– English translation is “My Beloved One”
Mr. Lytle told me that this song has been passed down through generations of Korean families, much like a lullaby. And though it expresses sadness at two romantic partners who are separated, it is also used as a message of hope for reunification. This is especially significant in Korea, a country whose people suffered under the Japanese invasion of their country for the first part of the twentieth century, and since 1945 when Korea was divided into North and South Korea. Many families still long for loved ones in the other Korea, and this song embodies their dreams of uniting again.
Book Selection One: If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Mia’s a classical cellist getting ready to apply to Juilliard School of Music, and acceptance would mean moving far from her family, friends, and rock band boyfriend– so this seems a bit like the separation of the romantic partners in the song. But, when unexpected tragedy strikes, Mia finds herself facing an uncertain future that is filled with loss, but that also offers hope for recovery with support from all those who still care deeply about her– and that hope, even during sadness, reminded me of how Koreans still use “Arirang” to dream about a future with their reunited families.
Book Selection Two: XOXO by Axie Oh
Jenny, another classically trained cellist, is struggling to incorporate emotions into her technically proficient performances. When her grandmother’s illness unexpectedly causes Jenny to transfer to a private music academy in South Korea she finds herself drawn into a romance with another musician whose management team thinks a relationship will only destroy his career. The theme of separated lovers is still here, as are the feelings of personal loss Jenny has experienced, but there is also finding new friendships, developing a relationship with her grandmother, and learning to re-connect with her emotions as she plays her cello. PS There’s also some BTS inspired K-Pop!
“Rumble in the City”
Mr. Lytle thought this piece had a very retro James Bond-ish, private eye detective story feel. Picture dark nights, disguises, sneaking through the city on a quest to discover the truth– all while being stylish and employing great sarcastic banter to show off your witty side! I’ve got two fun books that I think incorporate some of those ideas!
Heist Society (#1 in a series) by Ally Carter
Katarina’s just been kicked out of her boarding school for performing a very elaborate prank on the school principal, which was unfortunately caught on video. But she knows she’s been framed, and when a fancy black car shows up at the school to take her back home, she also knows that the handsome (but mysterious) Hale, sent to accompany her home, is somehow involved. It turns out Katarina’s family may not always follow the rules, and they want her back in their clutches to pull off one last “job” at a famous London museum. This one is super fun with lots of good plot twists, disguises, near escapes, questions about if doing a bad thing for the right reason makes it ok, witty banter, and tension between Kat and the mysterious Hale. I can picture “Rumble in the City” on the soundtrack if Heist Society was ever turned into a movie.
Bad Kitty by Michelle Jaffe
Jasmine has a plan of becoming a detective one day, in fact her Barbies used to have to play “crime scene detective” when she was little. But the family trip to Vegas is supposed to be a break from her using eye shadow to dust for fingerprints, but when Jasmine’s in a city nicknamed “Sin City” it’s not going to be long before she and her friends are searching for a kidnapped eight-year-old, evading a murderer, and debating if the cute guy “helping” them is someone they can trust, or someone who is out to double-cross them. Jas has a really funny voice for telling the story, and her friends are a handful. And even though the book involves a murder and a kidnapping, it’s also going to make you laugh out loud. This is “Rumble in the City” with a serious infusion of snarky commentary.
“Danza De Mi Corazon” (Dance of my Heart)
This song has a Latin feel, and it’s composer wanted to inspire people to dance! So for our novel pairings I looked for books with dancers and LatinX characters, and also with some potential romance since we often associate dancing with romantic passions (especially in the performing arts world).
This Train is Being Held by Williams
Isa, an aspiring ballet dancer in NYC, has a meet cute with Alex, an aspiring baseball player, on the subway. But in spite of their initial chemistry, and their shared LatinX cultures (her mom’s Cuban, his father’s Dominican) they don’t have an immediately happily-ever-after romance. But, something about the subway keeps bringing them back together, even as life seems like it’s pulling them apart. I feel like this one connects to the music not just because it’s about dance, or LatinX characters, but because they’re relationship is a dance of it’s own sort– with ebbs and flows, highs and lows, as they try to figure out if there’s a world in which they can dance together.
Mr. Lytle gave me a lot to work with through this musical selection, so I’ve got several novel pairing possibilities. Although this is another dance piece, I wanted to see if I could get more specifically into Argentinean cultures since the tango is Argentina’s national dance.
Like a Love Song by Martins
Picture a young, Argentinean-American J. Lo and you’ll be imagining Natalie, a pop star on the verge of winning a major award, while on the arm of her movie star boyfriend. But when he dumps her on live TV and she has to hire a fake boyfriend to maintain her image, she starts to question whether her image, and her true self (including her Argentinean heritage) are related at all, and how she feels about the quirky boyfriend-for-hire. We may not all be pop stars, but thanks to social media I think a lot of us live our lives with a lot of public attention, so I think Natalie’s worries about the connections between her public personality and her “in real life” self are really relatable. Plus, who doesn’t like the tension from a real (fake) boyfriend setup?
Beyond just being a tango, Mr. Lytle mentioned that “Moonlight Tango” has a similar bass and cello line to the aria “Habanera” from the opera Carmen which features another strong female character learning to be independent of the men in her life who want to control her. So I think you’ll find that Natalie has that same spirit of learning to control and shape her own identity (though– spoiler– she hopefully has more of a happy ending than Carmen!)
Finally, considering the “feel” of “Moonlight Tango” Mr. Lytle observed that the piece makes him think of a couple who is only able to meet at night, an image I immediately fell in love with as a really interesting novel pairing challenge. So I’ve got two more quick ones that are about couples who only meet at night. See me if you want a longer book talk of either of these!
The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rossetti.
Frenenqer, is lonely, trapped by her father in a desert landscape where life is dangerous for women. Tired of being allowed only to travel between home and school, she one day rebels at a market and buys a mysterious cat. But when Sangris the cat turns out to be more than he initially appeared, Frenenqer finds that her boring daily life transforms at night as she adventures into the world with Sangris. Almost impossible to describe, but also impossibly beautiful, this story is as unique as anything I’ve ever read. And both characters are prickly, but with time you may fall in love with them. And, connecting back to the idea of the opera of Carmen, Frenenqer is another woman struggling to be allowed to make her own choices in a land that’s ruled by men.
Places No One Knows by Yovanoff
Waverly is a very controlled, type-A, outwardly successful high school student who secretly harbors a lot of stress which is leading to debilitating insomnia and some other negative coping strategies. Desperate to fall asleep at night, she lights a candle as part of a bedtime routine, and wakes up in the bedroom of Marshall Holt, a fellow student who seems to be her opposite, but whose outward appearance– like Waverly– might be hiding lots of other secrets. The next day Waverly’s convinced it was all a weird dream, until it happens again, she wakes up watching Marshall at a party, where no one else seems to see her. And so begins the story of her secret, unplanned, and uncontrollable nighttime presence in Marshall Holt’s world. This one is also hard to describe, but absolutely beautiful (though often painful) as it explores how our secret selves and our public selves might not always be the same– which reminds me of Natalie in Like a Love Song.
Love in English by Andreu
Because I just can’t help myself, here’s another Argentina-related title! After living in the US for three years, Ana’s father is finally able to bring her and her mother to the US from Argentina as well. But being in high school, when you don’t speak English, you’re homesick for your country, and your dad feels a bit like a stranger, isn’t easy. This is Ana’s story as she develops her voice, and her identity, and learns to express herself in amazing ways through poetry.
So those are your books for the month. I had a lot of fun brainstorming and finding titles that link up to your music in unexpected ways. As always, if you read any of these books I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’d love to hear about other books you’re also reading!
Competition/performance anxiety AKA Stage Fright
As a former pianist, I remember the nerves I experienced before a competition or a judged performance. Even though I’d done my practicing (mostly, LOL) being on-stage in front of an audience whose sole purpose felt like it was to judge my performance was tough, especially in the beginning. As you head into the spring semester and begin preparing for your solo performances I thought you might like to know that your feelings aren’t uncommon. Even world-class performers have nerves!
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Carmen is no ordinary seventeen-year-old violinist, she’s already won a Grammy. So you might think that participating in another violin competition would be no big deal. But, for Carmen, her beloved violin has morphed into a source of anxiety that’s only getting worse. She started taking anti-anxiety medication to help, but now she can’t stop taking them, a secret which is only upping her stress. And when she meets Justin, her top competition, it feels like one more part of her world starts to crumble— or is her world just about to open up for her to experience joy on and off the stage?
I love this one for the way I experienced all of Carmen’s emotions with her– both her joys and her panic about the secrets of her anxiety. And I love that we go on a journey with her to see if she can re-capture the joy that her music once brought her. Plus an enemy-to-friend-to-maybe-more storyline? I’m here for it.
“Million Dreams” from the Greatest Showman
The story of Barnum and his Greatest Show on Earth definitely deserves some circus-themed novels, but these are a bit of a twist so you aren’t just reading another retelling of the Barnum and Bailey circus story!
The Lost Carnival by Moreci and Milledge
Finally, a graphic novel! This is the story of Dick Grayson, who has grown up as part of a trapeze circus act with his father. But when a mysterious rival circus sets up next door things are about to take a strange, strange turn. Amazing characters, and BEAUTIFUL art! I couldn’t put this one down and read it in a single sitting!
Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando
Jane’s mom died years ago, and she’s been moving all around Europe with her dad and twin brother ever since. But when her mother’s dad dies, leaving them the house where her mom grew up near Coney Island, she finds herself suddenly attending high school where her innate shyness makes it hard to connect with people initially. But when she starts seeing signs around school for the mysterious “Dreamland Social Club” she meets an unusual group of students, and she starts to find objects left behind from her mom’s high school years, learning more about her in unexpected ways.
This one isn’t officially a “circus” book, but as you read it you may start to feel connections between the Dreamland Social Club, high school friend groups, and the side-show acts of an old-school carnival. I love the way the this one is a modern setting, but with a bit of a cool vintage, retro feel.
Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby
Portia’s grown up in a family whose lineage for storytelling and wandering goes back to their roots as gypsies. When she’s nine and her dad leaves her in the care of her more “practical” aunt, she’s devastated but knows he’s coming back for her. Five years later her aunt drops her off at the waits for him to return. But, five years later, her aunt deposits her at the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls– which is supposed to be a better life. But there’s a dark undercurrent at the Home for Wayward Girls, and this is no place for a fantastical story-telling gypsy girl. What else can Portia do but leave and go in search of her father, a journey that takes her both miles away and all the way home.
This one is a bit of a quiet story, you spend most of the time in Portia’s head as she wrestles with grief, and loss, and storytelling, and found families. It’s about the gaps between what people sometimes say, and what people really mean. It’s about being different, but being all the same. We’re all both sideshow performers and sideshow observers, depending on the day. This one is quietly different with really memorable writing.