YA books as Hamilton songs

Some time ago, I wrote a post about which Wagamama dishes each of The Decemberists’ full-length studio albums would be. Honestly, it was quite… niche. The idea of combining my enthusiasms in unexpected ways continues to appeal, however, and by popular demand today I bring you YA books as Hamilton songs.

Specifically: the YA Book Prize shortlist as songs from genre-busting award-winning Broadway hit Hamilton. Some of these choices were immediately obvious to me, others took some thinking, all of them feel right in my heart.

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne: The Schuyler Sisters
“You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration”

This one is a no-brainer. Badass sisters singing about equality! How could I not give the Spinster Club the Destiny’s Child number of the musical? I like to imagine Lottie dancing around and declaring her desire for a “mind at work”.

One by Sarah Crossan: It’s Quiet Uptown
“There are moments that the words don’t reach”

The reasoning boils down to “they both make me cry” but there are thematic similarities. The loss of a child, obviously, but also the transformative power of love, grace, and forgiveness. The book and the song both distill moments of transcendent grief into something spare, beautiful, elegiac.

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
“But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?”

I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on shuffle a lot, and I always skip this song because it makes me lose it. Anyway. Nothing else has the right sweeping scale to match Unbecoming. The whole musical is about legacy and how you’ll be remembered, but in this song and in Jenny Downham’s gorgeous book, it’s made clear that it’s those who love you that will tell your story, even after you’re gone. Even if you’ve forgotten the story.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge: Burn
“And you are paranoid in every paragraph”

In which the unassuming young lady reveals how calculated she can be, in a sinister tone maintained throughout the piece. Both are about women being betrayed and/or failed by men, and going on to carve themselves out a little autonomy in a world that is hostile to the very idea. Musically, Eliza’s anthem creates an atmosphere not unlike the close, unsettling world of The Lie Tree.

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson: Helpless
“Look into your eyes and the sky’s the limit I’m helpless”

Essentially, a straight historical romance. Of course, there’s more going on in Lady Caraboo than that, but this is a swoony whirlwind courtship with a charming female lead and that’s good enough for me.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness: Wait For It
“I am the one thing in life I can control”

If anybody is a bystander to someone else’s superhero origin story, it’s Aaron Burr. Much like Mikey, Burr is not the main character of the story he’s narrating. But it’s okay, because a lot of things in life you’ve just got to wait out. Like high school. Or the birth of the nation. Are you picking up what I’m putting down here?

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill: Say No To This
“There’s trouble in the air, you can smell it
And Alexander’s by himself. I’ll let him tell it”

Maria Reynolds and Emma O’Donovan are in different countries, different centuries, different situations, but the stories they have to tell are both about having their agency scraped away and their sexuality appropriated by men. In both cases, the men are pardoned by the other characters but not necessarily the narrative. Both are complex, harrowing portrayals of sexual violence in their way.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury: You’ll Be Back
“My loyal, royal subject
Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever…”

If we read Hamilton as fantasy, King George is the fairytale villain, lurking in the shadowed halls of his castle, going mad with power. This tone seems just right for The Sin Eater’s Daughter and its dark fairy tales, not to mention the evil monarch herself, who wants to keep Twylla forever as a “sweet, submissive subject”.

Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe: We Know
“Ha! You don’t even know what you’re asking me to confess”

Someone’s been doing some digging, and there’s a political scandal afoot. Time for a confrontation. Those darn corrupt politicians! As well as the obvious thematic link, both the book and the song are tight, short, and sharp.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson: Dear Theodosia
“Look at my son! Pride is not the word I’m looking for”

This was the hardest one to choose a song for, but in the end I think I found the perfect fit. These sons of absent fathers echo Leo’s longing for his dad, which is one of the main plot drivers in The Art of Being Normal. The book is about growing up trans, but more than that it’s about finding your place in the world, loving and living with your family. Dear Theodosia has the perfect amount of tenderness. Also, in researching this post I have discovered that a) it’s influenced by the Decemberists and b) Lin wrote it the week he got his dog. RIP me.

BONUS CONTENT: Please read this article where a lady makes a cake about her feelings for LMM.

Don’t forget, I did actually write reviews of the shortlist in the form of reviews, rather than Hamilton songs, and you can read them all under the YA Book Prize category on this blog.

The winner of the YA Book Prize will be announced on 2nd June. (That’s Thursday!)


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