12-year-old Wren lives with her mom after her parents’ divorce. Her dad has moved to New York City and married his lover (with whom he was unfaithful to her mother) who is now expecting twins. Wren is also a special effects makeup aficionado. Caught up in a new school, navigating new friendships, and balancing her relationships with her parents — whose relationship with each other is strained — Wren notices her mom has begun behaving strangely.
Charlotte Andrews stutters and prefers to lay low to avoid being picked on. Thankfully, she has a best friend, Maggie who sticks with her. But middle school is a whole other ball game and soon after she and Maggie start attending, Maggie defends a boy who is being bullied on the school bus, effectively putting a bully target on her own back. When the bullying starts, Charlotte ditches Maggie and suddenly she can’t figure out how to fix the friendship.
I’m pleased that this list has a range of characters of different races and social backgrounds. These stories also have a variety of themes besides music. You’ll find among these middle-grade music books, stories about race, homelessness, immigration, sexual harassment, anxiety, neurodiversity, and much more.
Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon has the chance to fly when she stumbles upon a group of kids putting on a production of Wicked, the musical. Nat has been paralyzed from the waist down since an accident when she was two. She’s also a wheelchair athlete whose parents have moved from California to New Jersey for her mother’s new job. Nat is obsessed with Broadway and Hamilton although she has never actually been in a musical.
In Tune It Out, Lou and her mother live in their truck. Her mom believes Lou has a gift (her voice) and is determined to make it big with her. So she makes Lou sing everywhere from cafes to karaoke bars to street corners. This is extra challenging for Lou because she hates the bright lights and the sound of applause is physically painful. She also hates physical contact and is bothered by the texture of certain clothes on her skin.
Lou gets some respite from the malnutrition and homelessness when an accident leads to her being taken in by Child Protective Services. Fortunately, she is sent off to live with her aunt and her husband in Nashville, Tennessee where she begins a new life until her mother can get her back.