Reviews and Endorsements – Musical Youth






Musical Youth Publisher: Caribbean Reads Publishing Genre: Fiction (teen/young novel) Year of Release: 2014, (second edition) 2019 ISBN-10-0989930513/ISBN-13: 978-0989930512 Cover art by: Glenroy Aaron Formats: kindle, paperback

Synopsis: Music, Discovery, Love. Can one summer make the difference of a lifetime? Zahara is a loner. She’s brilliant on the guitar but in everyday life she doesn’t really fit in. Then she meets Shaka, himself a musical genius and the first boy who really gets her. They discover that they share a special bond, their passion for music, and Zahara finds herself a part, not just of Shaka’s life, but also that of his boys, the Lion Crew. When they all get roles in a summer musical, Zahara, Shaka, and the rest of the Lion Crew use the opportunity to work on a secret project. But the Crew gets much more than they bargained for when they uncover a dark secret linking Shaka and Zahara’s families and they’re forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about class, colour, and relationships on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Musical Youth placed second overall in the 2014 (inaugural) Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. Musical Youth, which was featured in Essence magazine in February 2016 and named among 25 Great Reads for Kids in the LIAT inflight magazine Zing in 2018, was an Amazon Hot New release in the Teen and Young Adult Performing Arts Fiction in the first month of its release. In 2020, the second edition was named one of Kirkus Reviews top indie novels of the year after received a starred review; also making its best indie teen/young adult and best indie romance lists

(see links in endorsements). Musical Youth was placed on the Antigua and Barbuda schools’ reading list in 2018. First Page



In 2020, Kirkus Reviews gave Musical Youth a starred review and named it to its top 100 Indie books of the year, and to its lists of top Indie romances  and top Indie teen/young adult novels. It featured in the year end issue of Kirkus Reviews (print edition).


Additionally, in 2021, Musical Youth was mentioned in a Kirkus article ‘Celebrating the Spark and Spirit of Indie Books‘, which described it as “a well-observed charmer”.

“I’ve just this minute finished reading Musical Youth.  It’s absolutely brilliant.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  I think it should be read by young adults across the Caribbean. The themes are so powerful.” – author and literary scholar (Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the ‘Vulgar’ Body of Jamaican Popular Culture, Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large) Professor Carolyn Cooper

“I first recognized the weight of her work by the response of the teens to her book, Musical Youth , in the Grenada Community Library. It remains one of the most popular books with teens, despite their tendency to shun Caribbean literature when they have a choice because they are required to read it in schools.” – Oonya Kempadoo, author of Buxton Spice

Musical Youth is, indeed, a beautifully crafted story with elements as rich and varied as the music motif. I particularly enjoyed the authenticity of the language and the cultural values and practices that were crocheted into the work. Keep writing.” – Desryn Collins, Education Officer – Language Arts (Ag.), Antigua & Barbuda

Musical Youth is a beautifully crafted novel with the leitmotiv of music running throughout it. This is a powerful and credible story of young love between two likeable heroes. The characters’ gradual exploration and growing knowledge of each other is reminiscent of the way a novice would learn how to play a new musical instrument and slowly get better at it with practice. The use of musical images and the regular musical rhythm that reverberates throughout the text will delight young adult readers.” —CODE, Sponsors of the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature for which Musical Youth placed second in 2014 (part of the official judges’ statement announcing the winners)

“A very exciting book…very interesting narrative with music running throughout it…” – one of the judges speaking on Musical Youth during the Burt award panel at the Bocas Literary Festival, 2014

“Readers will be drawn in by the book’s cast of interesting characters and will love the musical thread that runs through the story.” – Caribbean and Co included Musical Youth on its list of ‘6 Caribbean Books to add to your Children’s Library this Christmas’


(Text reads: “Last recap of my 2019 readings non-futuristic Caribbean novels. My hit of the year remains Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse (@jhohadli) but I enjoyed the few hours spent with these stories.”). “My literary crush 2019. The novel that I wanted to read as a teenager. The novel I would like to see studied at school.”


(book reviews published)
Caribbean Reads promo
“Two very different teenagers with a shared gift for music fall in love over a summer in this YA novel by Antiguan and Barbudan author Hillhouse. In Antigua, painfully shy Zahara can play guitar and has an encyclopedic knowledge of famous musicians, but she just can’t work up the courage to perform in front of people—and her strict grandmother likely wouldn’t allow it, anyway. Then she meets a cute, confident boy who calls himself Shaka; he’s not only her match in musical knowledge, he also writes his own rap verses with a schoolboy hip-hop crew. Shaka finds himself smitten by Zahara and tries to bring the anxious girl out of her shell. However, he has his own doubts and insecurities underneath his showman persona. Unlike the private-schooled, light-complexioned Zahara, public-schooled Shaka comes from the poor part of town and has been ridiculed all his life for his dark skin. As summer starts, the two teens grow closer, and a tender romance begins to blossom. Soon, Zahara and Shaka are caught in a whirlwind of creative collaboration, self-discovery, and family revelations that will leave them forever changed. In the tradition of the best YA stories, Hillhouse’s characters are convincing because they’re unfailingly realistic in their interactions, interests, and struggles. Her players sound like actual people, and specifically like Antiguan teens. Through their personal journeys, readers learn about issues that affect young people in Antigua and across the globe, including internalized racism, colorism, economic inequality, generational trauma, and old-fashioned teenage angst. This is not to say that the book is heavy or maudlin in tone; on the contrary, Hillhouse’s writing is overwhelmingly joyful and explicitly invested in the power of Black joy, Black excellence, and Black self-love. A charming and edifying work with a romance that will make YA fans swoon.” – Kirkus Reviews, September 2020

She Caribbean “…an entertaining read that reminds teenagers that they will survive their troubles. The writing is vivid, the characters are credible; the idea of using music as a thread to tie the characters together is brilliant.” – She Caribbean, December 2015

“Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Musical Youth is an excellent portrayal of two young people’s coming-of-age in their native Antigua and Barbuda. Narrated through the author’s brilliance as an observer of youth and as a prose stylist, the book describes the collective involvement of cultural pride with commitment and leadership to produce a meaningful life for an island community.…This coming-of-age story is grounded and set in the author’s native Antigua and Barbuda, with its idiosyncracies and cultural activities, which are at the novel’s core.…The unforgettable themes, setting, language, and actions make this coming-of-age story a must read.” – Rite of Passage Enhanced through Community Involvement by Valerie Knowles Combie in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 10 Number 1 Summer 2017

“…a pleasantly engaging read for audiences of all ages who not only love a great book, but who also enjoy and connect with music. Despite including themes that could be deemed as heavy, such as suppressed dark family secrets, the perception of race and social class, broken families, fitting in as a teenager, and the generational gap between teenagers and their elders, Hillhouse manages to keep Musical Youth age-appropriate and fun to read.…The relationship between Shaka and Zahra is fused by music, loss, and a search for personal identity. As a writer, Hillhouse brilliantly manages to weave their story of personal growth so effortlessly that the great energy between the two creates sparks.” –  Camille L. Cortes Lopez, University of Puerto Rico in The Caribbean Writer Volume 30, 2016

“Smooth-talking Shaka finds himself instantly smitten by the secretive loner Zahara: both teens share an innate love of music that is both diverse and sustaining. They’ve both used musicianship to mask their personal griefs, but in an improbable friendship, can their united notes resound with even deeper comforts? In this young adult novel from Antiguan Joanne C. Hillhouse, second-place winner of the inaugural CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, music is both the food of love and a furnace for self-expression. Hillhouse speaks directly to young readers, but with concerns of colourism, class clashes, and society’s skewed expectations for boys and girls. There are no missteps in this tender coming-of-age romance, only an enthusiasm for love and life that reverberates triumphantly, as both Shaka and Zahara battle their demons with hope’s persistent chorus.” – Caribbean Beat

 This is a Facebook shout out but you can read Dr. Jessie Voigts’ full review and interview with me on her Wandering Educators Blog where she “Highly Recommended” Musical Youth.

share with web page link

“The story is fast paced and engaging, a writer doing an excellent job with her tools of trade…” Read Petamber Persaud’s full article re the Burt Award for Teen/Young Adult Caribbean Literature in the Guyana Chronicle (Page 3) or read it here.

“Although the novel is set on the Caribbean island of Antigua, the themes of alienation, colour consciousness, loneliness and communication transcend Caribbean culture and appeal to any teenager who deals with the challenges of being between childhood and adulthood. It is a sensual novel that is age-appropriate…Hillhouse captures the angst of teenage love without being sappy or condescending. The novel features an unspoken message about the importance of being exposed to all types of music. Music is like reading: the more you know of different genres, the more you experience about life. … Musical Youth is a compelling read because Hillhouse has managed to make readers really care about the characters and their struggles. It is a deserving, prize-winning book that now comfortably claims its place in Caribbean Young Adult literature.” – Debbie Jacob. Read the full review in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online.


Musical Youth listed no. 31 on Here We Read For Fun’s “100 Caribbean Books that made Me“. (July 6 2022)

“7. Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse – YA literature is dominated by American writers. Joanne C. Hillhouse is from the Caribbean, from Antigua. This novel is a beautiful peek into Caribbean YA literature. It is about being young, being in love, and the beauty of music. It is beautiful. Hoping to read more of Hillhouse’s books this year. The one I am looking forward to reading is ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight‘. It looks very beautiful.” (Vishy’s blog: 2022, My Year in Reading)

“If the book is just about teenagers at school making music and falling in love, this book would be a regular YA novel. An interesting one, but a regular one. What elevates it to a fascinating, important book are two things. One is the family secrets which come tumbling out of the closet and the surprises that are revealed. They are heartbreaking but also lead to beautiful things. The second thing is the book’s commentary on colourism seen through the lens of music. It is fascinating and insightful and makes us think.” – Vishy’s blog (also on instagram)

“The romance between Zahara and Shaka keeps the plot moving forward, but them getting together isn’t the ultimate goal of the story. As a huge romance fan, it was so satisfying to read about a relationship growing very organically. However, what I truly enjoyed with this novel was the representation of the social and generational dynamics of the Antiguan society… as brutal as these dynamics may be sometimes.” – (N.B. this is a 2020 English language review of the review mentioned here:  “If I had to qualify this story … I would say it’s authentically Caribbean.” – my insaeng, my vie (here’s the original version of the review in French))

“I read and reviewed Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse in 2015 and loved it! I mean five stars. It is a must-read.” – Poui Publishing and Productions Limited

“This was a sweet coming of age romance. I found myself saying awwww way too often. Shaka is the guy who falls hard for his girl and his animated crew lives the romance with him. Zahara is complicated but the music frees her, each cord brings her to herself. Many times in Caribbean books you reminisce about how your childhood compared and Pappy was it for me: holding everyone and everything together with simple finesse that you didn’t even notice it.” – Marsha Gomes-McKie

“I just finished reading Joanne C. Hillhouse’s YA novel, Musical Youth. It’s well written, characters well drawn, all the things one would expect. I enjoyed it. Most important, I think the YA readers will enjoy it. I do hope that it gets the distribution it deserves. I got it here, so I’m impressed with that.” – children and YA author, Jamaican Diane Browne

“I give it an A+ for (among other things) capturing in a very interesting way the tentative attraction and growing relationship of boy and girl in the teen years, as well as affirmation of how friends can help one another over some of the uncertainties and humps of those turbulent years.” – children and YA author, Jamaican Hazel Campbell (RIP) – read the full review on her blog

Musical Youth is beautifully written. It is a pride to Caribbean young adult fiction. Though it addresses a strong and very real social issue, the writer skillfully educates you while she takes you back to the innocence of school days in the Caribbean. You can’t help but remember your first crush, how every little thing they did is permanently etched in your memory. There is a good blend of characters throughout the book and they complement each other well. It was also refreshing to read a story about children doing positive things. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it to fellow readers.” – Trinidadian author, Vanessa Salazar

“This novel’s strength proclaims itself in never shying away from the truth about our problems, while simultaneously celebrating the hard-won historical joys of our freedom — as citizens and music makers alike.” – Shivanee Ramlochan, blogging for Paper Based Books. Read the full review. Also found here.

#Reader Reviews (and shout outs)

Just finished reading Musical Youth, 2nd place winner of the inaugural 2014 Burt award for YA literature at the Bocas Festival in Trinidad. I give it an A+ for (among other things) capturing in a very interesting way the tentative attraction and growing relationship of boy and girl in the teen years, as well as affirmation of how friends can help one another over some of the uncertainties and humps of those turbulent years. The music references and the summer preparation for a major musical performance by the teens, with all the attendant near failures and individual anxieties and successes for the characters, should make it compelling reading for the target age group. The message that youth do not have to discard the old (music), but understand, transform and utilize it to enrich their own expressions is refreshing. The youth in the story, set in Antigua, draw on the musical influences from world cultures to make something uniquely theirs and that is what the Caribbean is (or should be) about. The characters, both young and old are very true to life – from the main characters, teens, Zahara and Shaka and his Crew, to the grandparents and other adults in their lives. The story is modern; the teens are technology savvy. A discussion about skin shade; what is considered beauty and attractive to the opposite sex, is central to the story. The characters are forced to face this continuing enigma in the Caribbean consciousness, head on. Some of them come to realize the uniqueness and value of individuals quite apart from skin colour. Some very important themes are explored in this book. Get a copy. You will be entertained. Buy one for a teen in your life.”

Musical Youth is beautifully written. It is a pride to Caribbean young adult fiction. Though it addresses a current and very real social issue, the writer skillfully educates you while she takes you back to the innocence of school days in the Caribbean. You can’t help but remember your first crush, how every little thing they did is permanently etched in your memory. There is a good blend of characters throughout the book, and they complement each other well. It was also refreshing to read a story about children doing positive things. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it to fellow readers.”

One of the things I love about Joanne Hillhouse’s books is that they capture the Caribbean spirit, while bringing current issues to the fore. I fell in love with the characters. I cried when they cried; and rejoiced with them. They felt like people I knew…. and I could not help loving them. My usual description of Joanne’s books is ‘un-put-downable’ and this one fits the bill!!!”

“I have to admit that I was once weary of reading Caribbean fiction because they tend to get dark quickly and I don’t read book to be depressed. I am pleased to say that Joanne’s Musical Youth was refreshing and uplifting. Write on Joanne, write on. This in no way takes away from the book but after reading the skin tone of the girl on the cover seemed off.”

I have several siblings and cousins who are teenagers and initially I bought the book assuming I would pass it on to one of them eventually. It is currently sitting on my bookshelf and I have no intention whatsoever in handing out this copy. They can get copies for themselves. I am a serious reader, always have been. I am impressed. I was hooked on the storyline from beginning to end….looking forward to reading more books by this author in the future.”

Reading this took me back to teenage years…crushes & friendships and strict parents…quite a page turner; finished it in no time.”

I liked the story of the young people’s interaction, the flow of the story and the fact that it was not about sex, but the growth of the friendship into love. Knowing about the islands also enhanced the story.”

I grew up in Antigua, and reading Musical Youth transported me back into time when I was a secondary school student. I reminisced on the close friendships I’d made, very much like Shaka and his crew, and I could also relate to making friends with ‘the butter skin’ girl. Through Joanne’s vivid writing, I felt Shaka and Zahara’s passion for music and I shared in the excitement and nervousness of preparing for the end of summer show. I was swept up into the twist at the end and was thoroughly engaged from the first page to the last. Great read!”

I was very impressed with this book mostly because I am a teenager myself and I found it very relatable. Firstly, I will state that I was impressed with the evolvement of the relationship from friends to lovers between Shaka and Zahara. I especially liked how it grew off of their deep passions for music. Also, I loved your usage of the ‘Antiguan Dialect’ in the novel and the use of modern technology. The usage of these two things allowed myself as a teenage to better relate to the book. Finally I would just like to say that this book kept me on my toes especially considering (I) finished it within a day! Ms. Hillhouse, you have done a fantastic job of writing this book and I hope that one day we can meet in person for me to thank you and to discuss it in further detail! Lastly, I would like to state to anyone who is reading this to purchase this novel! Give it to your daughter, son, uncle or even your grandmother! It is definitely one that they will enjoy especially with the unexpected within the book!”


– “You’ll want to put this one on your list for young readers – and I promise you’ll enjoy it yourself too.” Book Pick of the Week. – Write-Minded. March 18th 2021.
“I…recommend this book to young people who are in to the arts…well written and captivating.”

Musical Youth was a favourite among a book club I once led. The teens truly loved the characters and the colourful writing.”

Musical Youth.jpg
“Great read!”

Musical Youth was an amazing read. Couldn’t get enough.”


 & “sister or not this book was a good read.”

“…one of my favorite YA books, EVER”

“As I enjoyed the beach this afternoon, I also took the opportunity to begin reading Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse and I must say that I love it so far.”

Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse is a must read….full of musical, historical and socio-political references that entertain and educate the reader….thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end…want to meet Zahara, Shaka and the Lion Crew…familiar, yet, fresh…a book for young adults that we all can enjoy…..”

Someone wrote in response: “Thoroughly endorse this review! Keep writing Miss JCH”

“This (Musical Youth) is what I am reading now … ‪#‎goodwriting ‪#‎notjustfortheyoung”

“Very good book – really well written. It should be in all libraries in the region.”

“Love Musical Youth…just made a presentation ‘Representation of race in Guyanese Literature’; should have read your book before…and I love dancing – ‘Dance is a conversation between…’ page 207.”

“Read your new book Musical Youth over the weekend and bought a second one as a gift for a friend. I thought it might be a bit young for me, but I totally enjoyed it from beginning to end, enjoyed the localness of it. Well done and thank you.”

“Loved it! … I fell absolutely in love with Shaka and Zahara! I had a wonderful time ‘hanging out with them’.  And the story was amazingly relatable.”

-mother posting about her daughter’s choice to play Zahara for her dress as your favourite character day for school.
-Music producer endorsing the book
“can’t seem to put it down”


“I am not a big YA reader – I often find it a little too “angsty” for me — but this read hit the spot. Zahara is quiet and a bit of a loner – she lives with her Grandma and follows her strict rules. Music is her only real escape and she is an excellent guitar player. When she meets Shaka, they bond over their mutual love of music and she finds herself not only building a relationship with him, but also with his friends. I liked the romance elements in here, but loved the friendships. I don’t often see guys’ friendships explored in YA fiction and I appreciated the care that Hillhouse took with showcasing those relationships. I also appreciated the way she explored colorism and self-acceptance. She handled the discussion in a way that felt realistic for the characters and not like the author using them as a mouthpiece. I was really glad to find this author and look forward to reading more of her work.”

-the theme is colourism-

“Recently, I have been reading great young adult books that are criminally underhyed. Luckily, because of #readcaribbean, I can catch some true gems. Set in Antigua,we are treated to a musical treat set over a summer holiday. There is a lot more to this story- adressing Post-colonial issues that plague ouf region and the Diaspora. I loved that this book tackles those elephants in the room- class, colorism, relationships on small island in a way that was never forced into a mould. Any Caribbean reader can wholeheartedly relate to the content here. Once familiar with the cadence of the dialect, this book is a treat worth reading.”

“Caribbean YA just slaps differently, and this book is great reminder of this. Why did I wait so long to read this beautiful book?!!! In Musical Youth we meet Zahara, she is a bit of a loner, lives with the grandmother because her mother died and she doesn’t have a clue who her father is. She just know he left a guitar for her and she’s been attached to it ever since. Zahara’s first love is music. She spends significant time learning how to play her guitar. That’s until she meets Shaka, a lover of music like herself. She pulled her out of her shell but there are consequences….The author really knew what she was doing writing this book. It felt real and truly such a great look into the lives of young adults living in Antigua. I did not want the book to end. Zahara is such a likeable character, so too is Shaka and their love story is too cute. Seriously, this is the YA you are looking for, thank me later.”

“I deeply enjoy YA books that touch upon the complexities of that period in a young person’s life, while also addressing other important societal issues, such as colorism and class. The plot is simple, but the characters are truly delightful, and made me think back on my own teenage years, and the things I failed to see then, but see more clearly now.”

“Musical Youth follows Zahara, a shy girl who lives in the shadow of her flamboyant dead mother. However, things start looking up for her when she joins a drama production for the summer. There, she develops a romance with cast member Shaka and ends up becoming more self-confident in her musical talent. I think I would have really enjoyed this Caribbean YA book as a teenager because Hillhouse makes a lot of references to popular soca, dancehall, and reggae lyrics.”

“I cried with the characters at the end. I love this book so much. Review later when I’m less overwhelmed. 4.5 ⭐”

“A Caribbean author writing sensitively about teenagers in Antigua, with a lovely focus on music and performing as a way to make friends and overcome shyness.”

“A feel-good Caribbean YA. I enjoyed the storyline and the important discussion in this novel.”

“love it so much”

Musical Youth is the first book that I have read by Joanne C. Hillhouse, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! She captured the excitement, insecurities, and elation of being part of something bigger than oneself for the first time and the extraordinary growth that comes from the experience. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Hillhouse’s books!” – Danielle McClean, author of the Burt Award winning title The Protector’s Pledge

“This was a sweet coming of age romance. I found myself saying awwww way too often. Shaka is the guy who falls hard for his girl and his animated crew lives the romance with him. Zahara is complicated but the music frees her, each cord brings her to herself. Many times in Caribbean books you reminisce about how your childhood compared and Pappy was it for me: holding everyone and everything together with simple finesse that you didn’t even notice it. Grandparents are wonderful. I have to admit that I was once weary of reading Caribbean fiction because they tend to get dark quickly and I don’t read books to be depressed. I am pleased to say that Joanne’s Musical Youth was refreshing and uplifting. Write on Joanne, write on.”

“Wonderful book set in Antigua…just wish I knew all the songs mentioned.”

“This was a really sweet story about friendship, love, family values and music, and it really felt like travelling to this little Caribbean island. It also deals with colorism within the Black community, which is a topic I haven’t read much about in books so far. So I’ve discovered cool music while reading this book, and people who love The Lion King should really listen to this.”

“This is one the best coming of age books I have come across. There is young innocent romance where both boy and girl are happy holding hands. Respect for elders and elders who respect the teens. Gaining confidence and awareness that people who are ‘perfect’ are just people. It also covers Antigua, its slavery past and its battling economy. It also covers the issue of bleaching where black skinned people try to whiten themselves to be more beautiful. The US pop icons have a lot to answer for. And there is a lot of music, musical references and again respect that musical tastes can be different but that is OK too.”

“This was an enchanting read. I was pleased that a Caribbean author dealt so sensitively with the subject of young love and the social problem of skin bleaching. There was romance not sex. There was family values being highlighted. In fact, it was a well-structured journey of young people discovering themselves as well as learning to value others for who they are. It was a time machine. It took me back to yesteryear when young people engaged in romance rather than indulging in sex primarily. Shaka and Zahara are a positive role model to young people getting to know each other and dealing with the various issues with which they are confronted. Thank you Miss Hillhouse, for such an engaging well-done piece. It left me with a smile on my face.”

Musical Youth (is) a novel well deserving of its five stars; though I don’t usually read such novels this one was seemingly able to entice me into reading it. By reading its summary, I sensed a latent message within the book, and by reading it the message it held for me was revealed. I shall not divulge what I was taught from this novel for I believe that it holds a message for anyone who reads it and so I say to anyone reading my review that you need not take my word for it, do read musical youth…”

Musical Youth is beautifully written. It is a pride to Caribbean young adult fiction. Though it addresses a strong and very real social issue, the writer skillfully educates you while she takes you back to the innocence of school days in the Caribbean. You can’t help but remember your first crush, how every little thing they did is permanently etched in your memory. There is a good blend of characters throughout the book and they complement each other well. It was also refreshing to read a story about children doing positive things. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it to fellow readers.”

“The tag line for Musical Youth is ‘Can one summer make the difference of a lifetime?’ and the experiences of Zahara, Shaka, and their friends certainly prove that to be true. My children enjoyed this musical love story. The characters are very realistic, and since the author tells the story through the eyes of both the male and the female characters, both my son and daughter appreciated it. It is set in the Caribbean and so it was for them a welcome change from the books they had been reading. They were transported, not into a future world but into another part of our current existence where the young people lived different lives but at their core are dealing with many of the same issues as the readers are. I loved the language and the important part that music played throughout the story.”


“I’ve read two of Joanne C Hillhouse’s novels 𝐌𝐮𝐬𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐥 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐡 and 𝐃𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐍𝐮𝐝𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐌𝐨𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭. Both made me feel like I was back home walking the streets of St John’s. It was thrilling being able to read a book that is of my homeland describing places I knew well and I didn’t realise how much I really missed it til her words took me there. I was reminded of pan practise and rushing to choir or dance or netball practise. I was reminded of the beach air and how much of a melting pot Antigua is and of the dark legacy of colonialism that lurks beneath the surface; and how sometimes in order to make it we have to leave it behind …” – Intersect.anu

Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse, one of my top YA reads of 2020 (and ever), started different conversations between myself and others on and off the grid…Thanks to its enthusiastic supporters here, I bought it, I loved it, bawled over it. My response forced me to reflect on why I passed on it before…It’s one I’m very happy to cheer for…It was one of my reading highlights last year. So grateful to the Caribbean, especially Antiguan readers, who repped it so well.” –

“I think I would have really enjoyed this Caribbean YA book as a teenager…”

“That’s exactly how this book felt. A warm Sunday dinner with the people you love.”
“(Joanne C. Hillhouse) writes unapologetically Caribbean, and I’m here for it.”
“This book just sweet mi suh tilllll.”
“…manages to beautifully blend in real life issues…without overtaking the plot.”
“All Caribbean children should read this book”
“It is a good choice for a secondary school text book.”
“Most enjoyable for me were the smatterings of Antiguan dialect and numerous musical references.”
“I did not expect to see…my musical childhood brought to life.”
“Zahara shy about carrying around her guitar case…was me”
“To witness her and her boyfriend Shaka’s inner exploration of themselves, their self-growth, their careful observations of family, friends, and classmates felt like such a privilege…”
“I cried too”
“I wondered if Antiguan kids read this and felt any small part of what I did”

“This was my first diverse YA and I deeply enjoyed it.”

Musical Youth is a Antiguan Young Adult book revolving around the lives of Zahara and Shaka. Zahara is brilliant with guitar but she’s an outcast and a loner. This summer she meets Shaka, who is himself a music enthusiast, and his friends. Soon enough, new friendships are being made and new passions are being pursued. Together they bring out better shades of each other and tackle family secrets capable of destroying their new found love. It’s summer, really. Touching on everyday instances of colourism in Antigua and commenting on the age old question – ‘Can colourism be unlearned?’, this is a story of starting new beginnings and ending old prejudices. Can one summer make the difference of a lifetime?I absolutely loved the Carribean vibe! The overall tones of the book were really great. This was my first diverse YA and I deeply enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the other Carribean countries.”

– recommended reading by Intersect

“This was a sweet coming of age romance.”

MY insta lalabear

“This was a sweet coming of age romance”

“I read this book in February and it is still my favorite read of 2019. This is the kind of books I wish I’d read for class back in the day.” – response: “Same here! It’s a great story”

“can read…over and over and over”
“I loved the way colorism was dealt with in this book”

“I love the little loving details that go into making a book that much more special, like the musical staff here on every new chapter of #MusicalYouth by @jhohadli . If you’re looking for a great YA summer read that’s also got some depth, check this one out. It’s all about learning to work together, the effects of colourism, coming out of your shell, and embracing your own self worth. I will read this one again at some point!…It’s a heart-warming Antiguan YA that’s pretty quick and easy to get through.  Would highly recommend!” 

insta 1


author Kelly Baker Josephs
author Brenda Lee Browne
author Lisa Allen-Agostini
author Marsha Gomes-McKie

(You Tube)

“It is a brilliant book because it actually made a woman of 50, almost 52, years old think about colourism for the first time in her life…I’m so grateful that I actually read this book because this has pointed me in another direction to educate myself a little bit further.” – Dusty Book Sniffers Read Around the World Challenge: Antigua and Barbuda


“But I also really love Joanne Hillhouse’s YA novel Musical Youth which focuses on the experience of children learning about colourism and how colourism is manifested in their communities. And one of the things that we all loved talking about in the book club was how this author chose to show male friendship and it was just wonderful. It was a wonderful read because of so many things….I think I would probably push you more toward Joanne Hillhouse’s Musical Youth because this is not such a well known author and maybe she could stand to use a little bit more recognition.” – RunwrightReads

“It was wonderful…the themes will resonate with everyone…I read it, loved it.” – runwrightreads November reading round up

“This is a YA that I absolutely love. It was my favourite YA that I read in 2020. Highly recommend it if you’re looking for a YA that is Caribbean.” – ComfyCozyUp listing Musical Youth on her review of favourite Caribbean books read in 2020

Musical Youth. I read this this year. Loved it. It’s just, aw, this is juicy. I love when you have young adult books that have a bit of romance, enough for the age group but has like a message of following your dream and doing things that might not be in your favour as far as your parents and everybody else around you, but you follow your guts and do what you want to do, and it’s musical. This was really good. Loved it.”

– ComfyCozyUp

(excerpt from Giselle Mill’s video review – above) “I quite enjoyed this novel. It was well written, very enjoyable…I like the characters very much especially Shaka …and I liked to see the character development from  the main character Zahara and I also enjoyed the portrayal of the Caribbean family dynamics…it was very well done.”

“i love your book im so hooked on it im at chapter 21.”

(Personal notes)

“I read Musical Youth two months ago. Words can’t express how much I enjoyed this story. While reading, everything played out in my head like in a movie. It was inspirational on so many levels. Zahara gave healing to the teenage girl I used to be. … I wish I’d have this kind of reference to remind myself from time to time that my awkwardness was okay and I shouldn’t be afraid to open up to others. So I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you for creating this story, these characters.”

“I got Musical Youth at the airport and read half on the plane….loving it! Such a great set of voices!”

“My cousin … who doesn’t really read picked it up …said …’if there were books like this about people I can relate to I might have read before’.”

“Your book is amazing.”

“I’m really enjoying the book and loving all the references, cultural, musical etc. It’s making me do some ‘Google searches’ and research into many areas I can relate to. What a great opportunity for teachers to discuss and work through so many very important issues and themes with our students! Definitely my kind of literature for the classroom and my home library!”

“I am only ¼ way into the book and wishing I had enough money to buy every young person I’m in contact with a copy …I knew the writing would be beautiful but, though not surprised, I was really happy (as usual) to see the name Antigua and other historical and cultural references printed on the pages of a published book. The reading is going too quickly – I have to pull myself away to make the moment last. Love, love, love it so far. Congratulations!” – Alstyne

“”…loving Musical Youth – a lesson in story telling that is relevant to today and yet, filled with socio-political, history without beating you up…”

“I actually read your book …because that day the power went off and I had nothing else to do…I’m not really in to the romance thing; but it was funny; some o’ the parts… it was nice…”- nephew, actual teenager, and reluctant reader who discovered that reading didn’t actually suck (for moms, dads, uncles, aunties, goddies of other reluctant readers wondering if Musical Youth is a good place to start)


Related links:
Launch Gallery 2014
Launch Release
Musical Youth excerpt
Zahara’s Playlist
Shaka’s Playlist

Musical Youth in Jamaica Observer Bookends
Bookends interview 2014
Musical Youth schools tour (last stop)
Study Guide
Musical Youth (an extract)
Musical Youth FAQs
Throwback Q & A: Musical Youth


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