Musical Youth Publisher: Caribbean Reads Publishing (St. Kitts’s-Nevis/USA) Genre: Young Adult Fiction (novel) Year of Release: 2014 ISBN-10: 0989930513/ISBN-13: 978-0989930512
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 in the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.
#12 in Amazon Hot New Releases – Teen and Young Adult Performing Arts Fiction – in its first month of release
“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
“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
“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.
“A very exciting book…very interesting narrative with music running throughout it…” – one of the judges speaking on my forthcoming book Musical Youth during the Burt award panel at the Bocas Literary Festival, 2014.
“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 – 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
“…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 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.
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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 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!”
“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.
(Also) I’ve discovered cool music while reading this book.”
“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.”
“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…”
“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 engaaged 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Personal notes (i.e. emailed feedback, where the name is mentioned it’s with the sender’s permission)
“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!” – Kanika Simpson-Davis
“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 nuh…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)
MENTIONS/SHOUT OUTS/NOT REVIEWS/JUS FUH SO
“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’
On facebook, an Antiguan and Barbudan mother posted a picture of her daughter toting her guitar with this note:
“Just today while I was walking the streets bookmarking points in my head for this blog the way Shaka does in Joanne Hillhouse’s Musical Youth, a Rastaman in full regalia flash me the ‘ail-up and a nod: ‘respect’ and moves on…” (Glen at his blog Because I love Words writing on his lox journey)
This book, like my other books, is available at online retailers – Amazon to Booktopia – and you can help give it a push by asking for it at your local bookstore. Demand leads to supply; and it’s always my preference that you buy local. So, thanks in advance for that. Also, if you’re a regular here, you already know that I value reader reviews (critics too, of course, but as a writer from a small place, the average reader more so than the established critics have driven awareness of my books so respect to readers everytime for the support). I encourage you to share your thoughts on the books online (Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, wherever) – not asking you to (as we say) purge your conscience, just give your honest assessment and maybe likeminded readers will be turned on to it. Thanks for that, too. – signed,Joanne C. Hillhouse, author
See links to other review pages, here.
See links to other articles/interviews related to my books or writing, here.