The best novels for tweens, teens and young adults who love theater

Who am I?

As a teenager, I didn’t have the lack of inhibition or abundant self-confidence to excel in high school drama. Like Sadie in Bit Players, I finally wowed the directors at my senior year audition, only to learn the lead was promised in advance to someone else. I recovered and stayed involved in theater: cast, crew, and front-of-house jobs for a summer theater program; the box office for Cornell’s MFA program; and supporting my kids’ drama activities. Performing in a show is different from any other experience. If you’ve been in a show, you know this. If you haven’t, read on to enter the magical world of theatre.

I wrote...

Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers: A must-read for fans of Glee, High School Musical and Twilight

By S.M. Stevens,

Book cover of Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers: A must-read for fans of Glee, High School Musical and Twilight

What is my book about?

In Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers, a group of high school students create an original musical based on the Twilight book and movie. They write the script, and lyrics set to popular songs—which are provided in the book so readers can sing along. Romance and intrigue also abound.

Theater Quotient: High. The focal point of the story is the teens’ creation, production, and performance of Twilight: The Musical. Why I wrote it: It’s hard to find fiction that truly puts theater front and center. I wrote the Bit Players series for teens, tweens, and young adult musical theatre-lovers who know that world or want to know why it’s so special.

The books I picked & why

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The Taming of the Drew

By Stephanie Kate Strohm,

Book cover of The Taming of the Drew

Why this book?

Many YA novels set in a theatrical environment are heavily romance-focused. This book is the best I’ve found in that category. The hero, recent high school graduate Cass, has a super-strong voice that made me laugh out loud. She’s snarky, off-color, bold, and impatient. The theater plotline weaves throughout the story as Cass and cohorts perform The Taming of the Shrew at a summer theater. She steals ideas from Shakespeare’s play to torment her costar and nemesis, Drew. 

Theater Quotient: High. Much of the plot revolves around rehearsals and elements of the play trickle into real life.

Drama: A Graphic Novel

By Raina Telgemeier,

Book cover of Drama: A Graphic Novel

Why this book?

This graphic novel skews younger than the others on this list. It’s a heart-warming, slice-of-middle-school-life that revolves around the school’s musical theater production, from auditions and rehearsals, set-building and costumes, to opening night, the 3-show run, and even the cast party. It invokes the highs and lows of a production, including the inevitable malfunctioning props and inter-cast issues. I love this story’s emphasis on how fun it is to work on sets, costumes, lights, and sound, and how important stage crew is to the production.

Theatre Quotient: High. The bulk of the plot revolves around the show.

On The Roof: A look inside Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish

By Samantha Hahn,

Book cover of On The Roof: A look inside Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish

Why this book?

If you’ve never done theater, this book will have you running for the nearest audition. The non-fiction book contains heartwarming reflections from the cast, crew, and creative team for Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, including director Joel Grey. Readers get an inside look at show life, from cast bonding to pre-opening stress to performance mishaps. The vignettes convey what each cast and crew member contributes to making the magic happen. While heavy on the feel-good memories, it rings true and mesmerizes.

Theatre Quotient: High. It’s all theater, all the time!

You in Five Acts

By Una LaMarche,

Book cover of You in Five Acts

Why this book?

I like the grittiness and real-life issues addressed in this story. The pressures and joys of being students at an elite performing arts high school are described through the eyes of five friends: two actors, one writer/director, and two dancers. Aspirations, disintegrating friendships, budding romances, vengeance, and addiction interweave as the students forge ahead to the career-making (or breaking) Senior Showcase. Tragedy enfolds the friends in a dark ending as the dangers of the outside world pierce their high school bubble. 

Theatre Quotient: Medium. Plot is split between dance and theater, and the show gets minimal pages.

Between Perfect and Real

By Ray Stoeve,

Book cover of Between Perfect and Real

Why this book?

A high school production of Romeo and Juliet isn’t the focus of this plot, but the book still makes my shortlist. The concept of a trans guy acknowledging his gender identity after having been cast as a girl playing the boy Romeo is profound. Dean questions his gender as rehearsals progress. By showtime, he decides to use the production’s program to publicly announce he is trans. Friend and parental issues arise, so there’s plenty of drama on and off the stage in this one.

Theater Quotient: Medium. Gender identity is the focus, but rehearsals and performances figure prominently.

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