This past Friday, young singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo released her highly anticipated second album, GUTS, a couple months after the release of lead single “Vampire” and just one month after the release of “Bad Idea Right?” (A song title which the editors within us feel really should have a comma.) The album is a new collection of pop-punk anthems and over-the-top ballads about some of her (and our) favorite things: awful boys, awkwardness, self-loathing, and parties you want to leave.
We’ve listened (and re-listened) to GUTS to figure out what books for young readers are the most logical fit for the twelve (non-hidden) tracks of the album. Without further ado, we present book accompaniments to Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS, from picture books to YA – something we think is a good idea. Right?
“Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl”: A song all about social anxiety, awkwardness, and the fear that everything you do is inherently embarrassing? That reminds us of Are You Mad At Me? by Tyler Feder and Cody Feder, a picture book about an extremely nervous ostrich who constantly worries she’s doing the wrong thing and that someone is mad at her. This results in a neck movement that Opal the ostrich calls “The Noodles.” (Note to Olivia Rodrigo: “Noodle Ballad” also has a nice ring to it.)
“The Grudge”: While the song is mostly about a friendship of sorts marked by betrayal and manipulation, we’d like to focus on the difficulty the narrator has in forgiving and forgetting the damage done. Hence, we recommend Petal the Angry Cow by Maureen Fergus and Olga Demidova, a book about a cow who flies into a rage no matter the grievance, whether the horse steps on her foot or the dog steals her favorite chapeau. Petal seeks advice on how to let go of grudges, and it turns out the farm’s goose is not the best animal to turn to. (Though if online detectives are to be believed regarding the song’s inspiration, we could also recommend Taylor Swift: A Little Golden Book Biography by Wendy Loggia and Elisa Chavarri, but we try not to buy into internet rumors.)
“Logical”: Rodrigo’s ballad about self-delusion (and now you got me thinkin’ / two plus two equals five) and a manipulative boyfriend may seem a far cry from Minh Lê and Raissa Figuero’s picture book about an imaginary friend, Real To Me, but the parallels are there! (Others tried to tell me that she wasn’t real, that she was just imaginary.) Both are portraits of the lies we tell ourselves (even if, as in the case of the book, they are happy ones) and how to move past them.
“Making the Bed”: You might think it’s difficult to find a picture book that matches the emotions of ennui and dissatisfaction with fame heard in “Making the Bed,” but that’s where you’re wrong. Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock by Linda Bailey and Isabelle Follath is not just a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s greatest detective, but an account of the author’s struggles with the success of Sherlock and how he felt trapped by his own creation’s popularity.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
“Vampire”: So, the song isn’t about a literal vampire (though the subject apparently only comes out at night), but we couldn’t waste an opportunity to mention a wonderful middle-grade book about the real thing: Don’t Want To Be Your Monster by Deke Moulton. Neither of the vampire brothers in the humorous horror-mystery are as sociopathic as the guy in “Vampire,” but they do remain bloodsuckers.
“Pretty Isn’t Pretty”: This is a song about impossible beauty standards for women and girls, and the devastating self-image problems that usually result. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stories with those elements, but Barely Floating by Lilliam Rivera is perhaps the most uplifting. Natalia De La Cruz Rivera y Santiago is part of a synchronized swimming team, the LA Mermaids, but is often underestimated in a sport where girls are expected to be thin and white. Barely Floating explores what it means to be at home in your own skin (even when you’re underwater).
“Get Him Back!”: Who doesn’t love a song with an exclamation mark?(!) And this pop-punk track about trying to win a boy back who’s probably bad for you certainly deserves the punctuation. While the titular Penny in Penny Draws a Best Friend by Sara Shepard isn’t trying to win back a boy, she is trying to figure out why her former best friend Violet is avoiding her and hanging out with all the meanest girls in school. It’s a book about letting go of friends who aren’t right for you and making room for others who are.
“Teenage Dream”: Not to be confused with the Katy Perry hit, this song was written by an actual teenager. The subject is birthdays and the conflicting emotions of feeling simultaneously too young and too old. Those are resolutely not the conflicting emotions at play in Megabat and the Not-Happy Birthday by Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich, but the book is all about mixed birthday emotions. In the book, those feelings are about hating your new glasses and getting into a big fight with your mostly-verbal bat friend (two specific feelings the singer-songwriter doesn’t touch on).
“All-American B—h”: Finally, we enter the world of YA, a perfect age category for the oeuvre of Olivia Rodrigo. The opening song, which speaks to the unachievable double standards facing women and girls, has a title inspired by the writing of Joan Didion. Tragically, Didion never wrote children’s books or YA, but we think a good pairing for this track is On the Subject of Unmentionable Things by Julia Walton, in which rule-following goody-two-shoes Phoebe Townsend lives a secret life as a sex education blogger who raises the ire of a local mayoral candidate who is all-too-keen to enforce some double standards.
“Bad Idea Right?”: This banger is all about the time-honored tradition of reuniting with ex against your better judgment. That immediately made us think of Amanda Woody’s novel They Hate Each Other, in which Jonah and Dylan, who dislike each other immensely but everyone thinks should be together, hook up one wild homecoming night. Mutually horrified, they decide to fake-date, so they can end their relationship with a big, staged fight to prove their incompatibility to everyone else. One can only imagine what kind of idea that is.
“Love is Embarrassing”: A song that explores the mortifying experiences of young love and how that affects your feelings of self-worth and mental state can find few better matches than Something More by Jackie Khalilieh. Diagnosed as autistic before the school year begins, fifteen-year-old Palestinian Canadian Jessie finds herself romantically entangled with two very different boys that – especially given her difficulties with certain social cues – often leaves her reeling and confused.
“Lacy”: “Lacy” is a lyrically intriguing song that looks at a relationship between two female friends that blurs the line between love and hate, envy and total worship. In many ways the song reminds us of the fraught friendship between Beth and the beautiful, magnetic, but perhaps untrustworthy Edie in the 1983 New York coming-of-age tale Friends Like These by Meg Rosoff.