Ego Crush is So Severe: YA Books That Align with Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour album
If you’re like I am, you haven’t been able to stop listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s album, Sour, since it came out this summer. For those of you who don’t know, Olivia Rodrigo emerged from the Disney world after starring in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, which is definitely a mouthful, and dove headfirst onto the angsty pop-rock musical stage. The album outlines what it’s like to be 17 and in the spotlight while going through typical teenage events, like breakups, betrayals, and, of course, being exploited by the entertainment industry. If you have yet to listen to Sour, we do have it at the library, so put it on hold and check it out.
Now, I have my own theories about what her songs mean, but I also think that the songs individually tell some fantastic stories, and even connect to stories that we have here in our libraries. And so, I present you with this list of YA books that match each of the songs on Sour, so savor them like you’ve savored this album.
- “Brutal”: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Tiny Pretty Things tells the story of three students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school who are starting to really feel the pressure of their daily lives. Gigi is new and all she wants to do is dance her heart out, but isn’t used to the rigidity of this school’s structure. Bette is born from a world of privilege, but finds herself constantly in her sister’s shadow. June is a perfectionist with an overbearing mother who is determined to end her dreams of dance unless June wins the lead role. The volatile structure of the school, parents, and expectations may just end up being too much for some of these students.
Recently adapted into a Netflix series and hailed as a modern Black Swan-meets-Pretty Little Liars, if you’re interested in something truly brutal, this book will do it for you.
Best “Brutal” lyric: They say these are the golden years / But I wish I could disappear / Ego crush is so severe / God, it’s brutal out here
Best Tiny Pretty Things line: “I don’t care about being happy. Only about being the best.”
- “Traitor”: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
While Traitor, arguably the most heartbreaking song on Sour is talking about a romantic breakup (we all know the one), When You Were Everything is the crushing story about what happens when your closest friendships seem to fade away, but you’re forced to see the other person every single day. Cleo and Layla used to be best friends, attached at the hip, never one seen without the other. They did everything together and they told each other every single thing as well. They were as close as two people could possibly be. Until they weren’t and their friendship imploded into itself. Cleo wants nothing to do with Layla and would like to completely erase her from her memory, but that proves to be hard when Cleo gets assigned as Layla’s student tutor. Will Cleo be able to handle working with her former best friend when all she wants to do is forget that she exists?
When You Were Everything is a novel told in two separate timelines – one from the past, leading up to their implosion, and one from the present, in the aftermath of what went wrong.
Best “Traitor” lyric: When she’s sleeping in the bed we made / Don’t you dare forget about the way / You betrayed me
Best When You Were Everything line: “I can forget about her for hours or even whole days, and then the truth rushes back like a brush fire, burning me from the inside out. The person you loved? They’re gone.”
- “Drivers License”: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nivens
Rodrigo’s heartbreaking “Drivers License” shows the aftermath of a breakup you didn’t see coming, much like Nivens’ All the Bright Places, which is about two teenagers with mental health issues who find solace in each other. Violet Markey is grieving the death of her sister, Eleanor, who died in a car crash. She’s coasting on her grief, waiting to get out of her Indiana town when she meets Theodore Finch, the school’s resident outcast who is fascinated by death. When Finch saves Violet (and Violet saves Finch) from ending it all, the two become close. This story will give you whiplash, for sure, and though there’s a Netflix movie based on the book, I strongly suggest reading the book first.
Best “Drivers License” lyric: But today I drove through the suburbs / Crying ’cause you weren’t around
Best All the Bright Places line: “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting.”
- “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back”: When the Beat Drops by Anna Hecker
1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back is a song all about losing yourself to a relationship because you feel so drawn to someone that you will do almost anything to be with them. The same is true for Anna Hecker’s When the Beat Drops, about Mira, a 17-year-old musician who meets a DJ and gives up much of what she loves in the process, including the trumpet, which she loves to play. This dramatic book is disguised by its upbeat cover and unfolds to show the reality of unhealthy relationships and what it means to hinge all of your hopes, dreams, and personality on one person who may not have your best interest at heart.
Best “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” lyric: It’s one step forward and three steps back / I’m the love of your life until I make you mad
Best When the Beat Drops line: “He says he loves me. He says a lot of things. I wish I knew what to believe.”
- “Deja Vu”: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki
Deja Vu is all about watching your former significant other move on with someone else, but in Olivia’s eyes things are looking a little familiar about this new relationship. In Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, our main character – Freddy – finds her that life with Laura Dean, her ex-girlfriend, may be more complicated than it’s worth. As Laura Dean gets together with (and breaks up with… and gets back together with) Freddy, Freddy begins to think that she’s not really in the forefront of Laura Dean’s mind and instead may be just someone to pass the time with. Freddy reminisces on the good times, but also realizes that the bad times may not be worth it.
Best “Deja Vu” lyric: So when you gonna tell her / That we did that, too? / She thinks it’s special / But it’s all reused
Best Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me line: “The truth is, breakups are usually messy, the way people are messy, the way life is often messy. It’s okay for a breakup to feel like a disaster. It doesn’t feel okay, but I assure you it is okay.”
- “Good 4 U”: Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender by Lisa Greenwald
Her ex may be over it, but Olivia sure isn’t. We can tell by the way this pop-rocky song, inspired by Paramore’s “Misery Business”. Like Olivia, Mia cannot wait to never see her ex again. She’s angry, and she’s gonna do something about it. So, with the help of her trusty best friend Justine, Mia creates a secret online profile to catfish her ex and catch him cheating on his new girlfriend, just like he cheated on Mia. Both this song and this book epitomize what it’s like to be angry after a breakup and want nothing but revenge. Judging by Olivia’s success in the music industry, I’d say she got it.
Best “Good 4 U” lyric: And good for you, it’s like you never even met me / Remember when you swore to God I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you / You will never have to hurt the way you know that I do.
Best Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender line: “My heart hurt a little bit right then. It’s weird how when you’re in a relationship with someone you know every little detail about their day. And then one day you’re just not anymore, and you don’t know the little details or the big details. It’s cut off like a power outage.”
- “Enough for You”: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
“Enough for You” is all about the lengths that Olivia Rodrigo went through in her relationship to become the person that her partner wanted, only for them to not really want her. In My Life Next Door, Samantha Reed has done this with her parents, being the daughter that they wanted her to be – quiet, studious, cold – until she meets the Garrett family next door. The Garretts are loud, crazy, and spontaneous, and Samantha wants in. When she starts a relationship with Jace Garrett and is welcomed into the Garrett home, she thinks she has it made.
Best “Enough for You” lyric: Tried so hard to be everything that you liked / Just for you to say you’re not the compliment type
Best My Life Next Door line: “Our house contains all that’s high-end and high-tech and shiny clean. And three people who would rather be somewhere else.”
- “Happier”: When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle
Olivia Rodrigo’s “Happier” is about finding yourself in a break up and wanting the other person to be happy (just maybe not as happy) and watching that all unfold. When You Were Mine follows the same premise in this Shakespearean retelling. Rosaline (Rose, for short) has been waiting years for her crush to like her back, and then just when he does, Rose’s old best friend (now mysterious enemy) returns to school and just like that Rob is no longer hers. She wants Rob to be happy, but with Juliet? Can’t it be anyone else? This is definitely a novel about wanting something for someone over how much you want something for yourself.
Best “Happier” lyric: And now I’m pickin’ her apart / Like cuttin’ her down make you miss my wretched heart / But she’s beautiful, she looks kind, she probably gives you butterflies
Best When You Were Mine line: “How do you mourn something that never really belonged to you?”
- “Jealousy, Jealousy”: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
This is one of Olivia’s non-relationship-based songs on the album, switching gears from betrayal and heartache to something we’ve all experienced – envy. Olivia sings about knowing her own worth and still feeling like she doesn’t measure up, and haven’t we all been there? In Katie Cotugno’s Fireworks, we get a similar story. Set in the late 1990s (so retro), friends Olivia (!!!) and Dana are dying to be popstars. Olivia is the main singer, training her whole life for the moment where she gets noticed and rises to stardom. Her best friend, Dana, is her number one cheerleader and deals with the business side of things. That is until one night when Dana, along with Olivia, is discovered and becomes an overnight pop sensation. Olivia’s ego is crushing under the weight of no longer being the top dog in their friendship and she begins to question if it’s even worth it.
Best “Jealousy, Jealousy” lyric: Their win is not my loss / I know it’s true / But I can’t help gettin’ caught up in it all
Best Fireworks line: “It was stupid, maybe, but hers was the face I saw every time I missed a dance step in rehearsal; hers was the voice I heard taunting me in my head.”
- “Favorite Crime”: Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry
“Favorite Crime” is one of my favorite songs on Sour. Despite being a soft-sung song with a beautiful chorus, it tells the story of a volatile couple who hurt each other and hurt others for one another. We see a different spin on that in Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry’s Hello Girls, which is about two best friends (Lucille and Winona) who are yearning to escape their respective abusive home lives. They set out Thelma and Louise style on a cross country road trip in a stolen convertible with $3000 that they received under suspicious circumstances and they are getting out as fast as they can.
Best “Favorite Crime” lyric: It’s bittersweet to think about the damage that we do / ‘Cause I was going down, but I was doing it with you / Yeah, everything we broke, and all the trouble that we made / But I say that I hate you with a smile on my face
Best Hello Girls line: “Winona slowly lifted the watch from the bag, and her heart began to race. She dropped the diamond-encrusted Rolex on the table and met Lucille’s saucer eyes.”
- “Hope Ur OK”: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Olivia Rodrigo’s sentimental ballad closes out her album about love and loss as she reminisces about former friends and classmates whose home lives were less than perfect, and is wondering how they’re doing now. It was hard to find a book that totally lined up with this song, but I chose Felix Ever After as, like the song, it focuses on LGBTQIA+ issues and reflects on the very different lives of its characters. The story stars Felix Love, a transguy who is nervous that he’ll never fall in love. He watched his parents’ marriage fall to pieces when his mother left suddenly, never to be heard from again, and his friends are just as lousy in love as he is. When he’s outed at school one day, he vows to catch whoever blasted his old pictures and deadname all over the school. He catfishes his enemy and prime suspect, Declan, only to find out that Declan’s cushy home life isn’t exactly what it seems. Will they get closer, or will Felix’s secrets tear them apart?
Best “Hope Ur OK” lyric: Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred / God, I hope that you’re happier today / ‘Cause I love you, and I hope that you’re okay
Best Felix Ever After quote: “It’s almost like I was looking for the pain and the hurt, because it was easier to live with the idea that, even though I want love, I’m not the kind of person who deserves to be loved.”