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What Books to Read Based on Your Favorite Broadway Shows

September 4, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Everybody loves a good story, whether it’s onstage or on the page, and if you’re missing some of your favorite musicals and plays right now, why not explore a read with similar themes?

We’ve been doing a lot of reading in quarantine — largely fueled by our amazing friends at Books Are Magic, who have been hosting virtual events and supplying us with the most incredible reads. 

So in honor of National Read a Book Day on Sunday, we put together some of our favorite books you might want to check out based on your Broadway faves. 

If you love Jagged Little Pill, you should read Little Fires Everywhere.

Teen angst vibes anyone? Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album was the soundtrack to our youth, and the new, original musical takes all the emotions from the album and casts them as a family of characters struggling to make it through life. Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere follows two families in Shaker Heights, Ohio — one upper middle class family with four kids and a single mom and her daughter subletting their spare house. The drama and class tensions escalate at home and at school. Bonus: When you’re done reading (and jamming to Alanis’s album), check out the Hulu mini series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.  

If you love The Color Purple, you should read The Vanishing Half.

Yes, we know The Color Purple is based on a book too, but we can’t help but see the similar struggles between Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple and Stella and Desiree in The Vanishing Half. Both pairs of sisters would do anything for the other, but tough decisions in the name of love and safety end up separating both. Brit Bennett’s latest work is a timely and emotional read, and you’ll definitely be feeling like crying along to “I’m Here” from The Color Purple after you’re done. 

If you love Merrily We Roll Along, you should read The Interestings.

We all love a theater kid story — give us a meta industry tale onstage or a theater camp novel and we’re there. (We were those kids!) Stephen Sondheim’s beloved musical Merrily We Roll Along follows three friends and musical theater writers from end to beginning, starting as jaded middle-aged artists and ending as idealist dreamers. While the Meg Wolitzer classic The Interestings doesn’t go backwards narratively, she does follow a crew of theater-loving kids at camp and explore their connections throughout their life. You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy, but it also doesn’t hurt. 

If you love Fame, you should read Trust Exercise.

These theater tales get a little bit darker. Both Fame and Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise take place at performing arts high schools and explore the students’ competitive spirits as they struggle to understand their own desires onstage and off. Choi’s narrative has a few more twists and turns than the musical, but we’re here for a high drama page turner. 

If you love Dear Evan Hansen, you should read The Fault in Our Stars.

Ah, young love. Dear Evan Hansen and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars both have the makings of an epic teen drama: deep longing, feeling like an outsider, family issues, and emotional turbulence. We don’t want to give too much away here for fear of #spoilers, but if you feel like an outsider “always looking in,” pick up The Fault In Our Stars for an emosh read.  

If you love The Inheritance, you should read A Little Life.

Is sweeping epic generational story more your speed? Did you relish watching marathon theater at The Inheritance? Well, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life follows four friends in New York throughout their lives, exploring their secrets and relationships. Neither one is light fare, but if you’re looking for some intense drama, dig into A Little Life. 

If you love Wicked, you should read Circe.

A classic story retold from the witch’s point of view? Yes please. Just like Wicked — another musical based on a book — reimagines The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch of the West’s perspective, Madeline Miller’s Circe takes the scorned witch from The Odyssey and gives her her own story. “Evil” is all about perspective for both witches, and you’ll be seeing Ithaca from a new perspective after reading Miller’s take. 

If you love Hadestown, you should read The Gods of Jade and Shadow

Speaking of mythology, the Tony-winning musical and Silvio Moreno-Garcia’s novel share a lot of similar DNA. Both feature a young woman fascinated by the world of the gods and on a quest by the god of the Underworld. While you may know the ending to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, Casiopea Tun’s Cinderella story is full of twists and turns you won’t believe. 

If you love Waitress, you should read Sweetbitter

Everybody loves a good cooking show, but you know what’s better? A baking musical and a novel about working in the restaurant industry. Both Waitress and Sweetbitter are coming-of-age stories set in the foodie landscape, as the two young heroines learn to fend for themselves and discover their true passions. 

If you love Moulin Rouge, you should read City of Girls

Give us empowered showgirls any day of the week. While Moulin Rouge explores the iconic theater in turn-of-the-century Paris, Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls takes us to 1940s New York where Vivian spends her time backstage as a downtown vaudeville theatre. A moving story set in the world of theatre? Sign us up. 

If you love In the Heights, you should read The House on Mango Street

Protagonists with names that embody their parent’s dreams in a new land? Check. A local block changing over time? Check. Racial tensions in major cities? Check. Coming of age and struggling with your identity? Check. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a moving coming-of-age novel about Esperanza, who like Usnavi, is just trying to navigate life in a changing neighborhood. Community is at the heart of both the show and the novel as well as the ties that bind us though we want to escape. 

If you love The Prom, you should read Under the Rainbow

The Prom immersed attendees into a small, conservative town, at a moment when four Broadway stars decided that the time for change had come. These stars crashed the town and definitely made an impact on the way the town viewed LGBT people — not to mention, they delivered some showstopping tunes. Celia Laskey’s Under the Rainbow also transports readers to a small town — a town identified as “the most homophobic town” in the United States. In order to change the minds of the townsfolk, a group of activists arrive to save the day. Be sure to read this book to experience another poignant story of how big personalities can affect even the smallest communities! 

If you love Nine, you should read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The musical Nine tells the story of a film director who, while spiraling through a personal and professional crisis, reflects on his most transformative relationships with women over the course of his life so far. If you’re into stories about brilliant artists and those who have loved and influenced them, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo gives you just that. In this novel, a retired leading lady of old Hollywood divulges the intimate details of her seven marriages to a young journalist, revealing unheard twists and turns about her career and love life. Like Nine, the book is glamorous, romantic, heartbreaking, and surprisingly unpredictable.

If you love Vanities the Musical, you should read The Other’s Gold

Both Vanities and The Other’s Gold explore complicated female friendships, following a tight-knit group of girlfriends from the student years well into adulthood. They’re about how friendships and people change over the years as women come of age, make major life choices, and go in separate directions after college. We’re clinging to our pals extra hard these days so a tale about the bonds of friendship is just the ticket.

If you love Come From Away, you should read In the The Unlikely Event

Like Come From Away, In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume analyzes how catastrophic plane incidents can impact a small community. The small town in Come from Away is Gander, Newfoundland, and in In the Unlikely Event it’s Elizabeth, NJ in the 1950s. War (or impending war) is on the fringes of both. There’s a general sense of anxiety about not being able to control the world around you when you once thought you knew everything that pushes you as a spectator to really embrace the unknown. 

If you love Hamilton, you should read Hillbilly Elegy

Stay with us on this one. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote Hamilton because he identified with the 10-dollar founding father as an immigrant and as someone “coming up from the bottom.” In J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Vance recounts his own upbringing in Appalachia and how his family values have informed his world view and politics. He also explores several economic repercussions of the way the country’s social system functions, and we can’t help but see all the parallels. Hillbilly Elegy also has similar blockbuster appeal and is becoming a movie directed by Ron Howard!

If you love Chicago, you should read Orange Is the New Black

No, we’re not talking about the Netflix series (though that’s great too). Piper Kerman’s original memoir about her year in prison gives us so many cell block tango vibes. We love a story of scorned women coming together despite their circumstances and really sticking it to the man.