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Track by Track: 5 Books to Read after Listening to Halsey’s Manic album

by  | April 9
Book on table with coffee

In Get Literary’s brand-new blog series Track by Track, we’ll be doing deep dives into buzzworthy music albums and pairing our favorite tracks with books that have the same vibe. Halsey’s brilliant album Manic seemed like the perfect place to start, and we hope you’ll agree. For an enhanced reading experience, we recommend playing the whole album while you read each of these five books…


I’ve been a fan of the biracial, bisexual goddess known to her fans as Halsey (and to her family as Ashley) ever since I heard her first album. Earlier this year (yes, it’s still 2020 somehow), Halsey released one of the music industry’s most anticipated albums, her third studio release, titled Manic. From the moment it was announced, fans knew they would be treated to Halsey’s most personal and painful album yet, as she described it as the first album she’s written as herself—Ashley Frangipane.

When Manic dropped, Halsey took to Twitter to implore her fans to listen to this album in particular from top to bottom, front to back—the way you would a story. It feels especially appropriate to do this now, in a time when we’re leaning harder into stories to bring us joy and, frankly, even a distraction. As I relistened to Manic for what felt like the millionth time, I thought, what better way to honor Halsey’s story album than to pair some of the tracks with books that share similar themes. Ultimately, Manic is a story about pain. But it’s also one that shows how that pain and self-loathing and revenge can be remade into strength. Take a listen to Manic, and then check out these 5 reads!

Update: Halsey has announced her first book! I Would Leave Me If I Could, a poetry collection publishing on November 10, 2020, will feature “never-before-seen poetry of longing, love, and the nuances of bipolar disorder.” Since this would make another excellent companion to her music, we’ve added the book to the list below.

Queenie

Queenie

by Candice Carty-Williams

Track 3: Graveyard 

Track 4: You should be sad

“Graveyard” opens with a lament of how crazy it is when the thing you want most is the thing that continues to hurt you. That no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get out from underneath it. This makes its transition to “You should be sad” all the more powerful, because with a slight country twist, this subsequent track examines the escape from an abusive (be it physical or emotional) situation to finally feeling a sense of relief at saying goodbye to the grave life you could have had.

In Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams introduces us to the titular character—a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman who has just broken up with her white boyfriend—who is struggling with anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and a traditional family that doesn’t see the value in therapy. We learn through flashbacks that Queenie and Thomas’s relationship was tumultuous to say the least, and Queenie experiences anxiety and other mental health conditions after their breakup, leading her down a self-destructive path. Both the novel and the two comparative songs explore the messiness of falling apart and the strength it takes to put yourself back together.

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It's Not Okay

It's Not Okay

by Andi Dorfman

Track 5: Forever…(is a long time)

Track 10: Finally // beautiful stranger

It’s a tale as old as time: girl meets partner, girl falls in love, girl self-sabotages relationship, girl repeats pattern until finally feeling safe enough to trust in her happiness. Or wait. It’s: girl meets partner on reality show, girl falls in love and gets engaged on said show, girl and partner have a very public divorce, girl finds happiness in trusting and loving herself.

Okay, so the story details are a bit different, but the thematic similarities between Andi Dorfman’s It’s Not Okay and Halsey’s “Forever…(is a long time)” and “Finally // beautiful stranger” are surprisingly in line with each other. Andi Dorfman’s fame came from her stints on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, and in It’s Not Okay, she gives us a look into what really happens when you fall in love on TV. She details her engagement and breakup, and she also gives advice to readers that she would have never been able to give had she not looked inward and started loving herself.

Halsey sings a lot about self-sabotage on Manic; it’s that thing where you see everything you’ve ever wanted right in front of you, but rather than accepting it, you convince yourself you’re not worthy of it, and blow it all up. That’s the story of “Forever…(is a long time).” But on “Finally // beautiful stranger,” a crazy thing happens; that girl starts to pull her walls down after finding love within herself, which allows her to seek, find, and trust love from a beautiful stranger.

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Girls with Sharp Sticks

Girls with Sharp Sticks

by Suzanne Young

Track 12: killing boys

If you’re familiar with the cult classic film Jennifer’s Body, then the intro to “killing boys” is nothing new to you. “Killing boys” begins with a quote from the film in which Megan Fox’s character, Jennifer Check, delights in saying that they’re not killing people, they’re killing boys; and boys are just placeholders. On “killing boys,” Halsey sings of getting revenge on boys she just doesn’t need anymore. In what is admittedly a bit of a literal pairing, Girls with Sharp Sticks tells the story of a boarding school in the near-distant future where a group of beautiful and well-behaved (by design) girls uncover the secrets about their school and ultimately rise up to exact revenge on the people (read: men) responsible for their circumstances. It’s The Handmaid’s Tale meets Pretty Little Liars, and explores the challenges faced with upending deep-rooted misogyny.

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Track 14: More

I remember getting several recommendations from friends to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. “You’ll love it! It’s queer!” they all said. And okay, fine, maybe I’m predictable, but this book was far more than that as well. I don’t want to give too much away here, but this beautiful story touches on themes of lost love, of regret, of loss and grief, and of the many different types of love we experience. On “More,” Halsey sings of a love that she is longing for in a way that is both desperate and relatable. You can feel how intensely that love flows through her, and the same can be said of my experience reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

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The Way I Used to Be

The Way I Used to Be

by Amber Smith

Track 16: 929

In a Twitter Q&A, Halsey told fans that “929” was one of the tracks she was most scared to share with the world. On it, she delivers an almost stream of consciousness narrative throughout her journey from relative obscurity to stardom. Topics include meeting fans who idolize and need her, buying a house, losing her love to drugs, and her strained relationship with her father. It’s a lot to cover in one song, but the seemingly disparate topics somehow help to bookend the story Halsey begins on Manic’s opening track, “Ashley.” Sure, the album is about pain. But it’s also about learning about yourself, loving yourself, and the strength it takes to do both of those things.

The Way I Used to Be looks at the many ways trauma affects love, relationships, and life. Eden takes readers through each year of her high school life as she deals with the effects of her sexual assault. Eden’s story is an important look at the complications of adolescence—and at the power of survival she didn’t realize she had.

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I Would Leave Me If I Could

I Would Leave Me If I Could

by Halsey

Here's what the publisher has revealed about Halsey's forthcoming book:

In Halsey's debut poetry collection, I Would Leave Me If I Could, she reveals never-before-seen poetry of longing, love, and the nuances of bipolar disorder. Bringing the same artistry found in her lyrics, Halsey’s poems delve into the highs and lows of doomed relationships, family ties, sexuality, and mental illness. More hand grenades than confessions, these autobiographical poems explore and dismantle conventional notions of what it means to be a feminist in search of power.

Masterful as it is raw, passionate, and profound, I Would Leave Me If I Could signals the arrival of an essential voice.

Book cover painting, American Woman, by the author.

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Nicole Sam contains multitudes. She is a huge fan of graphic novels, SFF stories, and reality TV. When she isn’t at the office, you can find her attending cons around the country to experience her favorite fandoms IRL.