YA Friday: Folklore

A black and white photo of Taylor Swift standing in a forest.

It's been a week since Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album, folklore, dropped and it's all I have been listening to since.

This album is much more atmospheric and was created and released differently than her previous works. Swift used her shelter-in-place time wisely and recorded these sixteen songs "in isolation" and announced it via social media only sixteen hours prior to it's release saying:

"In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve."

Because these songs are based on stories we thought it would be a natural fit to pair each one with a YA book. Take a listen and be sure to check out the titles below!

 

1. the 1

The first song on the album sets the tone and centers around the nostalgic remembrance of myths and lost loves. Taylor contemplates an alternate life in which her old wishes had “come true” and resulted in a life with an ex-lover.

The Sun Is Also a Star, book cover

The Sun Is Also a Star Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

2. cardigan

The second song and lead single on the album is described as "a song that’s about long lost love, and looking back on it and how special it made you feel, all the good things it made you feel, all the pain that it made you feel."

Its music video — which was written and directed by Taylor and shot during the COVID-19 pandemic — finds Taylor shifting through different places by the magic of playing the piano.

The song is believed to be the first part of folklore’s “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of Betty. The storyline is followed by “august” and “betty.” Swift explained in a livechat the night of folklore’s release:

"There’s a collection of three songs I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle. These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives."

A Very Large Expanse of Sea, book cover

A Very Large Expanse of Sea Tahereh Mafi

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments - even the physical violence - she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her - they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds - and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

 

3. the last great american dynasty

The third track follows the story of Rebekah Harkness, a patron of the arts, and founder of the Rebekah Harkness Foundation.

In 2015, Swift bought a Rhode Island mansion once owned by Rebekah Harkness. The mansion is known as “Holiday House.”

Taylor draws subtle comparison between herself and Rebekah Harkness in the song. She likens her star-studded parties to the bevy of famous composers and and dancer that once frequented Holiday house in Harkness' days. Also similar to Taylor Swift, Rebekah Harkness was often a target of harsh criticism from the tabloids, and people alike.

 

Prince Charming, book cover

Prince Charming Rachel Hawkins

Meet Daisy Winters. She’s an offbeat sixteen-year-old Floridian with mermaid-red hair; a part time job at a bootleg Walmart, and a perfect older sister who’s nearly engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy has no desire to live in the spotlight, but relentless tabloid attention forces her to join Ellie at the relative seclusion of the castle across the pond.

While the dashing young Miles has been appointed to teach Daisy the ropes of being regal, the prince’s roguish younger brother kicks up scandal wherever he goes, and tries his best to take Daisy along for the ride. The crown–and the intriguing Miles–might be trying to make Daisy into a lady . . . but Daisy may just rewrite the royal rulebook to suit herself.

 

4. exile

“exile” describes two ex-lovers seeing each other following a break-up. Justin Vernon describes feelings of confusion about how quickly a lover moved on, while Swift offers a perspective about repeated warning signs that the relationship was no longer working. It’s also worth noting the contrast between Vernon’s rougher voice and Swift’s smoother one, which mirrors the contrast between their views of the relationship.

The Geography of Lost Things, book cover

The Geography of Lost Things Jessica Brody

After Ali’s father passes away, he leaves his one and only prized possession—a 1968 Firebird convertible—to his daughter. But Ali doesn’t plan on keeping it. Not when it reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises. So when she finds a buyer three hundred miles up the Pacific coast willing to pay enough money for the car to save her childhood home, Ali can’t wait to get going. Except Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But guess who does?

Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Nico. And Nico has other plans.

He persuades Ali that instead of selling the car, they should “trade up” the items they collect on their trip to eventually reach the monetary amount Ali needs. Agreeing with Nico’s crazy plan, Ali sets off on a unique adventure that is unlike anything she ever could have expected.

And it’s through Ali’s travels, through the strangers she meets and the things that they value—and why they value them—that Ali eventually comes to understand her father and how his life may not have been as easy and carefree as she previously thought. Because just like the seemingly insignificant objects Ali collects, not everything is exactly as it appears.

 

5. my tears ricochet

Swift shared that the fifth track is about an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession.” And that it was the first song she wrote for the albumn.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, book cover

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All Laura Ruby

In 1941, after losing his wife and struggling to support his family, Frankie's Italian immigrant father "temporarily" sends his three adolescent children to a Catholic orphanage. However, he soon remarries and moves away, taking only one of his children. Frankie and her sister, Toni, are left under the watch of the iron-fisted nuns with their oppressive rules. Frankie dreams of growing her hair past her ears, becoming an artist, and falling in love. She never suspects that someone unseen is actually watching over her and longing to protect her: the ghost of a teenage girl, Pearl, dead since 1918, who haunts the orphanage.

As Frankie wishes for freedom, Pearl longs to have an impact on the physical world. And Pearl, like Frankie, has been let down by her family, been treated as a commodity, and suffered great loss. Each girl draws strength from her hardships, however, and refuses to submit to those who would control her.

 

6. mirrorball

On the sixth track she compares herself to a reflective disco ball: she sees herself as reflecting all the personalities around her, she entertains others, and she shatters like glass when her heart is broken.

Burn Baby Burn, book cover

Burn Baby Burn Meg Medina

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

 

7. seven

This song is about one of Taylor’s childhood friends who seemed to have an unhappy life at home. Taylor reflects back on her innocence back then, how she thought the problems could be easily solved.

The Serpent King, book cover

The Serpent King Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.

 

8. august

The eighth song is named after the eighth month and serves as inspiration for the album as “the sun drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine." It describes an ill-fated summer romance, similarly to Swift’s earlier works.

Fans believe it’s the second part of folklore’s “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of the girl James cheated on Betty with. The storyline is preceded by “cardigan” and followed by “betty.”

The Falling in Love Montage, book cover

The Falling in Love Montage Ciara Smyth

Saoirse doesn’t believe in love at first sight or happy endings. If they were real, her mother would still be able to remember her name and not in a care home with early onset dementia. A condition that Saoirse may one day turn out to have inherited. So she’s not looking for a relationship. She doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out.

But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Unbothered by Saoirse’s no-relationships rulebook, Ruby proposes a loophole: They don’t need true love to have one summer of fun, complete with every cliché, rom-com montage-worthy date they can dream up—and a binding agreement to end their romance come fall. It would be the perfect plan, if they weren’t forgetting one thing about the Falling in Love Montage: when it’s over, the characters actually fall in love… for real.

 

9. this is me trying

The ninth track sees Taylor accepting fault for relationship issues and making an effort to repair them. Fear, alcohol, and a sense of failure and isolation complicate the healing process, but she takes the first step by having the humility to admit things are difficult and uncertain.

As Many Nows As I Can Get, book cover

As Many Nows As I Can Get Shana Youngdahl

In one impulsive moment the summer before they leave for college, overachievers Scarlett and David plunge into an irresistible swirl of romance, particle physics, and questionable decisions. Scarlett and David have known each other all their lives in small-town Graceville, Colorado, where David is just another mountain in the background, until, one day, he is suddenly so much more than part of the landscape. Magnetic, spontaneous, David is a gravitational force. And Scarlett, pragmatic, wry, eye on the future, welcomes the whirlwind he brings even as she resists it. Moving between the present and the past, this is the story of a seemingly grounded girl who's pulled into a lightning-strike romance with an electric-charged boy, and the enormity of the aftermath.

 

10. illicit affairs

The tenth track tackles the idea of infidelity, which Swift has discussed in songs on previous albums. In the decade since those songs Swift’s conception of infidelity has changed from one of blanket condemnation to a significantly more nuanced and sympathetic take recognizing both “the dwindling, mercurial high” that infidelity can bring but also the heartbreak that it inevitably results in.

Busted, book cover

Busted Gina Ciocca

Marisa wasn’t planning to be a snoop for hire—until she accidentally caught her best friend’s boyfriend making out with another girl. Now her reputation for sniffing out cheaters has spread all over school, and Marisa finds herself the reluctant queen of busting two-timing boys.

But when ex-frenemy Kendall asks her to spy on her boyfriend, TJ, Marisa quickly discovers the girl TJ might be falling for is Marisa herself. And worse yet? The feelings are quickly becoming mutual. Now, she’s stuck spying on a “mystery girl” and the spoken-for guy who just might be the love of her life…

 

11. invisible string

The eleventh track references a myth about a a string of fate tying two soulmates together. Swift expresses gratitude for past romantic failures since they paved the way for her relationship.

A Million Junes, book cover

A Million Junes Emily Henry

For as long as Jack “June” O’Donnell has been alive, her parents have had only one rule: stay away from the Angert family. But when June collides—quite literally—with Saul Angert, sparks fly, and everything June has known is thrown into chaos.

Who exactly is this gruff, sarcastic, but seemingly harmless boy who has returned to their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, after three mysterious years away? And why has June—an O’Donnell to her core—never questioned her late father’s deep hatred of the Angert family? After all, the O’Donnells and the Angerts may have mythic legacies, but for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them.

As Saul and June’s connection grows deeper, they find that the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers seem to be conspiring to reveal the truth about the harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. Now June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored, and she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

 

12. mad woman

The twelfth track does an excellent job at showcasing how anger and pain can leave an indelible mark on you. The song traces the self-perpetuating cycle of women being angered by being labelled angry and Swift’s longest lyrical obsession is the loss of innocence, a theme she makes fairly devastating here.

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, book cover

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know Samira Ahmed

It’s August in Paris and 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is at a crossroads. This holiday with her professor parents should be a dream trip for the budding art historian. But her maybe-ex-boyfriend is probably ghosting her, she might have just blown her chance at getting into her dream college, and now all she really wants is to be back home in Chicago figuring out her messy life instead of brooding in the City of Light.

Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favored status in his harem. In the present day—and with the company of a descendant of Alexandre Dumas—Khayyam begins to connect allusions to an enigmatic 19th-century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron.

Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed.

 

13. epiphany

The thirteenth song describes someone hoping to find peace in their dreams despite living in a world of chaos and violence, specifically in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Swift also explained that the song touches on her grandfather’s experience in the military.

Lovely War, book cover

Lovely War Julie Berry

It's 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She's a shy and talented pianist; he's a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it's immediate and deep--and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.

Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who's played Carnegie Hall, he's a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that's before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who's already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.

Thirty years after these four lovers' fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.

 

14. betty

The fourteenth track touches on the aftermath of “august,” which describes a summer love that was doomed from the start. Listeners learn that while the summer affair was going on, the speaker, James, was still dating their classmate, Betty.

The song takes a more feminist approach, portraying the narrator as a person named James who can’t own up to their mistakes, all while Betty flourishes on her own and recognizes her worth.

“betty” is believed to be the third part of folklore’s “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of James. The storyline is preceded by “cardigan” and “august.”

Odd One Out, book cover

Odd One Out Nic Stone

Courtney "Coop" Cooper
Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn't mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin
I assumed "new girl" would be synonymous with "pariah," but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I'm right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is... perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez
The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move...

One story.
Three sides.
No easy answers.

 

15. peace

The fifteenth track is a calm tune describing Swift’s maturation and changing view of romance. Swift promises her beau, or life partner, that that quality of tranquility is the only thing she can’t promise him.

Carry On, book cover

Carry On Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen.

That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.

Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.

Baz is probably just off plotting somewhere, but what if he’s really in trouble? And why does Simon care so much, anyway?

 

16. hoax

An appropriate final track to an album filled with melancholy and darkness, “hoax” narrates the struggles Taylor endures in a toxic relationship. Although she has been driven to the edge of hopelessness by her lover, Taylor is unable to let go of her doomed relationship.

Words in Deep Blue, book cover

Words in Deep Blue Cath Crowley

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

 

Blog Category
Teens

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