Who doesn’t love a good musical? Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of classic musicals recorded live for TV. The latest installment bringing live theater to the comfort of your own home is RENT: Live. Whether you’re a die-hard fan—or this was your first exposure to the powerful story that is RENT—if you loved this musical event, then we have got books for you.
Just Like February by Deborah Batterman
In RENT, many of the characters have AIDS and/or are gay. Just Like February focuses in on just one gay man’s story living with AIDS, told through the eyes of his niece, Rachel. This heart-wrenching story forces the reader to confront the need for openness and honesty with those you love, especially when going through a hard time.
The Frontman by Ron Bahar
In the ‘80s, Ron Bahar could only dream of heading to New York to follow his passion for music, like Roger in RENT. Instead, he tries to do so in Nebraska—and still falls down a path of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. However, Ron still has his immigrant parents and dual passion for medicine to pull him out of the spiral and away from the heartbreak that befall Roger.
Love You Like the Sky* by Sarah Neustadter
In the opening scene of RENT, we learn that Roger’s girlfriend, April, committed suicide because they contracted AIDS. Roger could have really used a book like Love You Like the Sky, which is composed of letters from the author, a psychologist, to her beloved, John, over the three years after he committed suicide. This book could act as a roadmap through his complicated grief.
The Opposite of Never by Mary Kathleen Mehuron
Mimi’s struggle with addiction is a huge part of the plot of RENT, as is her romance with Roger, who is also an addict but has been clean for six months at the start of the show. If Roger had relapsed, their story would have been much like that of Zelda and Spencer in The Opposite of Never. Their toxic, drug-fueled romance is filtered through the eyes of those who love them.
Love Reconsidered by Phyllis J. Piano
More than RENT is about AIDS or poverty or activism, it’s a story of love, friendship, compassion, forgiveness, and hope. Love Reconsidered embodies these themes as well. Much like after Angel’s death, in the wake of tragedy, those who love the deceased are forced to confront realities they weren’t prepared for and must learn to forgive one another.
The Restless Hungarian* by Tom Weidlinger
Mark, an anti-establishment Jewish aspiring filmmaker, would delight in reading this cinematic memoir by Tom Weidlinger, an independent documentarian. It follows Weidlinger’s father, a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Holocaust, in his extraordinary life in the subsequent years. This story is a true example of Mark’s assertation that “real life’s getting more like fiction each day.”
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara
This story follows a drag queen (ironically also named Angel) who is new to the New York City drag scene. There she finds love and forms the first ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. She and her friends must navigate sex work, addiction, abuse, and the effect of AIDS on their community, while learning to lean on each other to make their way through a world that resists them.
* not out yet, but available for preorder now.