My friend Emily was hunting for novels in verse; that’s poetry-style novels that don’t rely on standard sentence structure to move the story along. Of course I thought of books by Ellen Hopkins or Because I Am the Furniture by Thalia Chaltas (2010 Best Books for Young Adults), but then Emily added that these books should be ok for junior high school students. I loved Because I Am The Furniture, but this dark story of confronting an abuser who perpetrates multiple kinds of misery on his family isn’t going to be found in most school classroom collections. For this same reason, Ellen Hopkin’s novels like the Crank trilogy (2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults), that delve so deeply into angsty recesses, aren’t the sort of thing a teacher is just going to hand out in class; though thought provoking, I really don’t want Emily fired over my choices.
I went to a teen book review meeting and I must have been whining louder than normal about my need for books in verse because the next morning I had a booklist in my email. I compiled a list and had a books in verse reading marathon. Here are some of my favorites.
Beanball by Gene Fehler
Beanball is such a versatile novel you can’t help but enjoy the fast pace, the multiple narrators and painful position the main character Luke is put in when it seems his career in baseball might be over. I would love to hear this as an audio book because a real strength of the story is how the perspective changes from team mates, to parents, coaches and rival team members. The changing voices force the plot to careen back and forth giving me the same feeling I get when I watch a real baseball game. If you have the newer cover, which is bloody, don’t be scared. The story isn’t about being graphic. Beanball is a realistic depiction of how an accident can either be a tragedy that colors the rest of your list or just a moment in your life to learn from.
Stop Pretending : What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones (2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
What a scary and fast read! This is the true story of how author Sonya Sones uses poetry to talk about the recent institutionalization of her older sister, who is later diagnosed with a manic depressive disorder. The whole novel is told in individual poems that chronicle “Sister’s” downward spiral and the family’s slow redefinition of what it is to be normal. I especially enjoyed a scene in which the family plays Scrabble at the hospital and uses words ”queeb” and “hookibop” just to be silly. Sones’ perspective is at first cautiously optimistic but her end note reminds the reader to stay perceptive and weather the incoming challenge together.
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg (2010 Best Books for Young Adults)
Ok I admit I love historical fiction, I was so excited to read a book about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I was further enthralled with how gritty and alternately tender the story was. Burg uses the analogy of the interwoven nature of a baseball to explain how complex peoples’ emotions are, and the reader will need all their compassion to understand why everyone in this book is so angry. A refugee from Vietnam, Matt cannot escape from prejudice, nightmares and his family’s insistence that he talk to local veterans about his experiences in Vietnam. A particular challenge for Matt is a boy whose brother did not return from serving during the war in Vietnam. Rob torments Matt in school and on the baseball field under the blind eye of teachers and the coach. I found myself becoming frustrated along with a lot of characters. Watching each one grapple with their preconceived notions about the war made me want to yell at them throughout the novel. While I enjoyed this emotional connection, All the Broken Pieces is not a mushy, gushy story. Waiting for Matt, his schoolmates and his teammates to heal in their own time felt decidedly personal to me.
One of Those Hideous Novels Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
So much about this book is refreshing and fun, despite the dreary sounding title. Ruby is whisked away from her normal life in Boston to live with her estranged movie star father in California who has a mansion and more cars than she has ever seen. Does it sound like a dream? Isn’t Ruby thrilled to be rich, famous and enrolled in a posh private school? Not a chance. Ruby may have gained a seemingly fabulous lifestyle but she has lost her mother and the house she grew up in. Ruby now has to balance the loss of her boyfriend and her BFF with a father who is trying way too hard. Sones gives the reader lots of wonderful moments so we can see the frayed relationship between Ruby and her father begin to mend. Also check out What My Mother Doesn’t Know, a 2002 Best Books for Young Adults.
Far From You by Lisa Schroeder
Novels in verse are the perfect medium for emotional topics, none more so than the loss of a parent. Schroeder gives us the story of Alice who feels alone at home with a new step-mother, Victoria, who seems to be competing for her busy father’s attention. Even infant half sister, Ivy, who is heart-breakingly named after the beautiful painting Alice’s mom did in the nursery, gets between Alice and her father. After the passing of her birth mother to cancer, Alice writes only sad songs and slowly pushes away all her friends except her boyfriend Blaze. When a freak snow storm traps Alice with her new mom and sister, will her depression keep them all from surviving or will she find the faith make a change that could save them all? Alice’s struggle to find one last Life Saver candy under the car seat leads to a stunning realization that changes the whole ending. I love this new cover, the hint of an angelic visit is so tantalizing.
Older readers might also enjoy I Don’t Want to Be Crazy (2007 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers) by Samantha Schutz, a autobiographical work in verse about a woman’s struggle with a panic disorder. Or Schutz’s latest novel You Are Not Here (2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers), which follows the mourning process of Annaleah, whose secret love and its abrupt ending may be ruining her life.
Now that I’m on this verse novel kick, it’s all I want to read. So here are a few more titles to check into : On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass and I Heart You, You Haunt Me Lisa Schroeder (2009 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers). For more suggestions try Yalsa’s Poetry Format book list.
Laura Perenic – Currently reading Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (2011 Printz Honor Books)
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