Get Inspired: YA Novels with Characters Who Read or Write Poetry
In celebration of National Poetry Month, and because I am a poetry lover myself, I wanted to share some YA fiction titles in which a major character reads and/or writes poetry. If you are reading this blog entry, then you probably enjoy poetry too. And if you are like me – who has not kept the promise she made to herself some time ago to read a poem every day – you could do with some inspiration.
So take a look at the list below, pick out a couple novels to read and let the presence of poetry move you to read or write some verse yourself!
The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door by Karen Finneyfrock
Author Karen Finneyfrock is herself a poet. Celia, the protagonist of this novel, dreams of becoming one. She also dreams of revenge on classmate Sandy for what she did to Celia in eighth grade, an act which is not revealed until late in the novel. As Celia writes: “That’s the day the trouble started. / The trouble that nearly ruined my life. / The trouble that turned me Dark. / The trouble that begs me for revenge.” Rejected by her classmates, Celia finds comfort in writing poetry. She even turns her mom’s notes into haiku. An unexpected friendship with Drake, a boy who has just transferred to Celia’s high school, eventually opens Celia up to a new way of seeing the world and a more hopeful approach to life.
Paper Towns by John Green
Walt Whitman’s poem “Leaves of Grass” is very important to the two main characters of Green’s Paper Towns (2009 Teens’ Top Ten). High school senior Quentin has had an ongoing crush on his childhood friend Margo, even though she left him for a new set of friends years ago. When she unexpectedly invites him to join her on a wild one-night spree through their hometown of Orlando, Florida – the goal of which turns out to be to exact revenge on her unfaithful boyfriend — Quentin agrees. But after this night, Margo disappears. Quentin decides that he must find her. He believes that a copy of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” which Margo had earlier highlighted is a clue that she deliberately left for him as to her whereabouts.
The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
In this very recently published novel, Ethan and Luke attend Selwyn Arts Academy, at which most students are gifted in one or another form of art. When higher-ups decide to allow a reality TV show, a $100,000.00 arts scholarship competition, to film at the school, Luke is upset. Inspired by poet Ezra Pound’s Cantos, he decides to strike back. Luke writes a long poem in protest against what he sees as the negative influence of the TV show on their school. Luke, Ethan and their two closest friends secretly print and distribute the poem to their fellow students. However, the four friends learn that many things in life, the reality show’s presence at their school included, cannot be reduced simply to either right or wrong.
Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl
No list of poetry-related YA novels would be complete without at least one book which references the work of Emily Dickinson or in which she herself is a character. Nobody’s Secret, an engaging example of this trend, begins with a fictionalized young Emily striking up a friendship with a handsome stranger, only to quickly find him dead in her family’s pond. Exhibiting the mental sharpness and curiosity about small details which characterizes the real Dickinson’s poems, MacColl’s Dickinson decides to solve the mystery of this stranger’s death. Each chapter includes lines of Dickinson’s actual poems and MacColl also describes daily life in the mid-nineteenth century. This is a suspenseful and well-researched historical fiction/mystery novel which is an excellent way to introduce oneself to one of the most intriguing American poets.
Golden Boy by Abigail Tartellin
Max Walker, the protagonist of Golden Boy (2014 Alex Award), is intersex. According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, intersex is “a group of conditions where there is a discrepancy between the external genitals and the internal genitals (the testes and ovaries).” In the case of Max, he appears to be male in most outward physical aspects and thinks of himself as male. However, anatomically and physiologically he possesses both male and female organs. Max meets and falls for Sylvie, a non-conformist girl who attends his high school. Sylvie loves writing poetry, often doing so in the school’s computer room at lunch time or before classes. Writing poetry doesn’t always come easily to her, but she perseveres. I feel that Sylvie’s reflective nature, which likely plays a role in her desire to write poetry, also allows her to come to terms with Max’s anatomy and physiology and love him for who he is as a person.
- Anna Dalin, currently reading Marble Season by Gilbert Hernández