In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m highlighting YA books (and one adult one) that feature teen characters who are obsessed with poets and poetry. I know it’s not a very original idea, although it’s harder to do than come up with a list of YA books written in verse. Still, I’m happy to know that there are still teens today who adore certain poets and yearn to write their own stirring and meaningful poetry, as I did as a teen. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath are favorites with YA characters.
In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control. Goth girl Elizabeth Davis is struggling to control her anger before it destroys her. Her seemingly happy classmate Emily Delgado is struggling with depression. They are both in the same English class studying Emily Dickinson. Which one is driven to suicide? The powerful novel will keep readers guessing.
Eva, 16, still grieving over her father’s death two years previously in a plane crash, has taken solace in devouring romance novels (118 so far), much to her women’s studies professor mother’s dismay. Eva’s interest in writing poetry is reignited after she starts to tutor Will, a senior, and her long-time secret crush. As she helps him refine his college entrance essay and AP English class assignments, they bond over their mutual love of poetry and grief over losing a family member. When Will unexpectedly moves to CA, Eva and her super-intelligent best friend Annie find a way to travel across the country to visit him. Each section includes poetry by Eva’s favorite poets, including W. H. Auden, Nikki Giovanni, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Adrienne Rich, W. B. Yeats, Mary Oliver, and Marie Howe, as well as Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop.
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard (2014) 2015 Printz Honor winner
After her boyfriend kills himself in front of her after she ends their relationship because she’s pregnant and then is pressured to have an abortion, a traumatized Emily Beam transfers to a boarding school in Amherst, MA. Inspired by her namesake and favorite poet Emily Dickinson (whose poems appear throughout the novel) Emily writes her own heartfelt poetry about her relationship with her boyfriend, her suffering, and her journey toward healing.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2014) 2015 Morris Award winner
Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she copes with her friend Cindy’s pregnancy, friend Sebastian’s coming out, her father’s meth habit, her own cravings for food and cute boys, and especially the poetry she writes that helps her forge her identity. Some of the poets and poems she likes include “Loose Woman” by Sandra Cisneros, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”; Pablo Neruda’s “Tonight I Can Write”; and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”.