Angela’s genre this month for her reader’s advisory challenge is one of my favorites, even though it’s not technically a genre. It’s the verse novel. Like graphic novels — which we will talk about later this year — verse novels are a format. They’re also a style of telling a story. Rather than making use of traditional prose, verse novels are narrative poetry. There’s not one specific means or style of writing the verse either; it can range from free verse (with no guidelines for construction of words) to verse written in a strict style with specific stanza limitations. Sometimes, the verse rhymes but most of the time it does not.
Verse novels can take on a very visual aspect to them, depending upon the author and how he or she chooses to build and construct the verse. Anyone who has opened one of Ellen Hopkins’s novels, for example, can see she purposefully builds her verse to have a visual layer on top of the language itself (Identical is a strong example of how she does this).
Since novels written in verse are constructed with a format and style in mind, rather than a genre, they can range from contemporary stories to historical, and they can include mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, and more. Non-fiction can be written in verse, as well, and Margarita Engle is one author who has published a number of YA non-fiction books in verse.
Despite being written in poetry, verse novels can be quite appealing to more reluctant readers because they’re less intimidating to look at visually and because — for the most part — they read fairly quickly. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the format is one which has wide appeal across a spectrum of readers.
Below are recent — and not-so-recent — YA novels in verse. These showcase the range of voices and genres where readers may experience the verse format. All descriptions are from WorldCat, and this list is not exhaustive, so we welcome your comments with additional titles, particularly books which might be coming out later this year. I’ve included just a single title per author, but I have noted where the author has additional verse titles.
Karma by Cathy Ostlere: In 1984, following her mother’s suicide, 15-year-old Maya and her Sikh father travel to New Delhi from Canada to place her mother’s ashes in their final resting place. On the night of their arrival, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated, Maya and her father are separated when the city erupts in chaos, and Maya must rely on Sandeep, a boy she has just met, for survival.
Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge: Fourteen-year-old Kevin Boland, poet and first baseman, is torn between his cute girlfriend Mira and Amy, who is funny, plays Chopin on the piano, and is also a poet. Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is the first book in this two-book series, and it’s also written in verse (and you don’t have to read them both to get the story).
The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder: Sixteen-year-old Amber, hoping to spend one perfect day alone at the beach before her world is turned upside down, meets and feels a strong connection to Cade, who is looking for his own escape, for a very different reason. As of this writing, Schroeder has written all of the rest of her titles in verse, as well, except for Falling For You.
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff: In order to earn money for college, fourteen-year-old LaVaughn babysits for a teenage mother. This is the first book in a trilogy.
Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell: In fifth-century Britain, nine years after the destruction of their home on the island of Shalott brings her to live with her father and brothers in the military encampments of Arthur’s army, seventeen-year-old Elaine describes her changing perceptions of war and the people around her as she becomes increasingly involved in the bitter struggle against the invading Saxons.
The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf: Recreates the 1912 sinking of the Titanic as observed by millionaire John Jacob Astor, a beautiful young Lebanese refugee finding first love, “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, Captain Smith, and others including the iceberg itself.
The Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith: Novel in poetry about a girl navigating the unknown, the difficult limbo between youth and adulthood. A novel written in verse follows Penny Morrow in her transition from middle school to high school as her father remarries, she acquires a new stepbrother, and she experiences her first dance, first kiss, and other hazards of growing up. Smith’s recent novel, Tricks, features the voice of a character written in verse, as well.
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins: Five troubled teenagers fall into prostitution as they search for freedom, safety, community, family, and love. As of this writing, all of Hopkins’s books are written in verse.
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones: Fourteen-year-old Robin Murphy is so unpopular at high school that his name is slang for “loser,” and so when he begins dating the beautiful and popular Sophie her reputation plummets, but he finds acceptance as a student in a drawing class at Harvard. This is the first book in a series of two, the second titled What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. Sones also wrote One of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies, which is also written in verse. Later in 2013, Sonya Sones will release a new novel-in-verse titled To Be Perfectly Honest.
All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg: Two years after being airlifted out of Vietnam in 1975, Matt Pin is haunted by the terrible secret he left behind and, now, in a loving adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events forces him to confront his past.
Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas: The youngest of three siblings, fourteen-year-old Anke feels both relieved and neglected that her father abuses her brother and sister but ignores her, but when she catches him with one of her friends, she finally becomes angry enough to take action. Displacement, Chaltas’s other novel, is also written in verse.
Sold by Patricia McCormick: Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi leaves her poor mountain home in Nepal thinking that she is to work in the city as a maid only to find that she has been sold into the sex slave trade in India and that there is no hope of escape.
Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay: When her father starts dating a man, fifteen-year-old Marcie’s depressed mother takes her to New Hampshire but just as Marcie starts falling for a great guy her father brings her back to Iowa, where all of her relationships have become strained.
Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill: A fictionalized account, told in verse, of the Salem witch trials, told from the perspective of three of the real young women living in Salem in 1692–Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott, and Ann Putnam, Jr. Hemphill’s prior titles, Your Own, Sylvia and Things Left Unsaid are also written in verse, as is her more recent title, Sisters of Glass.
Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block: A young woman, Psyche, searches for her lost love and questions her true self in a modern retelling of Greek myths.
Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams: Living with their mother who earns money as a prostitute, two sisters take care of each other and when the older one attempts suicide, the younger one tries to uncover the reason. Williams’s Waiting is also written in verse.
Hidden by Helen Frost: When fourteen-year-olds Wren and Darra meet at a Michigan summer camp, both are overwhelmed by memories from six years earlier when Darra’s father stole a car, unaware that Wren was hiding in the back. Frost’s other books, including Crossing Stones, The Braid, and Diamond Willow are written in verse.
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards: Sixteen-year-old Celestia spends every summer with her family at a resort at Lake Conemaugh, an Allegheny Mountain reservoir held in place by a 70-foot dam. Tired of the society crowd, Celestia much prefers to swim and fish with Peter, the hotel’s hired boy. It’s a friendship she must keep secret from her parents, and when companionship turns to romance, it’s a love that could get Celestia disowned. These affairs of the heart become all the more wrenching on a single, tragic day in May of 1889.
Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe: When sixteen-year-old Sara, from a small Vermont town, wins a scholarship to study ballet in New Jersey, her ambivalence about her future increases even as her dancing improves.
Exposed by Kimberly Marcus: High school senior Liz, a gifted photographer, can no longer see things clearly after her best friend accuses Liz’s older brother of a terrible crime.
Family by Micol Ostow: In the 1960s, seventeen-year-old Melinda leaves an abusive home for San Francisco, meets the charismatic Henry, and follows him to his desert commune where sex and drugs are free, but soon his “family” becomes violent against rich and powerful people and she is compelled to join in. Told in episodic verse, this is a fictionalized exploration of cult dynamics, loosely based on the Manson Family murders of 1969.
After the Kiss by Tera Elan McVoy: In alternating chapters, two high school senior girls in Atlanta reveal their thoughts and frustrations as they go through their final semester of high school.
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham: After a shark attack causes the amputation of her right arm, fifteen-year-old Jane, an aspiring artist, struggles to come to terms with her loss and the changes it imposes on her day-to-day life and her plans for the future. Bingham wrote a companion novel to this one, titled Formerly Shark Girl.
You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz: Annaleah’s grief over the tragic death of seventeen-year-old Brian is compounded by the fact that her friends did not like him, while his friends and both of their families knew nothing of their intimate relationship.
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford: Jazz vocalist Billie Holiday looks back on her early years in this fictional memoir written in verse.
My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt: 16-year-old Angel struggles to free herself from the trap of prostitution in which she is caught.
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: Throughout her high school years, as her mother battles cancer, Lupita takes on more responsibility for her house and seven younger siblings, while finding refuge in acting and writing poetry. Includes glossary of Spanish terms.
Want some more reading about verse novels? Then check out the following:
- Lisa Schroeder has written about why it is she writes in verse.
- Last month, at Horn Book, there was a spotlight on notable children’s books written in verse in the past year (it includes younger than YA titles, as well as YA titles).
- The bloggers over at Clear Eyes, Full Shelves have done an entire week-long series honoring the verse novel, including book lists, reviews, and guest posts.
- Also, keep the blog and web resource Verse Novels on your radar. We’re taking part today in their year-long Thursday feature that aims to have verse novels highlighted throughout the blogging world.