National Poetry Month - 7 Gorgeous YA Novels In Verse
April is National Poetry Month, and if you’re one of those people who thinks that poetry isn’t for them, why not try out something a bit different and read a novel written in verse? The advantage here is that, obviously, there is more of a story to follow, which can make the poetry more engaging, or easier to follow. There are so many great verse novels, it is hard to know where to start, so I picked out seven brilliant YA offerings to get you started.
1. The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is a novel about finding your voice, and for main character Xiomara Batista, the way to do that is through poetry. She keeps a notebook under her bed, full of words that she can’t say – especially to her mother. But then Xiomara is invited to join the slam poetry club at school, and has to decide if she’s going to stay silent or not.
Elizabeth Acevedo was a poet before she wrote novels, and you can really tell that she has that pedigree behind her when you read this book.
2. The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
Dean Atta is another accomplished poet who turned his hand to a YA novel, and the result was the witty, touching and powerful The Black Flamingo.
It is the story of Michael, a black, gay teen, who discovers the Drag Society at university and finds himself on the stage, finally free to be precisely who he was always meant to be. Atta explores and celebrates blackness and queerness, with verse that feels like a light touch but also manages to get down deep into the meaning of those two things – and much more besides.
3. The Weight Of Water – Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan has a selection of verse novels, all of which could have been on this list. One is particularly good. But my favourite is The Weight Of Water, the story of teenage girl – Kasienka – and her mum who come to the UK from Poland in search of Kasienka’s dad.
The Weight Of Water tackles the sense of isolation that many young immigrants suffer from; Kasienka struggles to fit in at school, or make any new friends. The verse is unsentimental and gorgeous; one entry, named Resurrection, is breath-taking in the simplicity.
4. Three Things I Know Are True – Betty Culley
Betty Culley’s debut novel, Three Things I Know Are True, was only published last year, but has had well-deserved praise heaped all over it ever since then. It is far from an easy read, but that only makes the verse more beautiful and poignant.
Fifteen-year-old Liv’s life is turned upside down after her older brother Jonah shoots himself with a gun he didn’t know was loaded. Jonah lives, but needs round the clock care, and Liv feels as though she is the only one who can see her brother is still there. This is a book about small joys, and making something of the life unexpected.
5. Make Lemonade – Virginia Euwer Wolff
Make Lemonade is a bit of a classic in terms of YA verse novels; published in 1993, it is just as powerful a read as it was almost thirty years ago. And the good news is, if you like this one, there are two sequels to enjoy as well.
Wolff’s verse feels more stream-of-conscious than a lot of the other entries on this list, with main character LaVaughn skipping easily from thought to thought. The story, centred around LaVaughn’s friendship with Jolly, a young teenage mother, and Jolly’s children, is something that really benefits from the loose and chaotic nature of the thoughts in verse.
6. The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy – Marie Jaskulka
If you’d like a little bit of romance in your YA verse novel, then The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy is here for you – although you should be warned that it isn’t a straightforward love story.
Forgotten Girl is having a rough time at home, with her parents breaking up and her mum suffering from very bad depression. Random Boy’s life is tough too, and the two of them come together to share their stories with one another through their poetry. I adored the idea of opening a notebook of secret words being like ‘unbuttoning your skin’ to let someone inside; anyone who has ever written knows how true that is.
7. Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down is only comparable to Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in terms of how hard hitting a story it tells, centred around gun violence in the USA.
Long Way Down is Will’s story; his older brother Shawn is shot and killed, and the whole story takes place in the space of one elevator journey as Will is about to exact his revenge. The space on the page is used so brilliantly in this novel; the words jump around the page, some pages have hardly any words on them at all, and the visual impact of that makes the novel all the more compelling.
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