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Booklist: Verse Novels

There are those that like poems. There are those that like novels. Why not combine the best of both worlds and read a verse novel - one cohesive story that is told in poetic form? Here are some of my favorite verse novels as well as novels that have poetry portions.

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer - G - ****
Reaching for Sun celebrates the growth of a young girl who flourishes over the course of a year, just like the flowers in her family's garden. As things change with the seasons, so does she, thanks in part to an unexpected new friend, her motivated mother, and her inspirational grandmother.
Read my full-length review of the book.
Read my interview with the author.

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham - G - ****
What began as a typical day at the beach with her family ended in tragedy. Jane loses her arm to a shark and her life changes forever.
Read my full-length review of the book.
Read my interview with the author.
Read one of my favorite passages from the book.

Margaux with an X by Ron Koertge - PG - ****
Surprising, shocking, refreshing, realistic, this book really left an impression on me. Read it. Margaux is intelligent, so her thoughts and dialogue - the poems - are peppered with multisyllabic words. Readers will root for Margaux. I know I did.

Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas - PG - ****
Anke's father verbally (and otherwise) abuses her mother, older brother, and older sister - but not her. Instead, he simply ignores her, as if she were a piece of furniture. Anke enters high school and finds herself (in more ways that one) on the volleyball court. Highly recommended.
Read my interview with the author.

Things Left Unsaid by Stephanie Hemphill - PG - ****
Told in first-person poetry, Things Left Unsaid chronicles a school year for Sarah, who is suddenly feeling itchy in her own skin. She finds herself being critical with her own friends and family members, and although they are there for her, she needs something else. Just what that something is, she doesn't know, not yet.
Read my full-length review of the book.

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill - PG - ****
This book blends poetry, biography, fiction, and footnotes to describe the life of Sylvia Plath. Really outstanding work here. Highly recommended for adults and teens.

Family by Micol Ostow - PG-13 - ****
Out of the frying pan, into the fire: Shortly after troubled seventeen-year-old Melinda (Mel) packs a bag and finally gets away from her mother and horrible "Uncle" Jack, she is found by a charismatic man named Henry and welcomed into his "family." Henry's followers, who live with him at a run-down ranch, will do anything for him. Anything. When Henry's revolution becomes violent, Mel must decide how far she'll go to remain a member of her new family. Though the author was inspired by the Manson murders, this verse novel is a work of fiction.

One of Those Horrible Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones - PG - ****
Not just good, but great. Really. If you haven't read it yet, please do. It won't take you that long to read, and you'll laugh and cheer as you read it. As with her second book (see below), people seem to make assumptions based on the title and I have to convince them to read it, saying, "It's not what you expect." After a teenager's mom passes away, she has to pick up and move across the country to Southern California to live with her father, a famous actor that she has seen on the screen more often than she has seen him in person.
This title is also on my But I Don't Want to Be Famous! booklist.

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown - G - ****
Rachel's mother decides to run away. At least, that's how Rachel feels as she watches her mother pack up the car and drive away to parts unknown. After the dust settles, Rachel takes ownership of Madison, her mother's dog, stops doing her schoolwork, and has trouble talking to her father. This story tactfully and truthfully discusses desertion and bipolar disorder as one young girl learns the truth about her mother. In losing her mother, Rachel is able connect with her father as she never has before. Readers will find hope and heart in these pages.

Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans - G - ****
Father, mother, sister, brother. A happy family - until the youngest, the boy, is diagnosed with cancer. Told from the point of view of the teenaged daughter, this story is written simply and shared gently. Read it alongside Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick and With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin.

Loose Threads by Lorie Ann Grover - PG - ****
Four generations of women live under one roof, with the youngest, Kay, being a seventh-grader. When her grandmother is diagnosed with breast cancer, she begins to see the threads of her household unravel. Each woman reacts to the situation in a different way. A sadly beautiful story about mothers and daughters, inspired by the author's real relatives.
Read my interview with the author.

On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover - PG - ****
A hopeful ballerina named Claire discovers that she may be considered too tall to pursue her dream. This book has hope, grief, eating disorders, and family matters. I recommend it to fans of A Dance of Sisters by Tracey Porter and The Sisters Impossible by J.D. Landis.
Read my interview with the author.

Hold Me Tight by Lorie Ann Grover - PG-13 - ****
This story has some hard-hitting subjects - divorce, secrets, abuse - but proves that a book with heavy subject matter doesn't have to weigh readers down. Recommended.
Read my interview with the author.

Brushing Mom's Hair by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Nicole Wong - G - ****
Ann's mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her recovery from surgery and her chemo treatments are told from her youngest daughter's point of view. Ann, a ballerina, wishes the barré were always there so she could dance her worries away. This wonderfully heartfelt story was inspired by the author's daughter and how she reacted when her mother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The text is aided with lovely black-and-white illustrations by Nicole Wong. I will definitely be seeking out more books from both Andrea Cheng and Nicole Wong.
Read my full-length book review.

Eva of the Farm by Dia Calhoun - G - ****
When she learns they could potentially lose the farm that has been in her family for generations, a 12-year-old girl channels her emotions into her poems. A reaction to change, and a beautiful testament to family, Washington State, creativity, and hope.
Read my full-length book review.
Also pick up the companion novel, After the River the Sun - See below!

After the River the Sun by Dia Calhoun - G - ****
Four months after losing both parents in a river rafting accident, a 12-year-old boy goes to live with an uncle he's never known. This book explores his survivor's guilt as well as his attempt to adjust to country life.
Read my full-length book review.
This is a companion story to Eva of the Farm - See above!

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell - G - ****
A retelling of The Lady of Shalott gives Elaine of Astolat a powerful voice. Highly recommended.
Read one of my favorite passages from the novel.
Read my interview with the author.

The Weight of the Sky by Lisa Ann Sandell - G - ***
A high school junior goes to a kibbutz in Israel for the summer.
Read my favorite passage from the novel.
Read my interview with the author.

Lisa Schroeder has written multiple YA novels in verse, including I Heart You, You Haunt Me, Far From You, and Chasing Brooklyn. Her YA novel The Bridge from Me to You is a mix of verse and prose.

42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer - G - ***
JoEllen's parents are divorced. With only 42 miles between their houses, she goes back and forth between them pretty often. Weekends are spent with in the country her dad, who calls her Joey, but on weekdays, she's Ellen, living in the city with her mom. Great pick for reluctant readers, shy poets, and kids of divorced parents. A very quick read with bonus illustrations.
Read my interview with the author.

Nothing by Robin Friedman - PG - ***
This novel uses a dual narrative: Parker relates his thoughts in straightforward prose while his younger sister Danielle uses verse. Danielle wishes she got a fraction of the attention Parker gets from their family and friends, not knowing that Parker, translating that attention as pressure, has started secretly binging and purging.
Read my full-length review.
Read my interview with the author.

Orchards by Holly Thompson - PG - ****
The summer following eighth grade, Kana Goldberg stays with relatives in Japan, far away from her American hometown, where her classmate committed suicide. This book offers a nice blend of introspection and connection with others as Kana attempts to bond with her extended family while dealing with feelings of guilt and remorse. She wonders if she and her friends played a role in Ruth's suicide. Coming to terms with tragedy is never easy, and while the sensitive subject matter is handled well here, the author is not afraid to add something that even I didn't see coming, a sting alongside the soothing. Recommended.

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson - G - ****
Emma has lived in Japan nearly her entire life. When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, the family moves back to Massachusetts, to Emma's grandmother's home. Her new classmates immediately think Emma is American because she's Caucasian and speaks English, but Emma misses Japan something terrible. While awaiting her mother's surgery and test results, Emma volunteers at a long-term care center, working one-on-one with a woman who has locked-in syndrome as the result of a stroke. The two women bond over a love of poetry. Emma also befriends another volunteer, a boy who goes to her school. This book explores cultural identity, details different forms of communication, and tests the strength of relationships between relatives and friends, both at home and across the ocean. Recommended.
Read my full-length review of the book.

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass - PG - ***
Imagine coming upon a bag of forgotten things, then reliving memories for each and every item you touch. After being beaned on the head during a game of dodgeball, high school junior Tessa finds herself in heaven - or the local mall - or both. She remembers being hit and falling down, but she's not quite sure if she's dead or just dreaming.
Read my full-length review of the book within my Author Spotlight on Wendy Mass.

Jinx by Margaret Wild - R - ***
This is a story of love, loss, and labelling. Boyfriend #1 commits suicide. Girl struggles to deal. Girl moves on. Boyfriend #2 passes away. Girl earns a new nickname: Jinx.

Dead on Town Line by Leslie Connor - PG-13 - ***
A murdered girl tells her story to readers from beyond the grave. For fans of The Lovely Bones. In fact, I recommend this book instead of The Lovely Bones.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate - G - ***
This modern-day verse novel discusses immigration, loss, grief, extended families, foster homes, and more as a young boy attempts to learn new customs, a new language, and new way of life in America with his aunt and cousin after tragedy befalls his family in Africa. A good, solid story.

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan - PG-13 - ***
The author channels 12 different characters in this book, all attending the same high school, each telling his or her own experience with classmates, teachers, and family members in a distinct voice.
Read one of my favorite passages.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone - PG-13/R - ***
Three girls who have dated the same boy tell their stories to the readers.
Read my full-length review of the book.
Read my interview with the author.

Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant - PG - ***
Georgia's artist mother passed away when she was 7. Now 13 and an artist herself, Georgia begins to write to her mother in a journal provided by the school counselor. This book is very sweet, and it made me smile. Now I'll let Georgia sum up the plot in this excerpt from page 73:

I wanted to let her know
that sometimes living with Daddy's sadness,
and a hyper hunting dog,
and the ghost of my mother,
and a super-athletic best friend
was just too much.

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank - PG/PG-13 - ***
Hospitalized and diagnosed with Crohn's disease, Francesca ("Chess") strikes up conversations with one of her roommates. Blunt and brash, Shannon is a few years older than Francesca. Note: This book is only rated PG-13 due to Shannon's colorful language. The book is narrated by Chess. Read a passage from the book.

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus - PG-13 - ***
A high school girl - a budding photographer who is more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it - is torn between two of the most important people in her life when her forever-best friend accuses her older brother of an unconscionable act.

Girl Coming in for a Landing by April Halprin Wayland, with illustrations by Elaine Clayton - PG - ***
An extremely fast read about a teenager who expresses her thoughts about her life, her parents, and her sister in poems and art. I really liked Clayton's artwork, which includes sketches, clip art, photos, and collages.

The Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith - PG - ***
This follows one girl's experiences from age 14 to 17, able to capture her entire high school career in one slim volume. My favorite line appears on Page 123:
In the end, I'm just a girl on a sleeping bag in the middle of nowhere, at the starting line of every mistake she'll ever make.

Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell - G - ***
Evan, a high school senior, is bullied and teased by some of his classmates after he asks the school board to remove his school's mascot, which he feels dishonors his Native American heritage. Month after month, Evan continues to make his case to the board. Readers learn that his older brother, now at college, also tried to have the mascot removed. This powerful, succinct story follows Evan from the beginning of his senior year until graduation day.

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell - G - ***
After the death of their mother, two Mohawk sisters, Mattie and Sarah, are sent away from their reservation to a school in upstate New York. The narration alternates between the two girls with every other chapter.
Read my full-length review of the book.

What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer - PG - ***
A mix of journal entries and poems written by a young girl. After her father lost his job, he became a different person. In the two years that followed the layoff, the family struggled to get by and her father became more and more depressed. When he leaves, it only makes things worse.

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones - G - ***
What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones - G - ***
Cute, likable novels. Kids pick them up because of the titles and the covers. Though the first book implies parental issues, it's more focused on the lead character's first crush. Teachers and parents seem surprised to find out how innocuous the book is - again, I think, adults make assumptions due to the title, but I assure them that it's really harmless.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle - G - ***
Cuba's three wars for independence raged on as Rosa la Bayamesa, a nurse, tended to the sick and the injured. Using medicine made from plants, she helped the fallen soldiers, the children, even those who fought for the other side. This verse novel is based on actual events and people, and it follows Rosa's life from 1850 to 1899. Even when they were pursued by her enemies, Rosa and her husband Jose never stopped helping others. Jose and a few other supporting characters, such as a little girl named Silvia, step in from time to time to share a poem, but Rosa is the driving force behind the story. We could all learn something from her selflessness and determination.

The Fruit Bowl Project by Sarah Durkee - PG - ***
What happens when a teacher and a famous rock star give a class of middle schoolers a writing prompt - but assign each student a different writing style? This hilarious and self-aware story has two portions: the initial setup, which is written in prose, and then the variations on the project, which are written in every way imaginable. There's a screenplay. A limerick. A newspaper article. A transcript. The point of view of an insider, an outsider, a popular girl, a gossip hound. Different styles, different kids. This book completely lives up to its premise. I encourage teachers and students to read and discuss this book in their classroom, then create their own Fruit Bowl Project.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost - G - ***
Willow loves her dogs, who happily mush with her through the snow in her Alaskan hometown. After something that was supposed to be fun leads to an accident, Willow must deal with the consequences of her actions. This verse novel is dominated by diamond-shaped poems written from Willow's point of view, with the occasional piece of prose from some surprising and wise older narrators.

The Braid by Helen Frost - G - ***
Like Sweetgrass Basket, The Braid is narrated by two sisters, Sarah and Jeannie. This story takes place in the year 1850 and follows the girls' lives after they are separated.

17 by Liz Rosenberg - PG - **
A lot of issues are addressed as Stephanie reaches out to - and pushes away from - her loved ones. Your level of interest in it will depend on your tolerance of melodrama. Put it to you this way: if you like Degrassi the Next Generation, you'll probably like this; if you don't, you probably won't.

Split Image by Mel Glenn - PG - **
Ever wonder what everyone thought about you? This book collects the thoughts of Laura's classmates, teachers, and faculty members. Some love her, others loathe her. Laura struggles with how others perceive her. You as the reader are privy to everyone's honest opinions of her; had Laura herself know what they truly thought, things may have gone differently for her. Note: I recommend Leap Day by Wendy Mass to people who like this book. Though Leap Day is not a verse novel, it has a fantastically innovative way to tell the story: the A part of the chapter is in first person from the protagonist's point of view, while the B part retells that part of the story from someone else's perspective.

Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones - PG - **
Sones' first novel is semi-autobiographical. What happens when your big sister goes "crazy?" Told from the younger sister's point of view and based on her family's experiences, this novel is for those who like A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry and/or want something like Cut by Patricia McCormack or Checkers by John Marsden for someone who is not quite old or mature enough to read either of those titles.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech - G - **
Out of all of the titles here, this book is intended for the youngest audience, say ages 8 and up. It is also the most poetry-oriented story on the list. By that, I mean that it actually is about poetry, and it is supposed to be a student's collection of poems, rather than a story that just happens to be expressed in that format. Jack is an elementary school student who doesn't want to write poetry, but he has to for class.

Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers - G - ***
This is actually an epistolary novel, with the majority of the story is conveyed in letters and emails. However, one of the characters, Ruth, occasionally shares one of her poems, which she posts on tumblr - but, as of this posting, it is not an active account in real life. This book's premise is like Freaky Friday plus adoption: Two girls connect after one of them finds the other via an online photo site and is surprised to see someone who looks an awful lot like her. Could they be twins? The finder has always known she was adopted, but neither girl ever suspected they had any siblings, let alone an identical twin.

Which of these books have you read and enjoyed? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Tags: booklists, books, readergirlz, reviews

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