April is National Poetry Month
Which makes it a good time to check out the poetry section of the bookstore or library. You’ll find some favorite poets on many shelves—gifted wordsmiths like Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and Adrienne Rich—dogeared copies complete with marginalia. But some of the best poets aren’t shelved as poetry: they’re shelved as young adult fiction.
Verse novels are just as they sound: book-length works of fiction in poetic verse.
Sometimes the poetry is rhyming, and sometimes it is in free verse, or non-rhyming form. For those new to verse novels, books told in rhyming verse might seem intimidating. If you’re not already a fan of poetry or comfortable reading it, it can be daunting to read 300 pages of what seems like an extended page from your English textbook. And if you love how rhyming poetry has a melodic cadence to it, a free verse novel can sound like just sentences of an ordinary novel broken into random lines. But when a verse novel, whether rhyming or free verse, is hitting all the right notes, it’s both unputdownable and a truly unforgettable reading experience.
Many young adult verse novelists are becoming more widely known. Here are four outstanding YA verse novelists along with a recommendation for a great book to start with if you’re new to verse novels.
Perhaps the most widely-known verse novelist is Ellen Hopkins, whose Crank novel, the first in a series, was published in 2004, just as the contemporary young adult scene was kicking off. Hopkins is known for writing gritty and realistic novels that deal with heavy subjects like mental illness, drugs, and sexuality told in a style that definitely mimics how teens talk and think. Although her novels aren’t light reads, Hopkins tackles real issues and can help you feel less alone if you or someone you know is struggling. For your first Hopkins novel, start with Crank, a story about how drug addiction can forever alter your relationships with friends and family and how you can find your way out of it.
An outstanding novelist whose verse novels range from the humorous and lighthearted to the serious and somber, Sonya Sones writes novels like What My Mother Doesn’t Know that are beloved by many readers. With an amusing tone, What My Mother Doesn’t Know is told in protagonist Sophie’s cheeky and sassy voice as she falls in love and out of love and in love and out of love, over and over again. The difficulties of first crushes and a young woman’s emerging sexuality are explored in this novel.
Another verse novelist who looks at realistic themes like love and depression is Lisa Schroeder. Schroeder is a prolific novelist having written a dozen books, and her readers enjoy how her powerful, hypnotic verse pairs so well with heroines so real they could walk off the page. It’s hard to go wrong with a Schroeder novel, but many fans think Chasing Brooklyn is the epitome of what makes Schroeder so great: breathtaking romance, overcoming odds when they’re stacked against you, and the creative use of language and verse to make for an eye-opening way to experience language.
Although she is somewhat new to the scene, Melanie Crowder is making a name for herself in the young adult verse novel genre. One outstanding novel by Crowder is Audacity, which follows the life of historical suffragist and protester Clara Lemlich. Clara’s evolution from an obedient girl in Russia to her life in the United States fighting for equal rights is brought vividly to life with Crowder’s beautiful and moving verse. Verse novels can be relatively easy to read because they are often quick reads. Crowder, on the other hand, writes novels using language you want to linger over and savor.