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Recommended Poetry: Young Adult

block_how to uncage a girlBlock, Francesca Lia How to (Un)cage a Girl
119 pp. HarperCollins/Cotler 2008. ISBN 978-0-06-135836-4
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-135837-1

This three-part collection includes forty-five autobiographical poems. Part one details Block’s teenage years; part two follows her as an adult; part three contains “Love Poems for Girls.” Readers will welcome advice from someone who not only understands their pain but also comes out a survivor. Block’s poetry embraces the dark and the light: her heartfelt advice acknowledges both roses and thorns.
Subjects: Poetry; Emotions—Love; Identity; Adolescence

engle_enchanted airEngle, Margarita Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
195 pp. Atheneum 2015. ISBN 978-1-4814-3522-2
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3524-6

Emotionally rich memory poems begin with Margarita’s joyful childhood visits to Cuba, her mother’s homeland. At first, navigating two cultures is fairly seamless. But then there’s the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and suddenly all is different. Margarita struggles to find her American self in a country that views Cuba as the enemy. An intimate view of a complicated time and life. Timeline.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Authors; Women—Autobiographies; Autobiographies; Women—Biographies; Cuban Americans; Women—Authors; Women—Cuban Americans; Poetry

hemphill_your own sylviaHemphill, Stephanie Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath
260 pp. Knopf 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-83799-9
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-93799-6

In this fictionalized biography in verse, Hemphill channels the romantic version of Sylvia. The majority of the poems are putatively composed by the people who knew Plath; the remainder are identified as the author “Imagining Sylvia Plath.” Hemphill is metrically adept and possesses Plath’s eye for figurative language. Her verse, like Plath’s, is completely compelling: every word, every line, worth reading.
Subjects: Poetry; Plath, Sylvia; Women—Biographies; Poets; Women—Poets; Biographies; Authors; Women—Authors

hepperman_poisoned applesHeppermann, Christine Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
114 pp. Greenwillow 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-228957-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-228959-9

This collection comprises fifty poems on the devastating conjunction of girls’ vulnerability, the rapacious beauty industry, and fairy tales. Caustic, witty, sad, and angry, Heppermann articulates the false promises, seductions, and deathly morass of popular culture’s imagery of girls’ bodies. What makes Heppermann’s poetry exceptional, however, is not the messages it carries but the intense, expressive drive that fuels it.
Subjects: Poetry; Fairy tales; Body image; Adolescence

coaltown jesusKoertge, Ron Coaltown Jesus
122 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-6228-8

Fourteen-year-old Walker offers up a prayer (“my brother’s been dead / two whole months, and [Mom’s] still crying”), and Jesus answers it in person. Turns out He’s a pretty ordinary Joe with an irreverent sense of humor. Koertge’s verse novel — in third person with short lines, plain language, and abundant white space — is a good vehicle for meditations on life, loss, and faith.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Family—Siblings; Death; Family—Mother and son; Religion—Jesus Christ; Religion—Prayer; Poetry; Illinois; Emotions—Grief

lauer_please excuse this poemLauer, Brett Fletcher and Melnick, Lynn, selectors Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation
289 pp. Viking 2015. ISBN 978-0-670-01479-8

One hundred contemporary poems meander through topics and styles and, for the most part, ignore conventions of form. The best of these poems pack punches with raw handling of timely issues, such as Patricia Lockwood’s uncomfortably humorous “Rape Joke.” What will appeal to teens most about this anthology, and what holds it together, is its gritty, unapologetic sensibility. “About the poets” section appended.
Subjects: Poetry Collections

nelson_how i discovered poetryNelson, Marilyn How I Discovered Poetry
105 pp. Dial 2014. ISBN 978-0-8037-3304-6

Illustrated by Hadley Hooper. In fifty poems (some previously published) Nelson chronicles her formative years during the 1950s, from ages four to thirteen. Nelson’s father was a military officer, and as the family crisscrossed the country they encountered racism (both subtle and not-so-subtle types) but also loving kindness. A few family photos are included, rounded out by spare spot art that underscores the time period.
Subjects: Poetry; Writing; Poets; Women—Poets; Autobiographies; Women—Autobiographies

nye_time you let me inNye, Naomi Shihab, selector Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25
236 pp. Greenwillow 2010. ISBN 978-0-06-189637-8
Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-189638-5

In this exceptionally well-selected collection, the coming-of-age free verse poems speak poignantly on themes of love, family, heritage, trauma, and identity. With four pieces by every contributor, each section provides a glimpse of the poet’s style as illuminating as the brief bios included in the final pages. What makes these poems so satisfying is their urgency and unabashed courage.
Subjects: Poetry Collections

sidman_what the heart knowsSidman, Joyce What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, & Blessings
65 pp. Houghton 2013. ISBN 978-0-544-10616-1

Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Sidman and Zagarenski present “Chants & Charms,” “Spells & Invocations,” “Laments & Remembrances,” and “Praise Songs & Blessings” in a variety of poetic forms. Each poem speaks directly from Sidman’s heart to the reader’s, addressing subjects of deep importance: forgiveness, friendship, bravery, death, illness, moving. Zagarenski’s illustrations beautifully extend the poems with her dreamy style and deft use of white space, symbolism, and images.
Subjects: Poetry

soto_partly cloudy2Soto, Gary Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing
100 pp. Harcourt 2009. ISBN 978-0-15-206301-6

Soto presents seventy-seven original poems about teenage love. Divided into two sections, “A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs” and “A Boy’s Body, His Words,” the free-verse poems all ring true: appropriately corny, rich with image, accessible and believable. The simple, open design encourages browsing, and readers flipping through are bound to find the right words when they need them.
Subjects: Poetry; Emotions—Love

 

Added April 2017:

brown_to-stay-alive_170x256Brown, Skila To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party
292 pp. Candlewick 2016. ISBN 978-0-7636-7811-1

In this compelling verse novel, Brown imagines the Donner Party’s harrowing survival tale as experienced by nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves, a real-life member of the expedition. Effectively varying meter, rhythm, and form, the poems offer a vivid and gritty portrait of life on the trail, and, for Mary Ann, a liberating sense of possibility. A nuanced and haunting portrayal of the indomitable human spirit.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Sierra Nevada (CA and NV); History, American—Overland journeys to the Pacific; Death; Survival; History, American—Frontier and pioneer life; Donner Party; Poetry; West (U.S.); California; Family

crossan_oneCrossan, Sarah One
391 pp. Greenwillow 2015. ISBN 978-0-06-211875-2
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-211877-6

Previously home-schooled, family finances necessitate that conjoined twins Grace and Tippi now attend traditional high school. Pink-haired, HIV-positive Yasmeen and dreamy, tattooed Jon see Tippi and Grace as distinct individuals; the foursome’s relationships are earnest and tender, especially Grace and Jon’s. Crossan presents delicate situations with sensitivity and without sensationalism. Through her understated, evocative free-verse narration, Grace’s story will elicit plenty of tears.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Family; Schools—High schools; Family—Siblings; Family—Twins; Poetry; Friendship; Diseases—HIV; Conjoined twins

bull-david-elliott-smallElliott, David Bull
189 pp. Houghton

Elliott’s clever verse version of the classical story of the Minotaur unrolls in the voices of seven characters, each with his or her own poetic form (an appended author’s note details them), but it’s the god Poseidon who determines the tone — as instigator, manipulator, and despiser of humankind. Raplike wordplay, rhymes with coercive predictability, unpleasant intensity — it’s horribly effective.
Subjects: Theseus (Greek mythology); Mythology, Greek; Poetry; Poseidon (Greek deity); Minotaur (Greek mythology)

frank_two girls staring at the ceilingFrank, Lucy Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling
261 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2014. ISBN 978-0-307-97974-2
Library binding ISBN 978-0-307-97975-9
Ebook ISBN 978-0-307-97976-6

Narrator Francesca faces the emotional consequences of chronic illness in this poignant verse novel. Chess’s timid nature leaves her feeling frustrated and helpless, but her hospital roommate — fiery, sharp-tongued Shannon — empowers Chess to take charge of her health and treatment. Carefully rendered details characterize Chess and Shannon well beyond their shared diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. A sympathetic and illuminating story.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Poetry; Hospitals; Illness; Diseases—Crohn’s disease; Friendship

pinkney_red pencilPinkney, Andrea Davis The Red Pencil
324 pp. Little 2014. ISBN 978-0-316-24780-1
Ebook ISBN 978-1-316-24781-8

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. The first part of this vivid verse novel, set from September 2003 to March 2004, celebrates twelve-year-old Amira’s life on her family farm in Darfur, Sudan. After a violent attack by the Sudanese militia, Amira and her family become refugees. Pinkney uses onomatopoeia, rhythm, and prismatic imagery to describe Amira’s feelings. Evans’s spare illustrations provide valuable visual context and a much-needed sense of buoyancy. Glos.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Poetry; Blacks; Sudan; Refugees

From the April 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes Good Poetry?”

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Comments

  1. LOVED Poisoned Apples–an incredibly powerful read!

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