A variety of verse (novels)

April is National Poetry Month. These seven distinct novels in verse showcase a wide selection of poetry forms, narrative formats, and genres available to middle-school and high-school readers to meet their interests; see also the Guide/Reviews Database subject tag Poetry and read our five questions interview with Joseph Bruchac about his poetry book Voices of the People, illustrated by various artists.

Iveliz Explains It All
by Andrea Beatriz Arango
Middle School    Random    272 pp.
9/22    9780593563977    $16.99
Library ed.  9780593563984    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780593563991    $9.99

“I’m tired of being that girl / who’s different / who’s special / who went through a ‘hard time’ / and basically messed up her home.” Seventh grader Iveliz writes in her new journal about her goals: trying to stay out of trouble at school; making a new friend; and acclimating to living with her abuelita, Mimi, who, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, has moved from Puerto Rico to be with Iveliz’s family. In spite of her efforts, Iveliz still struggles: her mom keeps getting called to the principal’s office; a makeover date with a new friend turns complicated; and her idea to grow a garden with Mimi doesn’t go as planned (gandules don’t grow well in Maryland). She is not sure how to get her life under control, or whether Dr. Turnip and Dr. Carrot, her garden-vegetable “therapists,” can actually help. Iveliz’s voice is relatable and strong. Her spare journal entries are in English with a fair amount of Spanish naturally integrated into her musings to create an authentic depiction of a Puerto Rican family and a young girl’s personal issues. This verse novel (with occasional interspersed art by Alyssa Bermudez) deals convincingly with grief, mental health, and middle-school bullies; twelve-year-old Iveliz’s first-person account amplifies the need for finding one’s voice and asking for help at any age. An author’s note lists mental health resources for young people. ALICIA K. LONG

They Call Her Fregona: A Border Kid’s Poems
by David Bowles
Middle School    Kokila/Penguin    256 pp.
9/22    9780593462577    $17.99
Spanish ed.  9781644735770    $12.95

The Rio Grande’s gifted young poet Güero (They Call Me Güero, rev. 11/18) continues to render the stark beauty of the Southwest border landscapes and the pain experienced by loved ones in this evocative sequel. This time, the narrative centers on the deportation of Güero’s middle-school sweetheart Joanna’s (a.k.a. Fregona’s) father, Don Adán, and la Fregona’s impossible courage que no se raja to protect her family. Güero’s poetry bears witness to the community’s grief, anger, and activism inspired by the determination to reunify Joanna’s family. Readers also see the more tender moments, which lend insight into the emotional landscape of Güero’s young love for Joanna as it grows in maturity. Throughout, Bowles develops the plot using multiple poetic forms — sijo, linked sestains, sonnets, sedōka, rubaiyat quatrains. He also includes Chicano caló — a linguistic form and argot of Chicanx and Mexican Southwestern people — by incorporating Güero’s and his friend Bobby Lee’s Korean/Spanish slang. Güero embraces this mix of tradition and contemporary youth culture by, for example, dedicating his band’s rendition of the classic Norteño corrido “El Palomito” to Don Adán, who like la palomita is apart from those who yearn for his return. A glossary of terms is appended. LETTYCIA TERRONES

Rain Rising
by Courtne Comrie
Middle School, High School    Harper/HarperCollins    336 pp.
9/22    9780063159730    $16.99
e-book ed.  9780063159747    $8.99

Plagued by body-image concerns and a lack of self-worth for as long as she can remember, Rain Washington can’t seem to escape her sadness. Every day is a struggle to wake up and head to middle school — alone, since her best friend has moved out of their neighborhood (and in some ways, their friendship). Rain’s few moments of happiness are thanks to her older brother, Xander. Cool, kind, intelligent, and loved by all, Xander is everything Rain wishes to be. With an absentee father and overworked mother, Rain feels that Xander is the only one who truly cares about her. When Xander is beaten by white fraternity members while on a college trip with his elite prep school, Rain’s entire world is shattered. As she tries to maneuver through the press coverage, hospital visits, and her mother’s and brother’s changed behaviors, the chaotic aftermath causes Rain to spiral into self-destructive patterns. It takes support from an observant teacher and an afterschool group led by the school counselor to equip her with coping mechanisms to help heal and learn she’s not as alone as she’d thought. This first-person novel in verse offers a powerfully intimate look at subjects such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm. In a heartfelt author’s note, Comrie encourages readers to come to the same revelation Rain does: “Feelings really do matter. And no matter what, you are so loved.” EBONI NJOKU

Ode to a Nobody
by Caroline Brooks DuBois
Middle School    Holiday    304 pp.
12/22    9780823451562    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780823454044    $11.99

In this verse novel, eighth grader Quinn is dealing with a lot of tension and change: her parents are constantly fighting, her best friend is drifting away, and her own sense of self is shifting. Then a tornado hits her neighborhood; her day-to-day life is disrupted, and fissures in her closest relationships are cracked wide open. The story unfolds in three parts: “The Before,” “During and Immediately After,” and “The After.” Throughout her honest first-person narration, Quinn takes refuge in writing and, with a sympathetic teacher’s encouragement, slowly begins to see herself as a poet. School assignments introduce her to a variety of forms, such as acrostic, cinquain, diamante, and found poems. Eventually she shares her own evocative free verse: “I’m going to keep / write-thinking / on who / I mean / to be”; “Choose a path — and do what it takes / to walk it, even when it hurts.” DuBois moves back and forth between adolescent angst in a conversational voice and insightful reflection full of metaphor and personification in this thought-provoking novel. SYLVIA VARDELL

Mirror to Mirror
by Rajani LaRocca
Middle School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    352 pp.
3/23    9780063047471    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063047488    $10.99

In this novel in verse, Maya and Chaya are identical seventh-grade twin sisters. Maya is hard on herself, always demanding perfection, while Chaya, chatty and impulsive, is “the goofball.” Both have a passion for music, are advanced in classical piano, love their summer music camp, and have serious “twin telepathy.” While these twins may seem like mirror images of each other, there are cracks in the surface: Maya experiences severe anxiety and believes that, because she broke a mirror, she’s at fault when bad things happen, while Chaya feels unseen in her more accomplished sister’s shadow. When Chaya decides that Maya’s anxiety is due to sibling competition, she quits all the activities they did together, causing a rift between the once-inseparable duo. LaRocca (Red, White, and Whole, rev. 5/21) explores the irony in the fact that, in trying to help and support the ones we love, we may actually hurt them. The book alternates emotionally intense, earnest poems between the two sisters’ perspectives. The poems have many memorable lines and engage with sophisticated formal elements such as thoughtful line breaks, italics, white space, and concrete poetry. A shocking twist ending reveals the lengths to which the twins will go to preserve their unique bond. While all eventually ends well, this nuanced novel explores complex aspects of family and sibling dynamics and will give readers much to ponder. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

We Are All So Good at Smiling
by Amber McBride
High School    Feiwel    304 pp.
1/23    9781250780386    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781250780393    $10.99

This ambitious novel in verse uses magical realism and fairy-tale elements to explore clinical depression and highlight the various stages of grief. Whimsy is back at the hospital again, where she has been forced to go numerous times since she was diagnosed with clinical depression. She recognizes the sadness and grief she feels, and she knows numerous coping mechanisms to manage her feelings, but she still struggles daily with her (gradually revealed) trauma. Although she is used to the hospital routine, this visit is different because she meets Faerry, a boy who knows sorrow that mirrors her own. Their bond is strengthened after their release from the facility, and together they decide to help each other cope with the pain that affects them both. When Faerry enters the Haunting Forest, a sinister plot of land that feeds on pain, Whimsy follows. If they cannot make it through, sorrow might swallow them whole, leaving nothing but death in its wake. McBride’s (Me (Moth), rev. 1/22) lush free-verse poetry creates a vibrant world teetering between the real and the magical, but the images and atmosphere act as background to serious issues of trauma and suicidality. Although the subject matter is heavy, the book serves as a reminder that, as sorrow and loss come for everyone, no one is alone. Back matter addresses mental health and expands on the story’s elements from fairy tales and folklore. S. R. TOLIVER

One Last Shot: The Story of Wartime Photographer Gerda Taro
by Kip Wilson
High School    Versify/HarperCollins    416 pp.
1/23    9780063251687    $17.99
e-book ed.  9780063251694    $9.99

Wilson (White Rose, rev. 7/19) again traces a real-life young woman’s activism in a novel in verse. Gerda Pohorylle, the daughter of Polish immigrants living in Germany, is taught to be true to her Jewish self “behind closed doors / and / assimilate in German spaces / outside the home.” As the Nazis gradually seize power, Gerda replaces her assimilation with political protest; after an arrest, she immigrates to Paris. There, several mentors — including André Friedmann, who becomes her professional and romantic partner — help her pursue her passion, photography. In order to command higher commissions, Gerda publicly reinvents the two of them as the glamorous Robert Capa and Gerda Taro. When the Spanish Civil War breaks out, Capa and Taro, sympathizing with republican resistance to Franco’s fascist uprising, journey to Spain to chronicle the conflict. Wilson adroitly lays the foundation for Gerda’s early Anderssein, or “otherness”; her physical isolation from her family while in Paris; and the awakening of her life’s purpose. Appended author’s notes separate fact from fiction and give more information about historical figures mentioned, the Spanish Civil War, and Taro’s legacy. A bibliography and glossaries for German, French, and Spanish words complete the book. Pair with Aronson and Budhos’s biography Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism (rev. 5/17). BETTY CARTER

From the March 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.