Free Verse

9781451626346_p0_v1_s260x420This is our last post about poetry for a while.  For May we’ll feature teacher appreciation and a summer reading preview!

So while looking again at YA free verse novels, I discovered two of those authors had also written free verse novels for adults.  Ellen Hopkins has written Triangles and Sonya Sones has written The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus.

Triangles is the story of three middle aged women each with their own unique challenges and mid-life crises.  Holly recently lost 60 lbs and is now enjoying all of the attention she’s getting, a little too much, so much that she begins experimenting with extramarital affairs.  Marissa lives life nearly alone, she spends her days and nights fighting with her gay teenage son, taking care of her terminally ill four year old daughter, and being ignored by her MIA husband.  Single mom of one teenaged girl Andrea is the common link.  She is Holly’s best friend and Marissa’s younger sister.  Andrea wants a relationship but struggles to find a reliable, responsible, unattached man.  As with Hopkins YA novels, the book is a quick read even though it is several hundred pages long.  You get to know the characters and feel with, f9781451626377_p0_v1_s260x420or, or even against them.  Sorry I just never did like Holly she annoyed me, she was so selfish.  While Andrea and Marissa both also suffer with some bouts of selfishness there’s seem much more relatable as they still put their children first as so many mom’s do.  Holly on the other hand, it feels that to her, her family is merely a hindrance to the life she wants to lead.    Major changes do occur throughout the book, we meet Andrea and Marissa’s parents and get some interesting insights into why they each turned out the way that they did and just why they may make the choices in their life that they have made and make throughout this book.  Overall this was a good story but keep in mind like Hopkin’s YA novels it can be quite a downer, very somber.

Hopkins has also written another adult verse novel: Collateral about a woman dating a Marine deployed to Afghanistan.  I have not read it yet but it is on my list.

9780062024671_p0_v1_s260x420Sones’s Hunchback on the other hand does deal with many common issues of middle age, the main character here is another Holly this one 50 yrs old and dealing with sending her only daughter off to college, fearing her husband is cheating on her, and dealing with a mother who is suddenly ill and somewhat psychotic from medication.  I liked this Holly, I rooted for her, I cried and cheered with her.  This book is definitely chick lit but it’s overall fun and relatable.  Again this book is written in first person so you get to feel as if you really know Holly, the poems read almost as if you are her best friend and confidant.  This was a book I just couldn’t put down.  Sones is wonderful at creating realistic characters, characters you feel you know or that remind you of someone you really do know.  This is definitely a book to add to your to read list!



Stephen King’s The Dark Man

9781587674211_p0_v1_s260x420Is there anything Stephen King can’t do?  The author of many books, short stories, and even graphic novels, has released an illustrated poem.  The Dark Man is a poem he said was written back in college, and the artwork is inspired by a vision he had of a mysterious cowboy in boots and a denim jacket.  What’s really interesting about this book is that it was copywrighted in 1969, but wasn’t published in 2013.  I remember reading that King had the idea for Under the Dome many years before he actually sat down to write it.  What else could be in that head of his that he has yet to write or have published?

The Dark Man in his characteristics and journey through the book remind me a lot of the Gunslinger, the main character of The Dark Tower series.  The scenery is grim and the town he walks through is gloomy, dismal, and almost abandoned.  The illustrations were done by Glen Chadbourne, who had worked with King before.  The Dark Man is a shadowy character, moving through dark towns, hopping aboard trains and encountering hobos, and what remains of these towns after they are forgotten.

“I have ridden rails

and passed the smuggery

of desperate houses with counterfeit chimneys

and heard from the outside

the inside clink of cocktail ice

while closed doors broke the world”

It is a short read, yet worth picking up.  In honor of national poetry month, I wanted to share this.  I was surprised when I found it, and continue to be amazed by King’s creativity and imagination.  If you’re a fan of his, and haven’t seen this book anywhere yet I encourage you to read it.  If you’re not a King fan, and have never read any of his work, what are you waiting for – you won’t be disappointed!

YA Free Verse

9781442471818_p0_v3_s260x420In recognition of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you some examples of what seems to have become a big trend in young adult novels: free verse.  There may have been a few written over the years but in the past decade there seems to have been almost an explosion of books in this area.

The first I ever came across was Crank by Ellen Hopkins.  This book can seem overwhelming when you first pick it as will most of Hopkins’s books due to the sheer number of pages, don’t let this fool you though as the book is written in free verse it moves very quickly.  Crank is loosely based on Hopkins’s own daughter’s addiction to meth.  The fast flowing free verse style pulls you into the story.  I can’t tell you how many students came to me after reading it wanting to know what happened to Kristina, well apparently readers asked Ellen the same 9781442471825_p0_v5_s260x420thing and she released first Glass which is more about Kristina and then Fallout about Kristina’s children/ Ellen’s grandchildren one of whom she is raising and speaks about on her Facebook page (Ellen is one of the few authors I follow on FB).  She has written books about kids other than her own, Impulse and Perfect go together, then there are Tricks and Burned which I have not yet read.  I think my favorite book so far has been Identical, as seen in several of her books Hopkins does a great job creating separate voices for each character, and this one showed a clear difference between the twins.  The end though blew my mind, I did not see it coming.  I need to read it again and see if I can catch any hints that foreshadowed it actually.

Another great YA author that has written several free verse novels is Sonya Sones.  I read One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies when it was on the Gateway Readers Nominee list for 2006-2007.  It is exactly what it sounds like, a girl very close to her mother 9781442493834_p0_v3_s260x420has to go live with her actor father that she barely knows when her mother dies.  The reader follows her as she gets to know her father and find her place in his life.  Sones has written other books as well: Stop Pretending What Happened When My Sister Went Crazy, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, it’s sequel What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, and new book with a character from One of Those Hideous BooksTo Be Perfect.

Karen Hesse also has a few free verse novels, the one that made the most impact on me though is Witness.  This is the story of a small town in Vermont in the 1920s and what happens when the Ku Klux Klan moves in and begins recruiting.  The story is told in poems by 11 different citizens of the town.

I think one of my favorite things about free verse novels is they are mostly written in first person which brings the reader right into the story.  If you’ve never read one try one of these.  If you have or know a teenager, boy or girl, who is reluctant to read give them one of these and watch what happens.  I’ve seen time and again Hopkins and Sones books get former non-readers hooked on books.


Mourning Marquez

9780618048250_p0_v1_s260x420The world said goodbye to Gabriel Garcia Marquez last week.  As a nobel laureate, he helped to distinguish the unique Spanish voice of Latin America in literature.  Known simply as Gabo, his novels have been published all over the world, introducing the world to Latin America.  According to the Associated Press, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which was first published in 1967, sold more than 50 million copies.  There are very few authors who have achieved this level of success.  He may be one of the only Spanish-speaking writer to have done so.  Born in Colombia in 1927, he had witnessed so much in Latin America.  Revolutions, political upheaval, decolonization, and had once considered Fidel Castro a friend.  Long before we became more familiar with Shaqira and Sofia Vergara, Marquez brought recognition to his home country of Colombia.

Other Latin American writers have followed in his footsteps, hopefully grateful that he had paved the way for him.  Love in a Time of Cholera is one of his best known books.  Along with One Hundred Years of Solitude, he popularized the style of magical realism, which incorporates an element of the supernatural.  Solitude remains for me, one of the best books I’ve ever read.  There is something uniquely Latin American about this tale – there is love, passion, family history, politics, and an ultimate search for peace.  Similar themes are explored in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.  This novel is less well-known, but worthy of just as much praise.

Mario Vargas Lloso, Junot Diaz, Miguel Angel Asturias, even Edwidge Danticat have emerged in his wake.  Along with many other writers, they are carrying on Marquez’s legacy.  Let’s celebrate his life and career, and remember the contribution he made.


9780062113917_p0_v1_s260x420Alex Flinn is becoming known for her modernized versions of classic fairy tales.  Beastly was so popular it became a movie, which while it had some pretty big changes from the book stuck so well to the spirit and message of the book that I really enjoyed it.  It didn’t hurt that one of my favorite actors Neil Patrick Harris is in the movie.  I’ve read Beastly, Kiss in Time, and Cloaked and enjoyed each of them so I was really excited when I found Towering on display at the library.

I brought it home and began to read.  At the start it is a good book, told by Rachel (Rapunzel) and Will.  Rachel is living in her tower her “Mama” having brought her there years ago to keep her safe from the “one who killed her mother”.  Rachel lives alone in the tower with Mama coming daily to visit and bring her dinner and breakfast for the next day.  The more I 9780062024190_p0_v1_s260x420read of this the more Rachel’s part felt like a rehash of Disney’s Tangled.  I don’t want to give too much away other than that.

I was much more intrigued by Will’s part.  Will has been sent to live in a small town with the elderly mother of his mother’s best friend from high school.  Something has happened and his best friend Tyler is dead.  Will seems happy to disappear into the country at some points and at others almost obsessively checks his cell phone for texts that never come.  This is realistic for a conflicted teenager.  Mrs G on the other hand… Danielle (Will’s mom’s BFF) disappeared years ago, and Mrs G is still struggling with the loss.  Will finds Danielle’s diary and begins to read, the diary ends much too soon in the book though.

I’ll be honest, as I hit the middle of the book I began skimming no longer reading intently.  I just wanted Will to find Rachel, then I wanted her to agree to leave the tower.  I wanted him to solve the mystery of Danielle and the rest of the missing children/people from the area.  I had decided I would simply skim the rest of the book, then I decided to see what others thought of the book.  I’d been thinking maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood/headspace to enjoy this book since I loved her other books, but according to the reviews I’ve been reading I’m not alone in my thoughts on this book.  Since I’ve read one that filled me in on all the secrets I will be returning the book to the library without actually reading the rest.

If you pick this up please don’t take it as an indication of Flinn’s overall body of work, it is NOT!   Pick up any of her other books instead.  My next will be Bewitching almost a prequel to Beastly telling the story of the witch Kendra.  I’ll let you know what I think of it some time down the road.


National Poetry Month

9780060572341_p0_v7_s260x420April is National Poetry Month.  I’ve mentioned to this to my students, as just last week we talked about Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen Poe.  Of course, with many topics we discuss in class, there’s an incredible amount of apathy.  Though I haven’t been teaching that long, this apathy no longer shocks me – though it probably still should.  Why celebrate or even recognize poetry?  Is poetry even relevant any more?  In thinking about what I wanted to say about poetry in recognition of National Poetry Month, I asked myself those questions.  The answer is of course, yes!!  Poetry, poets, these artists and their arts should be celebrated.

According to, the website operated by the Academy of American Poets who organized the monthlong celebration, there are many ways to celebrate National Poetry Month.  I don’t think I’ll be attending a poetry meeting or taking a “poem out to lunch”.  I will, however, share some of my favorite poetry collections.

9780679428954_p0_v1_s260x420What child hasn’t enjoyed and been intrigued by Shel Silverstein?  It’s hard to pick one favorite (book – let alone poem), but for this list we’ll pick the classic Where the Sidewalk Ends.  I love this book and have read it countless times – now my daughter has also become a fan.  His work is timeless, classic, and will be shared for many more generations to come.

Poet laureate Maya Angelou has contributed so much great work in her literary career.  The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou is just one of the many published collections of her work.  She has a distinct voice; her books and poems have spoken great truth and wisdom to many women.  One of her best works, “Still I Rise” is included in this collection.  Though it was first published in 1978, it still has the power to amaze and inspire.

9781499135480_p0_v1_s260x420One of the most notable writers of the romantic era, Walt Whitman represents something uniquely American.  Leaves of Grass is a collection of his greatest work, and it is a collection he worked his whole life on.  His work represents not only his journey as a man, but the journey the country was on in the early 19th century.  “O Captain! My Captain!”, “Song of Myself”, and “I Sing the Body Electric” are among his more notable poems.  These are included in this collection, as a couple hundred more.

9781435139589_p0_v1_s260x420Robert Frost has become one of the best-known and most-loved American poets, and his work has been notable for nearly a hundred years.  Robert Frost: Selected Poems includes some of his best work.  Like Whitman, he represents something uniquely American.  Frost had lived a really interesting life, and this is well-represented in his work.  “Directive” is included in this collection, which has inspired a few generations of poets and songwriters.

These are our favorites.  What are yours?  Have you wondered that same question, is poetry is still relevant?  It certainly is – and alive and  well in our poets, as well as rappers, and songwriters.  If you don’t want to host a poetry reading, or attend an open mic, that’s ok.  We won’t be either!  You can, however, pick up one of these books!  Enjoy!

Failure is Not an Option

9781439148815_p0_v2_s260x420We’ve been going through a mini space-obsession.  In the past two weeks we’ve reviewed The Astronauts Wives Club and Memories of the Futurewhich is all about Star Trek, but I think it counts!  Today we want to share Failure is Not an Option.

OMG ok this book is just…wow!  So I’d been struggling to find a book that could keep my attention.  I’d started a few that I knew I’d enjoy but just couldn’t stay committed to them.  I was in a blah reading mode.  Then one night scrolling through Netflix I came across a Discovery Channel mini series: When We Left Earth.  This six part series takes you from the Mercury flights to near the end of the shuttle era.  I was inspired to put the movie Apollo 13 on hold to see again, as my library search was on Apollo 13 this book came up (it’s subtitle is Mission control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and beyond).  The book is written by Gene Kranz former flight controller and flight director for NASA.  He’s easily recognizable in many mission control pics of the day in his crew cut and natty vests.  In Apollo 13 he is played by Ed Harris.

This book is quite simply mesmerizing.  I have been totally unable to put it down.  I just want to keep reading it’s amazing.  Gene takes us behind the scenes from early in the Mercury trials at Cape Canaveral (later to be renamed Cape Kennedy) to the end of the Apollo program.

I think I knew academically that going to space was a dangerous proposition so many things that could go wrong.  This book brings you right into the control room though and you learn what many of those things were.  It wasn’t only Apollo 13 that had problems those theirs were the most significant and most remembered, thanks to Ron Howard and Tom Hanks.  When John Glenn the first American to orbit the Earth was in orbit concern was raised about the heat shield of his spacecraft, there was concern it was damaged or had separated from the craft itself.  Another astronaut was so excited to be in space and taking so many pictures that he nearly ran out of fuel having just enough to return to Earth.

On the first Moon landing there were even some problems, the lunar module or LM overshot the intended landing site, they had to maneuver to find another site.  Problem after problem occurs, some small and some large and alarming.  Mission control flight directors and controllers keep level heads and work through them all.  As each new mission is being described I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting to see what goes wrong this time and how it is solved, and even KNOWING the results of the missions I found myself totally wrapped up in the tale, worried something else would go wrong, worried the astronaut wouldn’t make it home.  I had to stop a few times to remind myself they did make it home.

Perhaps one of the most chilling stories in the book is the story of the Apollo 1 fire on the launchpad.  Included are the last things heard from the astronauts locked into the capsule.  I cried.

If you have ever been interested in space, if you are a science fiction fan, if you enjoyed the movie Apollo 13, you absolutely should pick up this book.  I borrowed it from the library but it will be going on my to buy list because I want to own it.  As I finished the book I wanted to start again and reread it all, catch things I may have missed the first time but I had another space book just waiting to be read so I’ll go back to it some other time, maybe for summer reading.