In 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 thing 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 has 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 Books – To 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.