You don’t have to love poetry to enjoy novels in verse. Most are written in free verse, a loose, easy-to-read form that seems more like restructured prose than Shakespeare or Wordsworth. Think of it this way: The author takes a great story and focuses on the guts by cutting out the non-essential stuff and replacing it with white space. This gets you through each page quicker. The format also nullifies print-phobia, the terror that sometimes arises when you’re faced with pages and pages of little black marks. Novels in verse are also highly readable thanks to their conversational style. But don’t think that these are dumbed-down books. They usually deal with very current, intense issues and themes and do so in a real, direct, and incisive manner.
Ellen Hopkins’ Crank trilogy is an award-winning example of this genre that you may have heard of. Fast-paced, compelling, and emotionally intense, this story follows Kristina from her first experience with crank (Meth) through addiction and the effect it has on her life and the lives of those around her.
Kwame Alexander’s Solo also deals in part with addiction, but from the point of view of the son of a famous rocker. This character-driven story follows seventeen-year-old Blade as he deals with the difficulties of his current life and uncovers the mysteries of his childhood. Lyrical in style, the musicality of this novel in verse is amplified by an integrated playlist. Visit YouTube for the Solo Tracklist or check out the audio recording to hear Alexander read his work accompanied by the music.
In What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, humor and emotion mark this lyrical look at 14-year old Sophie’s life and relationships. Candid commentary on physical development, friendships, family struggles, and the search for true love, make this fast-paced, character-driven book relatable for teen girls.
If you are looking for a more complex, difficult example of novel in verse, David Levithan has obliged with The Realm of Possibility. This angst-filled, realistic book combines twenty distinct voices into an examination of developing teen attitudes and relationships from social to sexual to familial.
Another more challenging option is offered by Marilyn Nelson in A Wreath for Emmett Till. This book deals with the lynching in 1955 of 14-year-old Emmett Till. The form is not conversational free verse, but truly poetic: a cycle of 15 interlocking Petrarchan sonnets. In using this form, Nelson creates distance while maintaining emotional intensity. Accompanying the heroic crown of sonnets (or sonnet corona) that makes up the text of this book is vivid and compelling artwork by Philippe Lardy. Together these provide a thought-provoking, powerful work of art and memory.