Young Adult Novels In Verse, Part Two
Back in 2016, I published a list of young adult novels in verse, and the time has come to revisit this format. Every year, the YA publishing world comes out with more novels in this format. Below is a list of several new novels in verse that have come out since 2016, along with a few backlist titles that don’t get enough love. The first three novels on this list are historical fiction, followed by five contemporary novels, and finally two multimedia books.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
McCullough’s debut novel Blood Water Paint is a fictionalized account of Italian Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s life. Artemisia’s father Orazio is not a particularly talented artist, but Artemisia is his apprentice, and she must complete his work while her father takes the credit. Artemisia is unhappy with this lifestyle, but the stories of strong biblical women she heard from her deceased mother buoy her in tough times. When Orazio hires Agostino Tassi to teach and mentor Artemisia, she is eager to have someone take her work seriously, until Tassi takes advantage of her. Will Artemisia be able to survive the extremely public and emotionally tumultuous aftermath? Although some readers may not have heard of Artemisia Gentileschi before reading this novel, its timeless themes of art, patriarchal oppression, and sexual assault are still relevant today.
It’s April of 1846, and Franklin and Elizabeth Graves have decided to leave Illinois and seek a better life in California with their nine children, including nineteen-year-old Mary Ann. When their wagon train sets off, Mary Ann finds herself filled with optimism and hope, and the family eventually merges with the Donner and Reed parties. As the group reaches the Sierra Nevada mountains, the snow stops their passage, and eventually the group must resort to unthinkable means to survive. Fans of American history and heart-wrenching stories should pick up Brown's novel.
The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle
Fourteen-year-old Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula by her family, lives in nineteenth century Cuba with a mother who believes that Tula needs to learn how to be a good wife instead of getting a real education. Knowing that her mother will use money from an arranged marriage to buy slaves, Tula has already rejected two potential husbands. Living in a country where she cannot speak out against slavery, Tula goes to a convent where she uncovers the work of rebel poets, and begins to write poetry of her own. The Lightning Dreamer is an excellent choice for feminist audiences who love historical fiction.
Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass
Tessa is not only overweight, insecure, and struggling with friendships and family relationships, she’s now in a coma after being hit in the head by a dodgeball. Now that Tessa has nearly died, she faces a bigger problem: is she in heaven, or the mall where her parents work? When a boy with a nail in his head gives her a bag of stuff that encapsulates important moments of her life, Tessa begins to re-imagine who she and the people around her truly are. Pick up Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall if you like journeys of self-discovery.
Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
No matter how normal fourteen-year-old Anke and her older siblings Darren and Yaicha appear in public, nobody knows the truth about their lives at home. Anke’s father beats Darren, beats and rapes Yaicha, but to him, Anke is invisible. Although Anke knows she is lucky to be merely a witness, a part of her wishes she garnered attention from her father. When Anke joins the school’s volleyball team, she feels empowered and begins to find her voice. Before too long, her father targets Anke’s schoolmate, and she must decide if she can stand up to him. Readers who gravitate towards tough topics will speed through Because I am Furniture.
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
For Mexican American immigrant Lupita, her place under the mesquite tree is where she goes to write poetry and escape. Like her peers at school Lupita participates in extracurricular activities and spends time with her friends, but her world changes when she learns that her mother has cancer. When Mami and her father must leave town for cancer treatments, Lupita acts as a parent to her seven younger siblings and has to juggle concerns about food, money, and her own schoolwork. If you love a southwestern setting and stories that focus on family, add Under the Mesquite to your reading pile.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Ever since fifth grade, Xiomara’s curvy body has stood out in her Harlem neighborhood, and she’s tried to be inconspicuous and quiet. On her twelfth birthday, her twin brother Xavier gave her an outlet: a notebook. Frustrated by the attention she gets from men and the constant pressure from her mother to be steadfast in her faith to the Church, Xiomara begins to write poetry. When Xiomara’s sophomore English teacher Ms. Galiano encourages her to join the school’s slam poetry club, Xiomara is thrilled to find other people who share her passion, but she quickly learns how risky it is. Poetry club is on the same day as her Confirmation classes, and on top of that, Xiomara is doing exactly what her mother doesn’t want: developing romantic feelings for a boy at school. Will Xiomara be silent forever, or will she learn how to share her voice with the world? Pick up The Poet X for a story about a crisis in faith and living up to familial expectations.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
One gunshot is all it takes. One minute and seven second seconds is all it can take to change someone’s life forever. Even though fifteen-year-old Will has never held a gun, his brother Shawn was shot and killed, and the neighborhood rules dictate that he must get revenge. When Will takes the elevator from his eighth floor apartment to the street, on each floor he is joined by ghosts who have been on each side of the violence: his best friend, his uncle, a childhood friend his brother, and his father, to name a few. As he hears all of their stories, Will starts to realize how many of the deaths in his neighborhood are connected, and he must decide if he can help stop the cycle. Readers who loved The Hate U Give will also love Long Way Down.
Swing by Kwame Alexander
When seventeen-year-old Noah and his best friend Swing, nicknamed for his love of jazz music, are cut from the baseball team, Swing hatches a plan to recover their social stature. Meanwhile, when Noah goes to the thrift store to buy his mother a vintage bag for her birthday, he finds a surprise inside: love letters from the 1960s. Inspired by the letters, Swing decides to write a poem for his long time love interest, Sam. As Swing awaits the return of his older brother Moses from Afghanistan, American flags begin appearing around town with no explanation. The complication? One of the prime suspects is Sam’s ex-boyfriend, and soon everyone must confront how they see each other and their community. With poetry, collage art, and manga influences, Swing is an excellent choice for readers looking for a multimedia experience.
Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell
Based on a true story, Loving Vs. Virginia begins in 1952, when sixth grader and black woman Mildred Jeters and Richard Loving, a white man six years older than her who works as a bricklayer, meet and fall in love. Although in Virginia interracial couples couldn’t marry due to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, in 1958 Mildred and Richard traveled to Washington D.C. to get married. Unfortunately, they were sentenced to one year in prison in 1959, and couldn’t travel together in the state of Virginia. Unsatisfied by these restrictions, in 1964 Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and eventually the Lovings case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, changing the lives of interracial couples forever. Told not only in verse but also with news clippings, maps, and archival photos, Powell’s novel is a moving story where love triumphs above all. Anyone who enjoys novels about groundbreaking events in history will love Loving Vs. Virginia.