Audiobooks: How I Came to Love Verse Novels by Molly Wetta
I’ve always loved poetry; I used to hate reading novels in verse.
Part of my aversion to verse novels can be attributed to my first experience, which was Crank by Ellen Hopkins. The angsty, dramatic, dark story of addiction that is perennially popular with teenagers didn’t appeal to me at all.
So, I swore off verse novels in general, and didn’t pick one up again for years. Then, I had the opportunity to hear Helen Frost speak in 2012 at the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium. I was in awe of how she managed to write a narrative in such a complex structure. She read from The Braid, a story about two sisters, separated by an ocean when one embarks on a journey for Canada, the other remaining in Scotland. Told from both girls point of view, the last line of one’s poem becomes the first of the next, and the patterns of the verse are inspired by celtic knots. It’s an incredible story, and I realized by aversion to verse novels was premature.
But still, I struggled to sit and read novels in verse. Years of grad school reading thousand of pages of dense, academic writing had trained me to read quickly. I could force myself to slow down enough to read and absorb prose fiction, but all the white space on the pages of a verse novel made me want to flip through the book much too quickly to appreciate the structure and rhythm of the words.
Then, I discovered a way to trick myself into reading novels in verse: audiobooks.
When listening, the narrator sets the pace. A professional interprets the rhythm of the story. There is no distracting white space or temptation to turn the pages too quickly. I can just appreciate the novel.
Verse Novels in Audio Format
Out of This Place by Emma Cameron, narrated by Candice Moll, Leonardo Nam, and David Atlas
This Australian novel in verse Out of This Place tells the story of three friends: Luke, Casey, and Bongo. Each character takes turns narrating, and their individual perspectives tell a larger story. While the novel deals with issues like addiction, abuse, and unplanned pregnancy, it’s ultimately about breaking free from one’s past and family and the bonds of friendship. Though the writing style of each perspective is similar, the different narrators help the reader differentiate between characters, making the listening experience more enjoyable than reading, in my opinion.
Sold by Patricia McCormick, narrated by Justine Eyre
Sold is a harrowing and moving story of Lakshmi, a young Nepalese girl sold into sexual slavery. Patricia McCormick’s extensive research is evident in the details and and the use of stark, even blunt, verse captures Lakshmi’s despair. Though the novel is difficult, there are bright spots, like when Lakshmi learns to read, and the hopeful ending helps makes the challenging reading experience rewarding. This is a novel I might have set aside because of the difficult content had I not listened to it and become so absorbed in the story.
Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill, narrated by various contributors
Sylvia Plath is an enigma, and those who are fascinated by her life and works will enjoy Stephanie Hemphill’s biographical verse novel, Your Own, Sylvia. Drawing inspiration from many nonfiction sources, Hemphill reconstructs the story of Plath’s life told through the perspective of those closest to her: family, doctors, and fellow writers. Many of the poems mimic Plath’s style. This is a wonderful companion to the Voice of the Poet: Sylvia Plath, recordings of the poet reading her own work.
These are just a few of the novels in verse readers can listen to in audio format. Just as poetry is often written to be read aloud, many verse novels are best experienced as audiobooks. If, like me, you struggle to read novels in verse and have dismissed them as just “not for you”, consider giving a verse novel audiobook a try.