Five Recommended Verse Novels
Stories well told have the power to open our eyes and enlarge our hearts. They’re kind of magic that way. We wander into the world of a story and emerge changed—sometimes in small ways, and sometimes big, with lasting impressions that shape how we think and feel about the world and our experiences in it.
Personally, I find this especially true in verse novels. The sparse language and white space seem to invite readers to reflect, to fill the space with their own thoughts, to let the story sink into their bones. And the imagery and lyricism seem to bring the story close, so that the voice feels more intimate, the emotions more intense.
I’d like to share with you five verse novels that reached into my heart and made an impact on me. Two of them, I read a while back, and three just recently.
HOME OF THE BRAVE, by Katherine Applegate (2007). Kek comes from war-ravaged Sudan to Minnesota. The verse format works so well for this story, in part because the poetic phrases (such as “flying boat” to describe an airplane) allow the reader to see through Kek’s eyes. I read this several years ago, but one phrase in particular—and the image it conjures—has stayed with me all this time. Kek is in this strange new land, standing in a grocery store, overwhelmed. He surveys the abundance and sees answers to prayer on every shelf. I never want to lose that image. May I forever overflow with gratitude and generosity.
MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL, by Martine Leavitt (2012). Angel is stuck working the streets in “a notorious spot in Vancouver, Canada, where the girls turn tricks until they disappear without a trace” (from the publisher’s site). As with all the books on this list, the main character’s experience is very far removed from my own. However, the setting is geographically close to me, and I remember well the disturbing news stories of Picton’s crimes. The verse format of this novel seemed to make the difficult subject matter more accessible, and for me it put a very human face on what might otherwise be very hard to relate to.
PAPER HEARTS, by Meg Wiviott (2015). World War II. Auschwitz. The spare, poetic language of this verse novel (based on a true story) allows the brutal setting to be experienced by the reader in a way that moves it from horror-too-big-to-grasp, to a personal and poignant story of hope. Light really can survive in darkness. That’s a truth our world needs to remember. May I always dare to hope, and to offer hope to others.
ENCHANTED AIR, by Margarita Engle (2015). A memoir of growing up between two cultures—Cuban and American—during the cold war. Margarita feels “like two people at the same time”, loving and belonging to two countries – but also not belonging to either.
Sometimes, I feel / like a rolling wave of the sea, / a wave that can only belong / in between / the two solid shores.
Lovely and lyrical, full of a delicious blend of coming-of-age confusion, angst, and joy. It left me thinking about home, family, and belonging—and international politics!
FULL CICADA MOON, by Marilyn Hilton (2015). Mimi deals with racism and gender inequality as she tries to fit in at her new school against a backdrop of important historical events, including the lunar landing and the civil rights movement. The recurring phrase “one small step” seems to me a good mantra for both following your dreams and standing up for what’s right. The verse flows very nicely as it touches on a number of very complex issues, and it left me with a desire to be both compassionate and courageous.
I highly recommend these novels in verse. I think, if we’re willing, we come away from such stories with greater understanding, empathy, and compassion for others. Read on!
Editor's note: Shari has a verse novel coming out later this year--and it's available for preorder now!