All tagged Verse

Using Verse for “Adult” Content, by Gabrielle Prendergast (Guest Post)

Anyone who writes in verse gets used to answering this question: “Why do you write in verse?” There are a lot of reasons of course, but one that I often talk about concerns the depiction of edgier material in books aimed at young readers.

Like it or not, our kids take drugs, self-harm, think about suicide, get abused, suffer from mental illness, are victims and perpetrators of violence, and lose friends. All of these dark topics are suitable for young readers, but may need to be presented in subtler ways than in adult literature. Verse is a way of achieving that. Its reliance on metaphor, sparse language, and contained form allow these issues to be explored without overwhelming the readers with heaviness.

Take sex for example. Not a dark theme (it’s fun and healthy!) but one that frequently raises eyebrows in relation to books for young readers. But again, like it or not, young people, teenagers, even pre-teens have sex drives and sex lives. Many YA books have a “fade to black” policy when it comes to sex. Characters might have sex, but rarely are the scenes depicted in any detail.

Recommendation Tuesday: Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

This week's Recommendation Tuesday is part of our Verse Novel Week celebration! View all of the past recommendations over here. 

And the pomegranates,
like memories, are bittersweet
as we huddle together,
remembering just how good
life used to be.

— Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

When I get ready to put together Verse Novel Week each year, I always try to (rather foolishly) get caught up on verse novels I've missed and check out as many as I can find from the library. This year, my pile reached fairly ridiculous proportions, but at the top was Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite, which came highly recommended by Nafiza, who has excellent taste. 

Under the Mesquite is one of those books that will just suck you into its words and rhythm, and the verse format adds so much to that feeling as Garcia McCall weaves together Mexican American immigrant Lupita's story of family, loss and hope. 

List-O-Rama: Embracing the Weird

I have a soft spot for bizarro stories. You know what I mean, the weird, but captivating, tale that you never fully understand but like nonetheless. Here are a few of our recommendations for the next time you want to embrace the weird.  

Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge (Candlewick, Oct. 8, 2013)

“‘Oh dear,’ said Jesus. 

Walker was able to ask ‘What?’ They’d stopped in front of a Balk’s Hardware. A sign in the window said, 


Jesus stared at his hands. ‘I mean nails are a miracle and God is in them, but they still give me the shivers.’”

Ron Koertge specializes in strange stories and he's an author whose books reliably work for me. Koertge's known for his verse novels, but this is more of a fractured prose (my term) style that works for this odd little story of a boy who seeks, and receives, divine intervention in coping with his brother's death. This is an irreverent little story with one of the more unusual doses of magical realism I've read. It's a short book at 128 pages, so if you're looking for something completely outside your normal wheelhouse that'll make you laugh, check out Coaltown Jesus.

I also recommended Koertge's Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses, a collection of fairytales retold in poetry, if you're looking for more Koertge weirdness.

Read the rest --> 


Verse Week: I <3... Lisa Schroeder

Not long after the experience of reading Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, I frantically hunted down as many verse novels as I could. Apparently, a lot of other people in the Fort Vancouver Regional Library system felt the same way, because none of them were available, thereby forcing me to add them to my library hold list in what felt like a holy test of my (notorious lack of) patience. And add to my list I did. Juvenile, YA, Middle Grade, whatever. Like a drug addict desperately in search of a fix, I was willing to read any category, any genre -- as long as it was a novel-in-verse.

The first book to become available was Far From You by Lisa Schroeder. Everything about it looked promising, from the snowflakes on the cover (since I love snow) to the jacket bio informing me that Lisa Schroeder is a local author, both of which would have been ample reasons for me to award bonus stars to my final book rating.

Turns out I didn’t need them.

So engrossed was I by Far From You that I finished the book in one frantic sitting, when I had originally intended to sneak in just a few pages while my SHO showered and got ready for our outing to the local Farmer’s Market.

So captivated was I by Lisa Schroeder’s verse that I gobbled up the rest of her then-published YA novels, all of which were in verse, within three months.

So enthralled I am with Lisa Schroeder’s storytelling that I (a lazy person who does not enjoy leaving the house or driving) drove to a Barnes and Noble 25 miles away from my house to snag a copy of her most recent book, a prose novel with strong poetic elements, when I found out it had been released into the wild at that particular bookstore a few days before the official release date.

And so obsessed I am with Lisa Schroeder’s books that when it comes to her novels, I simply cannot adhere to my policy of keeping one book by a treasured author unread as an emergency reserve for those times when I desperately need to read a book I know I will love.

To ease the hardship of not knowing when I will get to read another new Lisa Schroeder book, and in celebration of our Novels-in-Verse week here at CEFS, I decided to pull all of her books off of my shelves (oh yes, I have hard copies of them all) and reflect on just why I heart Lisa Schroeder.

Verse Week List-O-Rama: For the Verse Averse

We know despite our saying over and over again that verse novels are absolutely nothing to fear, some of you may still be nervous about trying out a verse novel.

As a result, I thought I'd point those of you who may want to ease into verse to some traditional novels with poetic or verse elements. Similarly, easing into verse novels with books for the younger set can be a fun way to test out the form without committing to a long, complex verse novel for teens or adults.

Once you've tried a few of these on for size, head over and give our Verse Week 2013 podcast a listen for more first-verse recommendations.

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder | Simon Pulse (2013)

Lisa Schroeder is well known for her verse novels, but her most recent YA novel, Falling for You, is told in prose format, but contains loads of poems (the narrator is a teenage poet) that are key to the story. I really, really enjoyed this book, but I will warn you that the summary, cover and title aren't particularly related to the actual story. This is really a novel about finding family where you least expect it.

Review | Amazon | Goodreads

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley | Knopf Books (2012)

Graffiti Moon is one of my favorite all-time books, it just so perfectly captures that type of night that can only happen the summer after high school. Told from multiple points of view, Graffiti Moon includes a perspective entirely in poems. Some of my favorite moments are the poems evoking the Melbourne night--they're absolutely vivid.

Review Amazon | Goodreads

Verse Week Guest Post: Gabrielle Prendergast on Backstory & Writing in Verse

We're halfway through our annual Novel in Verse Week celebration here on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and today we have verse novelist Gabrielle Prendergast who shares an inside glimpse on the challenges of creating backstory with the verse format. Enjoy! ~Sarah

One of the challenges for any author, particularly one who writes contemporary novels for teens, is the task of revealing backstory. Because I started out as a screenwriter, backstory, as it is frequently revealed in contemporary young adult books, does not come naturally. I tend to still see my stories as screenwriters do, as a series of scenes in a mostly linear narrative, so diversions into reminiscence feel awkward to write.

But backstory is critical, and in contemporary first person narrated young adult novels, it plays a huge role in getting to know the main character through their past actions and experiences. “Show don’t tell” is the mantra. Delving into the past allows us to see how the characters became who they are rather than them having to tell us.

Writing in verse, while it shares the conciseness and imagery of screenwriting, nevertheless is antithetical to screenwriting when it comes to inner life. In screenwriting it is a never ending struggle to reveal a character’s inner life, never mind their past, without resorting to flashback or voiceover. In verse novels techniques that are analogous to flashback and voiceover are essential. 

Verse Week Review: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

Before putting my fingers to the keyboard to write my review of May B., a middle grade novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose, I went to the Poetry Foundation's website to see if my confusion between poetry and prose could be clarified. The answer I found didn't particularly surprise me.

To put it in the simplest of terms, it's all about snobbery. Poetry, according its aficionados, stands several rungs above verse. Verse does not--according to them--employee the sophisticated use of language that poetry does.

Alrighty then...

Keats apparently writes poetry and Robert Service apparently writes verse. What's the difference? I've yet to answer that one but I will say that I read Service for pleasure, for the joy of his playful and often robust use of language. Keats I read as assigned work in my studies at the universities where I earned my degrees. I enjoy and appreciate Keats, so I am not picking on his work, I promise. My point is about the joy of language, pure and simple.

Review: Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

This is                
warmth all around me.                
a new 

world opening.                
two stars colliding. And I think                
I’m drowning.

The blurb for Stephanie Parent’s self-published novel in verse, Defy the Stars, says that it will appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins and Lisa Schroeder. While I disagree that this novel will work for fans of Lisa’s gentle style of storytelling, I imagine that the issue-driven, highly-dramatic style of Defy the Stars will appeal to Hopkins’ readers. 

Unfortunately, like Hopkins’ novels, while Defy the Stars was well-written and readable, I never felt engaged with nor sympathetic to the characters. 

Defy the Stars is told from the point-of-view of Julia, a classical piano student headed to a top-notch music conservatory. She meets Reed, whom she describes as a “stoner” in English class where they engage in a debate about Romeo & Juliet and the notion of love at first sight. The two—thanks to a series of coincidental meetings—quickly begin an intense relationship, but like Romeo & Juliet, find that their love is likely impossible.

The biggest obstacle to the couple’s happiness is Reed’s involvement in drug culture and drug abuse.

“Yeah,” I say aloud, “he skulks around like he’s collapsing under the weight of his own personal rain cloud.”

Julia is quickly finds herself drawn into Reed’s world, and experiments with methamphetamines several times. Meanwhile, Reed continues to spiral downward, taking Julia—who’s distracted by the intense relationship—right down with him. As their relationship unfolds, a tragedy changes everything for both teens, leaving them at a crossroads. 

I’m going to say this straight up: I missed that this is a cautionary tale about drug abuse until I was about a quarter into the book.

This isn’t particularly apparent in either the book description or reviews I’ve read. If I had known this, I probably would not have read Defy the Stars, because I don’t care for novels about drug abuse. Hand-in-hand with stories about this subject matter are chapters and chapters of characters making poor decisions, over and over again. Because of Reed’s drug use, I had a very hard time believing in him as a romantic interest, and while I understand the Julia was interesting in him because he’s attractive and a good musician, I just couldn’t root for them, even as Reed appears to make positive changes in his life. 

Review: Collateral by Ellen Hopkins

[…] Service. Sacrifice.
      The problem with that being,
              everyone attached to those
                    soldiers must sacrifice, too.
So, as some Afghani warlord
might say,
      put that in your 
             pipe and smoke it. Okay, that
                      was actually my grandpa’s saying.
But it works, and what I mean
       is, think long and hard before
              offering your heart to someone
                      who can only accept it part time. 

It’s fitting that Ellen Hopkins’ newest novel-in-verse for adults, Collateral, shared its release day, November 6, with the United States election day. 

It’s both timely in its exploration of the effects at home of the country’s long-time military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and in that Collateral also touches on a number of other current issues in this country, creating a heavy-handed, though still beautifully written, snapshot of American life that’s intertwined with the modern military.

Written in free verse, Collateral is mostly told from San Diego student Ashely’s point-of-view. She meets and falls in love with a Marine, Cole, a guy from rural Wyoming whom she is shocked to discover isn’t what she thought of as the stereotype of a military man.

You can tell a lot by the way
        a guy kisses. Cole kissed like

summer rain—barely wet,
          the temperature of August
              sky, thunder-punctuated. Delicious. 

Cole writes poetry, he’s smart, he’s funny. Their relationship is intense, and Collateral spans five years and four of Cole’s deployments.

The title of the book—Collateral—demonstrates the main theme of the book: collateral damage.

Review: Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron

Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron

It stings—
sulphur tears
in cinnamon rain.

Emma Cameron’s Cinnamon Rain embodies the Trifecta of Awesome in my reading heart: a contemporary older YA, Novel in Verse, from Australia.

Fortunately, after a long (very, very long) wait for my order of this book from Fishpond, the Trifecta of Awesome didn’t disappoint—Cinnamon Rain is one of my stand out reads of the year. 

Cinnamon Rain interweaves the stories of three friends: Luke, Casey and Bongo (yes, Bongo—his real name is David). They live in a rural town in Australia, each hoping to escape their lives. Luke plays cricket, hangs out at the beach and pines away for Casey. Casey’s dream is to escape their town and everyone she knows, while Bongo drinks to avoid his abusive stepfather and the memories of his little brother taken away by social services. 

The whole group seems lifted
by one small success. 

Each character narrates a third of Cinnamon Rain (this seems like a more common narrative style in Australia than in the U.S. or U.K., am I right?), painting a rich picture of three lives in transition. We follow them separately out of their hometown in their first steps into adulthood. 

But somewhere in the mix,
I realise that
she’s not just running away.
Her life has focus.
I’ve got nothing.

We’ve spent the last week evangelizing* about the awesomeness of novels in verse, in case you haven’t noticed. Since we’re sure we’ve convinced you that you have to pick up your first novel in verse righ now, we thought we’d give you a few suggestions about where to start. 

Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay

Love & Leftovers was Laura’s introduction to novels in verse and you really cannot go wrong with this one. It’s a fantastic story and the writing is spectacular! I dare you not to love it. 

{Sarah’s Review}

{Buy it at Amazon | Book Depository}

{Add it on Goodreads}


I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

To be honest, any Lisa Schroeder would be a great novel in verse first read, but this one has a different take a ghost story and is very, very readable if you’re nervous about trying verse. It’s also very short, which can be nice when you’re trying something new.

{Buy it at Amazon | Book Depository}

{Add it on Goodreads}


Exposed by Kimberly Marcus

It’s the fall of senior year.

Elizabeth Grayson is focused.

On her camera.
Her portfolio.
Her art school applications.

Her life.
Her photos.

Are clear.

She’s focused along with Kate, touchingly dubbed by Liz as, 
The straight line to my squiggle, 
my forever-best friend.

But everything changes after one night at their monthly sleepover, when the cloudiness of life and the people Liz thought she knew, is exposed.

At first assuming Kate’s ensuing distance to be the result of an argument about Kate’s future that occurred during their sleepover, Liz repeatedly attempts to apologize. However, as Kate’s distance from Liz continues, Liz begins to unravel the events of the evening, which results in a stunning accusation.

The fallout sharply veers Liz’s life out of focus in every way.

Verse author Gabrielle Prendergast left the most awesome comment in the (not-so-long) history of Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, 

This post
Like lemonade popsicles
I search for them
In freezers
and dingaling ringing ice cream trucks
At the water park on hot summer days
But only ever find them
Dripping sweet white
Icy cold summer
On my fingers

Gabrielle Prendergast

So, naturally, when she inquired about getting involved in our little celebration of novels in verse, we jumped on the chance to chat with her about why she loves the format and, um, Tim Riggins…

Gabrielle is the author of the middle grade novel Hildegarde (Harper Collins Australia), which was also made into a feature film, starring Richard E Grant. Her middle grade sports novel Wicket Season was published by Lorimer Publishers in March 2012. She lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and daughter.

Why do you write in verse?

{Review} Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

I now understand
when they make fun of my name,
yelling ha-ha-ha down the hall 
when they ask if I eat dog meat,
barking and chewing and falling down laughing
when they wonder if I lived in the jungle with tigers,
growling and stalking on all fours.

I understand
because Brother Khoi
nodded into my head
on the bike ride home
when I asked if kids
said the same things
at his school.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha LaiThanhha Lai writes her verses in her award winning middle grade novel in verse, Inside Out and Back Again, from the heart, and memory of deeply felt experience.

She poignantly and artistically brings emotion, both painful and joyful, straight from the page and into the senses. She recounts her family’s escape before the fall of Saigon through the eyes and the voice of Ha Ma. With other refugees they’re packed into small, often unsanitary quarters on a ship that will take them to safety, freedom and a new culture. 

Ha Ma, her brother Quang remembers,  “was as red and fat as a baby hippopotamus” when he first saw her, thus inspiring her name, Vietnamese for river horse. He could not have imagined that in a few years her name would become the stick that tormented her in a foreign land (Alabama) far from her beloved Saigon.

I taught in a public high school for many years and some of my students were children of those leaving their homelands in search of a better or freer life. Children that were just like Ha Ma. I went through the process to become certified to teach English as a Second Language. Yet with all my training and experience I realize that I could not have known the real pain these children lived with each day, in a new and strange environment.

Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas

Thalia Chaltas’ Because I am Furniture exemplifies the unique power of novels in verse. There are a lot of yougn adult novels about family violence, and many of them are excellent. However, in Because I am Furniture, the verse form allows the reader to experience the house of horrors in which Anke, the main character, lives. 

Fourteen year-old Anke’s siblings are terrorized by their abusive father while her mother passively watches, seemingly accepting the violence and sexual abuse of her children. Anke, however, is simply ignored. 

I am always there.
But they don’t care if I am
because I am furniture.

I don’t get hit
I don’t get fondled
I don’t get love
because I am furniture

Suits me fine. 

I accidentally read my first novel-in-verse on February 29th, 2012. 

Sarah and I are book doppelgangers, so when she strongly recommended the book Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, I blindly hit the one-click purchase button on Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle without bothering to read the description.

By the time I realized that the book lacked any sort of prose, I was already mesmerized by the verse form. I was late to work that day because I sat in my car figuring out how to use the highlighting function on my Kindle for the first time.

Later, I almost forgot to pay for my lunch because I had finally figured out how to use the highlighting function on my Kindle and was frantically trying to highlight the entire book before the end of my lunch hour.

And THEN, I was fiendishly delighted that my SHO had to work late that evening because it allowed me to devour the rest of the book after I got home from work without interruption.

Now, of course you must be thinking (because you all know me so well and all),

But Laura! Of course you love novels-in-verse! You’re a piano player! And a singer! That means you love poetry! And novels-in-Verse are TOTALLY poetry!

Um. No.

Actually, I don’t “get” poetry. The word “poetry” has traditionally evoked a strong negative reaction from me.

Review - The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

Many times
when I read a book, 
I want to savor 
each word, 
each phrase, 
loving the prose 
so much, 
I don’t want it 
to end. 

Other times
the story pulls me in, 
and I can hardly 
read fast enough, 
the details flying by, 
some of them lost 
because all that matters
is making sure 
the character
is all right 
when it’s over.

This day
is like the best
of both kinds 
of books.

The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

I could say the same for Lisa Schroeder’s beautiful, moving novel in verse, The Day Before. This short novel, spanning just a day, is firmly entrenched on my list of favorites. 

Amber’s life has taken an unexpected turn, and everything is going to change for her in just 24 hours. So, she heads to the central Oregon coast alone, seeking refuge. There, she meets Cade at the Oregon Coast Aquarium shark tank. He’s a boy her age facing his own “day before,” and the two spend their day on the coast together. 

What’s so stand-out for me in The Day Before, is the strong sense of place Lisa develops within such a relatively short novel.

verse: I love you so

not really poetry but

yet still poetic*

Novel in Verse

Laura and I both have a relatively newfound, near-obsessive love for novels in verse. And, seeing as how April is/was National Poetry Month, we thought we’d usher in May with some love for novels in verse.

This week, we’ll be celebrate all that we love about novels in verse, highlighting some of our favorites and talking about what it is that makes verse novels so very special.

We hope you enjoy Clear Eyes, Full Shelves’ celebration of novels in verse—we’re thinking that we’ll make this an annual tradition of sorts, expanding it next year to include other folks as well. 

To kickoff Novel in Verse Week we have…

Five Truths About Novels in Verse

1. It is a known fact that novels in verse > poems.

Okay, okay… so some folks will probably disagree with me, but hear me out. Poetry is pretty nifty: you have rhyming (sometimes), meter, interesting structures and language plays. With novels in verse—you get all of that, plus a whole story! Plus, novels in verse often play with many different poetic forms in a single novel. (One of my favorites, Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, does this brilliantly.)