Verse Novels: The Last Five Years by Stasia Ward Kehoe
When Sarah asked if I’d like to write a post for her fourth VERSE NOVEL celebration, I started reflecting on how the genre has fared between the publication of THE SOUND OF LETTING GO this past February and 2011, when I launched my YA debut, AUDITION. Here are a few of my personal thoughts and observations:
- The verse novel form seems to be increasing in popularity, with 2014 seeing a strong year in both quantity and recognition.
- Verse novels may be ahead of the diversity curve. The genre includes many titles about topics such as illness (both physical and mental), discrimination, family issues, bullying, hardships suffered by teens in other cultures…you name it. Just this winter, verse novelists of color won the YA National Book Award, the Newbery and a Newbery Honor.
- In fact, one odd feature of YA novels is that they weigh heavily toward “heavy” or “intense” subject matter, be it fiction or nonfiction. The humorous verse novel is, well, rare.
- Speaking of rarity, though you’ll see a other names in the reading list below, the major verse players, in terms of sales, number of books published, and awareness/citations, remain Ellen Hopkins, Sonya Sones, Karen Hesse, Margarita Engel, and Sharon Creech. So, while the genre is booming with new entrants, it is difficult to keep verse novels in print—or even get them to paperback editions—for many writers.
- Finally, if we accepted that verse novels are gaining “cred,” then why? Is it just part of the increasing popularity of YA lit in general? Or has the boom in social media that parallels the YA craze broadened our readership’s openness to communication forms beyond traditional prose through the taught conciseness of Tweets, the visual impact of Instagram, the stream-of-consciousness Snapchats, etc? While lots of folks cite the low-word count “quickness” for verse novels’ appeal to reluctant readers, I’d rather argue that our readers are people who can embrace the multiple POVs, shaped texts, interplaying of poetry and prose, and myriad other explorations of communicating with words and white space that are verse novels.
A quick scan of HuffPo, PW and so on, predicts upcoming trends in YA to include more male protagonists, more fairy tale reimaginings and, of course, diversity. Educationally, the (albeit controversial) Common Core is leading a drive toward more nonfiction of literary quality. What I see coming up in verse novels this year and next suggests that we (the awesome verse novelist community) is ticking boxes without even trying and producing stuff that should meet publishers’ needs. Here’s hoping these beautiful books get the corporate support they deserve to be fully recognized!
A chronology of reads to consider (my choices):
2010 - GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch WIlliams
2011 - INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanha Lai (Newbery & National Book Award winner), THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder, FAMILY by Micol Ostow
2012 - OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD by Leslea Newman (inspired by true events), LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay and, the middle grade MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose
2013 - FREAK BOY by Kristin Elizabeth Clark and ALL THE BROKEN PIECES by Ann E. Burg (both male protagonists/female authors); THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT by Allan Wolf (pb) and SISTERS OF GLASS by Stephanie Hemphill (historical)
2014 - Lucy Frank’s TWO GIRLS STARING AT THE CEILING and Padma Venkatraman’s A TIME TO DANCE (novels about illness and disability) and, of course, Kwame Alexander’s THE CROSSOVER (Newbery Award winner) and Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING (National Book Award winner, Newbery Honor)
2015 - (thus far) AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder
And look out for… 5:1 by Holly Bodger (5/15), SKYSCRAPING by Cordelia Jensen (6/15), PAPER HEARTS by Meg Wiviot (9/15)
Online sources for further exploration:
Stasia Ward Kehoe grew up performing on stages from New Hampshire to Washington, DC. She holds a BA in English from GeorgetownUniversity and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University. She now lives in western Washington State with her husband and four sons. Stasia's novels include Audition and The Sound of Letting Go.
Read Stasia's post from Verse Week 2014, Why Verse Novels Can be About Anything.