Please welcome my guest author Meg Eden Kyatt with her list of novels in verse. Meg Eden Kuyatt is a neurodivergent author and college-level creative writing instructor. We are giving away a book bundle of Good Different ARC and related goodies. To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter at the bottom.
Good Different by Meg Eden Kyatt
Selah has to follow her rules for being normal but it’s hard to keep her feelings bottled up. Her private school doesn’t understand neurodiversity. Her mother and grandfather who are also on the autism spectrum don’t have her formally diagnosed so there are no supports for her beyond her “rules.” What seemed like a safe space — the only school she knows — turns out to be the opposite when Selah explodes and hits another student. Her gift for writing poetry also exposes those around her to the gift that is on the autism spectrum also is. This book belongs in every class library to understand neurodiversity from an #ownvoices perspective. It builds empathy in a powerful way. Celebrate April Poetry Month and April Autism Acceptance with this impactful and emotionally moving novel in verse. [middle grade novel in verse, 8+] (April 2023)
When talking about novels in verse, there are some names that we often bring up. Some of these books include:
Inside out and Back Again by Thannha Lai
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
I want to be clear: there’s a very good reason we talk about these books! They are absolute classics that deserve the attention they get. But there are also some incredible novels in verse that I don’t see on many book lists and wish would get more attention! Because of this, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite underrated novels in verse. I know these are just a few in a category that has so many incredible books, so I’d love to hear from you what your favorite underrated novels in verse are as well!
Incredible Novels In Verse that Deserve Attention
Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu
This is the book that inspired me to make this list in the first place. Lawless Spaces uses poetic form to give voice to generations of women in a family who has experienced some kind of sexual harassment or assault because of their gender. Through the poems, we really get into the minds of women across different times in American history and see how little has actually changed in our world. Through the poems, the protagonist Mimi comes to better understand where she’s come from, and the generational trauma she carries, and begins to see her difficult relationship with her mom in a new light. An interesting use of multi-point-of-view poems, as well as a thought-provoking and haunting read for adults and teens alike. [Young adult novel in verse, ages 14+] (January 2022)
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
I’ve seen The Red Pencil on some novel in-verse lists, but not enough! This novel is so compelling and hopeful despite devastating circumstances, and the illustrations only illuminate and strengthen the work. The protagonist Amira asks “what is possible?” instead of being bound by the ugly of the world around her, and transforms the plastic bags hanging on the poles in the camp into “Sudanese flowers.” In the beginning, we are lulled into the joy of her everyday village life in Darfur, only to feel the devastation when in one moment, all of it is lost to the Janjaweed militia. Even though Amira’s mother forbids her from “wasting her time” on education, a neighbor takes the time to secretly teach her and encourage her toward her dreams. For writers, it’s a fantastic example of the power of set-up and dismantling reader expectations. A critical read for children and teens to model finding joy and persistence in overwhelming circumstances. [Middle grade novel in verse, ages 8+] (November 2015)
Being Toffee by Sarah Crossan
Being Toffee is a stellar example of the power of the novel in verse, and the book that really won me over into writing in this form. The writing is solid both from the poetic standpoint as well as the narrative—not an easy balance to achieve. When Allison runs away from her abusive father, she takes refuge in the shed of Marla, a woman with dementia who mistakes Allison for her old friend from the past, “Toffee.” The backstories of the two main characters unravel so organically, creating a great sense of suspense and investment, as well as surprising connections. The ending is hopeful without forsaking authenticity and models the protagonist finding help and found family in a difficult situation. Sarah Crossan’s One is another powerful novel in verse, using form to mimic and reinforce the relationship between two conjoined twins. Crossan is a UK writer, which may be why her work shows up less frequently in American lists, so if you are unfamiliar with her work I highly recommend you check it out! [Young adult novel in verse, ages 12+] (July 2020)
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
When I asked folks online about their favorite underrated novels in verse, this one came up frequently. Ellie Terry uses verse to put readers into the head of astronomy-loving Calliope June, who has Tourette syndrome and has just had to (once again) move. While she doesn’t want anyone to know about her “quirks,” she is quickly labeled as “different,” and has to learn how to accept who she is. Poetic form is used to imitate the feeling of Calliope holding in her tics, or even the feeling of the tics themselves. Calliope’s point of view in verse is put alongside her classmate Jinsong’s perspective in prose, creating a nuanced portrait of the different ways it looks like to come to terms with yourself. A fantastic book for disability representation as well as verse novel craft. [Middle grade novel in verse, ages 9+] (May 2018)
Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi
As a writer, I find Golden Girl particularly impressive. Reem Faruqi uses such short poems in this book to do so much work! While the book has a low word count, Aafiyah’s internal and external worlds are so fleshed out and compelling. Aafiyah is an imperfect but lovable protagonist who has kleptomaniac tendencies. What starts out as “borrowing” her friends’ things becomes an attempt to pawn other’s goods to save her father, who has been wrongfully accused of a crime and detained by authorities. Aafiyah is incredibly relatable, and the short poems really allow us to focus on her perspective and what matters to her. There are no extraneous details, and the fast pace matches the emotional intensity of the subject. A great book for discussions with young readers on why people do things we might not always understand, as well as a masterclass in form for writers. [Middle grade novel in verse, ages 8+] (February 2022)
The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R. M. Romero
The Ghosts of Rose Hill is unlike any other novel in verse I’ve read. R. M. Romero creates a magical world in Prague, where the protagonist Ilana befriends the ghosts of Jewish children in a forgotten cemetery and is lured by a charismatic monster called Wassermann who promises to share his magic with her. This book reads like a modern-day fairy tale, proving that verse doesn’t have to stay grounded in reality to be compelling or speak to larger topics like mixed-race identity, racism, and diaspora. In fact, the magic creates space for readers to really engage with difficult topics that they might otherwise try to sidestep. Romero has another young adult novel in verse, A Warning About Swans, described as a “dreamy original fairytale” that comes out in July 2023. [Young adult novel in verse, ages 14+] (May 2022)
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
Nikki Grimes is a well-known master of poetry. Her novel in verse Garvey’s Choice is often included in lists (and understandably so—the entire book is built out of Japanese tankas!), but she also has some other incredible books, including her memoir in verse. Ordinary Hazards is the origin story for Grimes as a writer, detailing her incredibly challenging childhood and the comfort writing and faith gave her to continue forward. Grimes’ memoir is a powerful testament to readers of the power of writing, overcoming adversity, and not losing faith despite harrowing life experiences. This a fantastic example of encouraging writers of all ages to write from their lived experiences. [Young adult novel in verse, ages 12+] (May 2020)
The Last Fifth Grade Class of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
The Last Fifth Grade was the first novel in verse I read, so it holds a particularly special place in my heart. Laura Shovan tells this story through the voices of eighteen (!) students at Emerson Elementary, who use poems to protest the closure of their school. This book came out before novels in verse rose in popularity, but is a critical read with its unique take on the form and considering how it paved the path for verse novels to be as accessible as they are now. This book is a fantastic example of the integration of multiple diverse points of view to propel a story forward, as well as the use of traditional poetic forms. For young readers, it provides a great model for advocacy and protest. [Middle grade novel in verse, ages 8+] (April 2016)
Enemies in the Orchard by Dana Vanderlugt
Enemies in the Orchard hasn’t come out yet, but I had the privilege of reading an early review copy, and have to say that by the time I finished reading it, I was absolutely floored. The story follows Claire, a girl who works in her family’s orchard during World War II, and Karl, a POW from Germany who is sent to work in the orchard. During his time in America, Karl questions the propaganda he was indoctrinated with in Nazi Germany, and Claire discovers that an enemy may be able to become a friend. I don’t want to say too much about this read and spoil it, but I’ll say that the dual POV of the verse is compelling and that while it has a slow-build plot-wise for the first half or so of the book, this build is used to an incredibly powerful effect for the ending. This a stellar example of utilizing point of view to great effect, and the power of listening to new perspectives. A great classroom conversation starter on discerning what is true and seeing humans in a world often full of misinformation. [Middle grade novel in verse, ages 9+] (September 2023)
BONUS: Forthcoming Novels in Verse to Look Forward to:
Eb & Flow by Kelly J. Baptist
The Do More Club by Dana Kramaroff
Mirror to Mirror by Rajani LaRocca
The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally Pla
All the Fighting Parts by Hannah Sawyerr
I Am Kavi by Thushanthi Poonweera
A Year Without a Home by V. T. Bidania
Good Different ARC Book Bundle and Related Goodies GIVEAWAY!
Includes book bundle of Good Different ARC and related goodies. The giveaway is open to the US only and runs from 4/17 to 5/15/2023.
Meg Eden Kuyatt teaches creative writing at colleges and writing centers. She is the author of the 2021 Towson Prize for Literature winning poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” (Press 53, 2020) and children’s novels, most recently “Good Different,” a JLG Gold Standard selection (Scholastic, 2023). Find her online at https://linktr.ee/medenauthor, or on Twitter @ConfusedNarwhal, Instagram @meden_author, or Facebook at Meg Eden Writes Poems.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.