Speaking to the Soul of Teen Readers: Young Adult Novels in Verse

This article is by Publisher Spotlight intern Nicole Speyrer

Poetry, to many, carries the weight of emotion and internal movement. In a way, it sometimes becomes more difficult to express deeper, more complex experiences in our everyday language. In being forced to certain grammar constraints and spoken emphases or without certain imagery, a certain complexity and creativity can be entirely lost. Sometimes, expressing an experience only comes from language written in verse. And what more intricate conflicts are more difficult to tell than those connected to our very own lives, specifically in the teenage years?

Novels in verse have existed for centuries, cousins to epic poems, some of the earliest examples include “Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart” by Chretian de Troyes published circa 1470 and “The Book of the Love-Smitten Heart” by Rene I, King of Naples and Jerusalem, between 1457 and 1499. Today, novels in verse have largely found an audience in middle-grade and young adult readership. Author Colby Cedar Smith ( remarks that “most verse novels are fast-paced, accessible for reluctant readers and filled with gorgeous language that packs an emotional punch…use of lyrical language and creative syntax often enhances the close, personal narrative.” These elements of narrative poetry bring more and more readers to the genre and open up a whole new world of writing. And some promise to be especially compelling. Take a look at a few of these titles:

Baby Teeth offers a fresh look into teenage struggles with identity from the perspective given by Immy, a young girl who is exploring who she is despite being isolate from a community. She grapples with the reality of her desires, both with her vampiric physical need for blood and her internal needs for acceptance and understanding. When Claudia comes along and gifts her a yellow rose, the love she has yearned for so deeply rises to the surface. Written by Meg Grehan and published by Little Island Press, Baby Teeth opens a new world filled with complex emotions and gripping contrasts.

The Lonely Book, also by Meg Grehan, unveils the deep veins of family and personal identities all under the backdrop of a quaint bookshop. The magic of book highlights the story inside as Annie grows up in the bookshop and begins to notice how her sister Charlotte and the magic in the bookshop seem to be out of balance. Her moms are concerned, too. Follow this family, as they continue to learn more about each other and the magic they hold inside, just by being themselves. Published by Little Island Press, The Lonely Book presents to readers the hope that for every book there is a reader and that for every reader there is someone who is on their own journey of self-discovery.

One Alley Summer, by Anne Ylvisaker shows the dynamics of a coming-of-age summer in this verse novel. Middle-school summers are full of heat and pressure to change too fast, Phee feels stuck between the measures of breaking free and belonging as the months march on. Published by Marble Press, One Alley Summer captures the nostalgia and conflict of wrestling with identity, with friendships, and with expectations.

No matter where you are in the world and in maturity, these books follow a range of themes from supernatural romance to family troubles. YA novels in verse can be a new opportunity for writers, for readers, and for our communities as we all collectively wrestle with these topics and work toward deeper shared experiences that are harder to unravel and express. An instructor and commentor on writing, Gabriela Pereira says that verse novels “have the music and imagery that we find in poetry and at the same time character development and story structure of a novel.”

Quoted verse by Nicole Speyrer

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