Verse novels are everywhere, but for some, the idea of a novel-length narrative told entirely in verse is still a thing of terror. Verse novels are stories, like any other. They will have a plot, historical, social and cultural context, and characters who need to overcome a series of obstacles in order to get what they want. Whilst verse novels can take a little getting used to, even for the seasoned reader, there are so many reasons to champion and cherish them.
- Honesty and Authenticity – Verse novels often deal with difficult topics, like grief, prejudice, and shame, shining a light on facets of history, society and identity that aren’t often discussed. Many of the issues that feature in verse novels are relevant to young people who are searching for their place in a world they are only just beginning to understand.
- An Immersive Reading Experience – Poetry has an immediacy, an urgency that can be used to tackle emotional subjects in a way that is honest and direct. Most verse novels are told through the first-person perspective, which offers an increased sense of intimacy. The reader is able to align themselves closely with the narrator, experiencing their emotional journey alongside them. These stories can be intense, and powerful. They are often consumed quickly – not because they are easy, but because once they have drawn you in, it is almost impossible to emerge from the pages.
- Engaging Reluctant readers – The layout of a verse novel can be quite different to prose. The text may be arranged creatively on the page, with greater use of white space. These books can be incredibly effective in capturing the interest of learners who do not enjoy reading, because the sparse layout can feel less daunting than paragraphs of dense text. The increased use of white space can be read as permission to take your time, giving the reader a little room to breathe. It is definitely worth noting that layout alone does not make a verse novel; the author will have made choices about language, pacing, rhythm and rhyme and all these elements will combine to create a unique experience that will vary from reader to reader.
- Challenging Perspectives – Verse novels are a terrific way to challenge perspectives on poetry, exposing the reader to something beyond the narrow view of the curriculum. They make poetry accessible, demonstrating all the ways verse is relevant and useful in the modern world.
- A Mirror and a Window – Perhaps among the most valuable things a verse novel can offer the reader is the chance to see themselves on the page and the opportunity to explore the world beyond the limits of their own experience.
In short, verse novels are bold, brave, sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful, but always important and we are lucky that new authors and new titles are emerging all the time. Below, I have listed some titles that would make a good starting point. These lists are by no means exhaustive and contain only a fraction of the amazing verse novels available. Even the most basic internet search will open up hundreds, if not thousands, of avenues for you to explore and I would urge you to do just that!
Other Words for Home – Jasmine Warga
In the Key of Code – Aimee Lucido
The Deepest Breath – Megan Grehan
Zombierella – Joseph Coelho
The Crossover – Kwame Alexander
Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson
Junk Boy – Tony Abbott
Clap When You Land – Elizabeth AcevedoThe Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
Punching the Air – Ibi Zoboi and Yusef SalaamToffee – Sarah Crossan
Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds