Novels In Verse: The Forgotten Genre

Book – The genre of novels in verse often gets swept under the rug, lost in the muddle of YA fiction.  As opposed to the narrative style of most YA novels (words organized in sentences and paragraphs), verse novels tell stories in the form of free verse poetry.  Aside from their unique formatting, novels in verse excel at covering difficult topics and creating emotionally charged stories.


Here are a few examples of novels in verse, in a variety of themes:

Substance Abuse: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins challenges taboo subjects such as drug addiction, abuse, sex, and suicide in her novels. In her first verse novel, titled Crank, Hopkins addresses drug addiction through the experiences of the main character, Kristina, otherwise known as Bree. Hopkins bases the story off of her own experience with her daughter’s addiction.  The strength in this novel is the connection the author has to the subject matter.

Historical Fiction: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This story follows fourteen year old Billie Joe and her experiences during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  Billie Joe’s narration is a diary of daily life on her family’s farm where she lives with her Daddy and Ma.  Emotionally charged, this story provides insight into the lives of those living through the dust bowl, while the free verse form helps readers connect to the characters more fully.


Other verse novels at the Warrenville Library include: Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas, A Girl Named Mister by Nick Grimes, May B: A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose,
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, and Sold by Patricia McCormick

 

7th Sigma by Steven Gould

7th sigmaBook – I had so much fun with 7th Sigma. I love crossover genres, books that combine a little bit of everything to get something new, and I think this might be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever seen – science-fictional post-apocalyptic Western spy-fi. Wait, that doesn’t get the aikido in there. And the characters are great. Kimble starts out as a street kid who gets pretty much adopted by Ruth, a divorced aikido master who’s heading out to start a new dojo in the territory. This is definitely Kimble’s story – by the end of the book he’ll be heading off to college – but I loved Ruth from the moment she walked into town. She’s determined to make for herself the kind of life she wants, and she isn’t going to let anything get in her way. I admire that.

I think my favorite part was the serial nature of the story; aside from the last two adventures, each of the chapters is pretty much self-contained.  It gave the book the feel of an old Western TV show. Heck, I’d love to see this universe as a TV show. SyFy, I’m looking at you.

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Book –Set in 1964, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards easily connects to our modern world.  On a stormy Winter’s night, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own twins.  The first one comes easily, a perfect baby boy.  But the twin, his daughter is different; the doctor immediately sees that she has Down’s Syndrome.  Before his wife can notice, he hands the baby girl off to his nurse, instructing her to take the child and leave her at an institution.  He then tells his wife that her daughter was a stillborn, in his mind saving her and himself from the anguish of raising a child with disabilities.

But the nurse, Caroline, can’t bear to leave the baby, and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.  Though separated by distance and lies, the lives of the infant twins and their families are forever intertwined.

In a new city, Caroline raises Phoebe in a happy and loving household.  Meanwhile, the doctor is faced with his wife’s grief over the loss of her infant daughter.  In her mourning, their son Paul grows up in a distant family full of regret and anguish.  His mother is never able to console her heartache, carrying her grief throughout her life.

Kim weaves a story that is powerfully real, illuminating the loss of a child with the gift of a new life.  In our modern world, the doctor would have been able to foresee his daughter’s disability in the womb.  Would he and his wife have terminated the pregnancy, knowing the difficulties they might face? With such high awareness of disabilities like Down’s Syndrome in today’s society, there is so much support available for parents and families.  It’s interesting to wonder what might have been, if these fictional characters represented real people living in the 21st century.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book – Cath is a huge Simon Snow fan. Book releases, movie premiers, dressing up, and writing fan fiction have consumed her life and that of her twin sister Wren. But now Cath and Wren are starting their first year of college and Wren no longer seems to care about Simon Snow. But Cath cannot let go. Simon Snow helped her cope with her mother leaving and her father’s illness. And there is no way she can give up on her fan fiction, Carry On Simon, not when thousands of people are expecting her weekly updates. But navigating college is stressful, especially when making new friends is not your strong suit, and Cath’s upper level Writing class does not leave a lot of time for extra writing projects. Add cute (but confusing) boys to the mix and Cath’s freshman year becomes a lot more complicated than she wished.

Fangirl tells the relatable story of a young college freshman who would rather stay in her room and write fan fiction than interact with anybody. It’s about breaking out of your comfort zone in order to make new friends, have adventures, and start relationships. If you love writing and cute love stories Fangirl is a great book to read.

The Immortals Series by Tamora Pierce

immortalsBook – Meet Daine, a girl with an unusual gift that allows her to communicate with animals.  With only her beloved pony, Daine finds a new life as the animal handler of the Queen’s Riders, working with the knight Alanna.  However, it soon becomes clear that Daine’s gift is more than unusual; it’s magic.  With the help of a mage called Numair, Daine learns to harness the power she possesses.  As her magic reveals its true nature, Daine embarks on a crusade with her newfound friends to protect the city of Tortall from the attacks of  immortal creatures set on destruction.  The series order: 1- Wild Magic, 2-Wolf Speaker, 3-Emperor Mage and 4-The Realms of the Gods.

I first read Wild Magic as a teen, initially attracted by the human-animal communication aspect of the story, but there is so much more to love.  Dragons and other magical creatures, mystery, and fantasy all come together to create this captivating novel. The best part is that Daine’s story continues for four books (no need to feel rushed in your reading!).  This series was everything I wanted it to be.  Which, for me at least, is a pretty big deal.

Tamora Pierce has written a bunch of other novels within the same universe as The Immortals Series, appropriately dubbed the Tortall Universe.  Each mini-series follows a different character; if you liked Daine, try following Alanna, Kel, Aly, or Beka in his/her own adventure. Check out more tales from your favorite characters of the Tortall Universe at Goodreads.com.

 

A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley

mind for numbersBook – I read this book as a companion to the Coursera course “Learning How to Learn,” which is taught by the author and is, in fact, nearly identical to the book. But for once I wouldn’t brush it off as unnecessarily repetitive; in fact, I’d recommend both the video lecture-based course and the book together. Reading the book really helped drive home some of the key points from the lectures by actually putting them into practice. Spaced repetition and recall – reviewing material some time after you’ve learned it – are easy to do when the book and lectures are covering the exact same material, but you’re a little behind in the book where you are in the lectures, and vice versa. Oakley also recommends trying to recall the material in a different setting than you originally learned it, to build flexibility into your understanding – easy to do when I was watching the lectures at home on my computer and reading the book at work over lunch.

I’m not in school any more, but I’ve been trying to improve my math skills (I got good grades in school by avoiding math wherever possible), and this book & course have offered me some useful techniques for learning, partially just by making it clear what I was already doing instinctively to learn things that come easily to me. Now that I know what those things are, it should be easier to apply them in situations where I have to stretch myself a little more.

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

6105001Book – I am always thrilled when I discover a good mystery series that I haven’t read yet. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey is the first book of the Inspector Darko Dawson mysteries. Darko (love the name) is a detective inspector in Ghana who is summoned to the remote village of Ketanu to look into the suspicious death of Gladys, a medical student and dedicated AIDS worker. It is an emotional assignment, since this is the same place that Darko’s mother went to when he was a boy to visit her sister and family and she disappeared and the case is still unsolved. Could these two women somehow be connected? Darko’s investigation clashes with local law enforcement and unsettling customs – having young daughters marry local priests with multiple wives, as a penance for family sins. The author gives a wonderful sense of place and plenty of interesting characters and suspects that keeps the reader interested until the very end. We have all the books in this series for you to enjoy!

Fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels may enjoy this series also set in Africa.  However, the situations are grittier in the Darko Dawson mysteries and whereas Precious Ramotswe likes relaxing with a cup of bush tea and is a gentle soul, Darko Dawson prefers smoking pot and has anger management issues.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

Book – Jeannette Walls recounts her unique and unstable childhood in The Glass Castle: A Memoir. From the outside, life looks like a never-ending adventure for Jeannette and her siblings.  On good days, her father Rex’s wild imagination takes his family across the United States, a family of vagabonds high on wanderlust. But then the bad days came; the money ran out and all their dreams seemed to have expired.

Confined to a dismal town, Rex became a constant drunk, stealing the family’s dinner money to feed his need.  Meanwhile, Jeannette’s mother, Mary was lost in her own world, an artist obsessed with a need for excitement, such that couldn’t be filled by caring for her young children. It was up to a young Jeannette and her siblings to take care of themselves, learning how to live and survive amid the escalating dysfunction and chaos.

Jeannette recounts her youth in a way that retains her parents’ dignity, as unstable as they were.  Readers are able to see her parents as lost souls failing to reach their dreams, forced into a life they didn’t want.  This struggle to find fulfillment in life is something we can all relate to.

Jeannette also wrote Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel, a prequel of sorts to The Glass Castle.  The subtitle, A True Life Novel, gives readers a clue as to why the book is noted as fiction.  The book was originally intended to be a biography on Jeannette’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, but the author was missing too much information for it to be categorized as completely biographical.  However the powerful character  of Lily Smith comes across just as vividly as the characters in Jeannette’s first memoir.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

indexBook- After witnessing a stranger’s accidental death as a child, Doughty has always been fascinated by death and mortality. This leads her naturally to getting a job in a crematory. Far from the sterile and sanitized version of death many people prefer to maintain, Doughty offers a more honest picture of what happens when we die. She tells of cleaning the bones out of the crematory, of smashing bones into “cremains,” and of many, many viscerally gross details that I won’t relate here. Even as just a memoir of her time in the crematorium, Doughty’s memoir is engrossing, informative, and, at times, hilarious.

However, during her time in the traditional death industry, Doughty has come to the conclusion that we as a culture live too far separated from death and dying. In the past, seeing an untreated dead body was not a rare sight. Today, the dead are either cleaned up and embalmed to look like they are sleeping, as in wakes and funerals, or whisked away quietly, as in hospitals where death is viewed as a failure of the medical system. Doughty wants us all to think openly and honestly about death since, after all, it is inevitable.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes will appeal to fans of Mary Roach, who offers a similarly unadorned picture of the human body and its processes.