Powerful Young Adult Stories Told In Verse

Novels in verse have been around since the Iliad and Odyssey! Today, it’s rare to find one published for adults, but the form is thriving in works for children and teens. Kwame Alexander combined verse and basketball in The Crossover, winning the prestigious Newbery Medal. Thanhhà Lai’s autobiographical verse novel, Inside Out and Back Again and Jaqueline Woodson’s verse memoir Brown Girl Dreaming were both National Book Award winners.

Poetry packs a big punch, so it makes sense that authors use it to tell stories with high emotional impact. Verse novels for teens often address tough subjects: sexuality, identity, social justice and addiction. Older teens or adults looking for a powerful read that can be devoured in a few sittings should consider one of these:  

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (Fiction: grades 10+) 
Atta’s uplifting, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel about finding one’s true identity won the Stonewall Book Award. 

This book is a fairy tale
in which I am the prince
and the princess. I am
the king and the queen.
I am my own wicked
Witch and fairy godmother.

Michael is mixed-race and gay, growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican, but never quite feels Greek or Black enough. Michael’s coming out is the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, the Black Flamingo is born. 

Crank by Ellen Hopkins (Fiction: grades 9+) 
This is the first in a compelling trilogy about a teen struggling with addiction, loosely based on the experience of the author’s daughter.  

Life was good
before I
the monster.



was great,

for a little while.

Kristina Snow is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then, Kristina meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild, ecstatic ride turns into a struggle for her mind, her body, and her life.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Fiction: grades 7+) 
This powerful book on gun violence takes place during a sixty second elevator ride: the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s Will’s plan until the elevator door opens and he is joined by an unexpected passenger.  

The Poet X  by Elizabeth Acevedo (Fiction: grades 9+) 
This best-selling coming of age novel won the National Book Award, the Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award!

I am unhide-able.

Taller than even my father, with what Mami has always said

Was “a little too much body for such a young girl.”

I am the baby fat that settled into D-cups and swinging hips

So that the boys who called me a whale in middle school

Now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.  

Ever since Xiomara’s body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.  But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook. She recites the poems she has written to herself and wonders if she has the courage to share them with the world. 

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (Memoir, grades 9+) 
Twenty years after the publication of her groundbreaking novel, Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson was inspired by her fans and the #MeToo movement to share her own story in a candid memoir of family dysfunction and sexual assault.

Veteran of D/depression,
the German war and atrocities
a handsome boy married the tall girl
who looked like Katharine Hepburn
two kids adrift in a city far from home
two ships ripped from their moorings.

Mom told me the story when I was in high school,
on a night when Daddy’s drinking
drove our family to the edge. 

In free verse, Anderson shares deeply personal stories and reflections, along with a hopeful call to action for her readers and all survivors of abuse. 

Karen deWilde, Young Adult Librarian

Annotations from the publishers

Marvelous Middle Grade Reads

I am finally catching up with some of the great middle grade books I didn’t have a chance to read last year! Here are a few of my favorites:  

Wink by Rob Harrell
Fiction: grades 4-7
Touching and funny, this book is perfect for readers who enjoyed Wonder by R.J. Palacio or Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick.

 Ross Maloy just wants to be a normal seventh grader. He doesn’t want to lose his hair, or wear a weird hat, or deal with the disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid.” But with his recent diagnosis of a rare eye cancer, blending in is off the table.  Based on Rob Harrell’s real life experience and packed with comic panels, this novel is hilarious, uplifting and unforgettable.

Also available as an ebook on Libby.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
Historical Fiction: Grades 4-6 
Inspired by the true history of a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 1800s, this book is a good match for readers who loved The War That Saved My Life by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley.   

Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her home island of Martha’s Vineyard.  Her great-great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander.  Now, over a hundred years later, many people there — including Mary — are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language.  But recent events have brought danger to the island.  An unscrupulous young scientist arrives to study the island’s deaf residents, taking Mary as an unwilling subject for his experiments.

Also available as an ebook on Libby.

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
Novel in Verse: Grades 4 & up 
Woodson received the 2020 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and won the National Book Award and Newbery Medal for her autobiography, Brown Girl Dreaming.  She can be counted on to deliver a powerful story with beautiful language.  Her new book will appeal to her many fans, and also to readers who enjoyed Ghost  by Jason Reynolds. 

For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone’s hero.  As a talented professional football star, he’s beloved to the neighborhood kids and millions of adoring sports fans.  But lately ZJ’s dad is having trouble remembering things, and seems to be angry all the time.  ZJ’s mom explains it’s because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career.  ZJ can understand that–but it doesn’t make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name.

Also available as an audiobook and ebook on Libby.

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver
Fantasy: Grades 4-6
This adventure is a great pick for Harry Potter fans, especially those who could ace the Care of Magical Creatures exam.  

Cordelia Clay’s father is a veterinarian who saves and heals magical creatures.  Their home on Cedar Street is full to the brim with dragons, squelches,and diggles.  But their work must be kept secret.  Most of their neighbors aren’t welcoming to the type of “patients” they treat.  One morning, Cordelia discovers that her father has disappeared, along with nearly all the creatures.  Cordelia sets off to find them with only a handful of clues and an odd assortment of monsters to help her.  

Also available as an ebook on Hoopla.

Karen deWilde, Youth Service Librarian

Annotations from the publishers