The Plot: Saving Red (2016) is Sonya Sones's sixth verse novel for young adults. Like her first verse novel, Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy (1999), Saving Red takes on the topic of mental illness; the protagonist, 14-year-old Molly, experiences severe anxiety and panic attacks, while other characters in the verse novel suffer from PTSD and schizoaffective disorder. A poem early in the collection provides insight into Molly's panic attacks: "I can't breathe...! // ... I'm having a heart attack! // But then Pixel's here--" (12). Pixel is Molly's service dog that accompanies her everywhere. The narrative begins cryptically alluding to the root of Molly's anxiety by referring to "the awful thing / that happened last winter" (26), but readers don't learn that "the awful thing" has something to do with her brother, Noah, until 163 pages into the narrative. Beyond exploring Molly's family and personal history with mental illness, the verse novel also examines Molly's encounter with a homeless youth named Red and her quest to reunite her with her family before the holidays.
The Poetry: Like many verse novels for young adults, Sones's work is a problem novel and is devoted primarily to narrative. Saving Red is over 400 pages and told in short, free verse poems. Sones's verse novel conforms to expectations readers of poetry might have about the way a collection should be presented (multiple stanzas, each poem titled, poems that are 1-3 pages in length). Each poem title runs into the poem, but beyond that, there is little attention to the ways poetry can use language and imagery to communicate to readers differently than traditional prose. The only poetic techniques evident in Sones's verse novel are her use of the space on the page and a sporadic simile. For example, in the poem "I suck in a Breath," the speaker describes feeling "something like / a steel plate // splitting / apart // deep inside / of me" (371). This is the closest Saving Red comes to a poetry that allows the reader to slow down or focus on language; this seems like a missed opportunity in the collection.
The Page: The end of the verse novel includes an acknowledgements and author's note section in which the author describes her own experiences of having a family member with a mental illness and how these experiences inspired her to write Saving Red. Overall, the most compelling part of Saving Red is the plot; I found the poetry to be pretty lackluster. I give it three stars.