Welcome to The Verse Novel Review! Established in 2015, this blog features my reviews, critical perspectives, analysis, and exploration of the verse novel for young readers as a literary form. I am a children's and young adult literature scholar and educator who studies form in contemporary American poetry, comics, and realistic fiction.
I first became interested in the verse novel as a form while I was completing my MFA in Poetry. I read hundreds of children's, young adult, and adult verse novels and even experimented with writing my own verse novel. Throughout my research and writing process, I was most struck by the fact that although this form has deep historical roots and has been utilized by many contemporary adult writers (such as Anne Carson, Rita Dove, Marilyn Hacker, Derek Walcott, and Seth Vikram), the form has emerged strongly in literature for young readers from the 1990s onward. Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust was the first verse novel for young readers to win the Newbery Medal in 1998, and Virginia Euwer Wolff's True Believer and Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again each won the National Book Award for their verse novels in 2001 and 2011, respectively. Most recently, verse novels such as Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming have been awarded top honors by the Newbery Medal Selection Committee and the National Book Award panel. Beyond awards and honors, verse novels for young readers have also emerged as a form extremely popular with young people. Verse novels by Ellen Hopkins, Margarita Engle, David Levithan, Sonya Sones, Sharon Creech, Helen Frost, among others can regularly be found in stock at large chain bookstores.
Further research into the critical opinion about the verse novel for young readers uncovered a general feeling of suspicion and distaste for the form (see the bibliography of critical perspectives page on this blog, noting critical commentary from the panel for The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry in 2005, 2009, and 2014). Critics have debated about whether there is any poetry in the verse novel and whether the form merits serious critical consideration. This led me to wonder: Why the verse novel? What is the verse novel? Why have authors for young readers found the form useful to communicate to and about children in the twentieth and twenty-first century? Why have critics of verse novels for young readers found the form lacking at times? What makes the verse novel for young readers a valuable form? I hope to use this blog as a way to open up a dialogue about the form and to begin answering these questions. I also hope to use this blog as a place to begin tracking, organizing, categorizing, and recognizing patterns in the production, consumption, and content of the verse novel for young readers.
What is the verse novel? Although many have defined the verse novel, it is not only scholars, but also readers, authors, and publishers who help determine what makes a book a verse novel. What makes the verse novel unique is its hybrid form, a form that combines elements of poetry, prose, and even drama (see Mike Cadden's "The Verse Novel and the Question of Genre" for more on this idea). I define the verse novel as a series of poems linked by a central narrative thread. Furthermore, because of the strong connection between children's and young adult literature and participatory culture, I argue that if a publisher, author, scholar, or reader identifies a work as a verse novel, it is a verse novel.
What makes the verse novel a valuable form? The verse novel as a form is significant in that, in both children's and adult literature, it has a literary history and tradition that dates back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Since the late 1990s, the verse novel has reemerged within both children's and adult literature, marking an important shift in the way in which we view contemporary poetry. The verse novel, in its unique hybrid construction, opens up a space for young readers and educators to come to contemporary poetry without feeling overwhelmed. The verse novel presents itself as an accessible form, and quite often reveals much depth and complexity through its language and craft.
So welcome to the blog! You can look forward to my posts weekly. I will be reviewing a new verse novel for young readers each week beginning with those published most recently, with an occasional post about what I will call "genealogical" works from 1990 through 2013. I will provide discussion of elements of the plot, the poetry, and the page, as well as note my rating on a five-star scale system.
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