Whether you’re interested in crafting a novel in verse or you’re just interested in expanding your reading palette to include this hybrid genre, I’m here for you. With one disclaimer: I am not an expert on novels in verse. Not even close. But, after recently reading (devouring!) a few young adult novels in verse, my interest was piqued.
What’s a novel in verse, you ask? Here’s my definition based on a combination of multiple sources: a novel in verse (also called a verse novel) is a novel-length narrative composed of a collection of poems (usually free verse) rather than prose. The majority of novels in verse are written for middle-grade and young adult readers. According to one tidbit, I found online (source unknown) a verse novel must have “the music and imagery that we find in poetry and at the same time character development and story structure of a novel. Verse novelists must write good poetry and a good story, and they must combine the two seamlessly in order for the verse novel to work.”
Sounds easy-peasey lemon-squeezy. Said no writer EVER.
But, don’t toss out all of your hopes and dreams of writing a novel in verse just yet, because it’s a booming market. Many titles were released in 2021, by the Big 4 publishers as well as independent publishing houses. One of which is writer Colby Cedar Smith’s debut novel Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit. In a featured post on the Official SCBWI Blog, Smith describes the genre as such:
“Most verse novels are fast-paced, accessible for reluctant readers, and filled with gorgeous language that packs an emotional punch. Often containing themes such as identity, body image, gender roles, violence, racism, isolation, and grief, novels in verse distill individual and societal woes into precise, visceral lines. This use of lyrical language and creative syntax often enhances the close, personal narrative. For these reasons, librarians, teachers, and students are reaching for more novels in verse, like recent best-sellers by Kwame Alexander and Elizabeth Acevedo.”
(Photo from her website, colbycedarsmith.com)
Speaking of author Elizabeth Acevedo, if you google “novels in verse”, you’ll discover many a list of book recommendations. And you’ll probably find her name and her YA novels in verse on every one of them. I’ve “read” (listened to) Poet X (HarperTeen 2018), With the Fire on High (Quill Tree Books, 2019), and Clap When You Land (Quill Tree Books, 2020). I highly recommend Acevedo’s books, specifically the audiobook versions. In my opinion, reading the text yourself will fail in comparison to hearing Acevedo’s narration. She delivers each powerful verse at the intended pace, popping out words in all the right places, and pronouncing the Spanish words with the crisp authentic flair that only a fluent Spanish speaker could.
Ready to start writing? Check out this advice from Caroline Starr Rose: Best 9 Tips on Plotting a Novel in Verse. If you’re already a fan of reading this genre, please share your novel in verse favorites in the comments!
Novels in verse definitely hit different. There’s usually something surprising about the language or structure that makes it work so well.
Ah, ezsily my favourite type of novel. I’ve just finished Alone in less than a day and now have to read it all over again. Everywhere Blue is the most beautiful NIV I’ve read so far. I can only hope to write that well myself. The Truth Project was also lovely.
I’ve read a couple of hundred, I think, over the past few years, first because I LOVE them, and second to decide which to use as mentor texts for my own MG NIV. They vary enormously, with some focusing less on poetic language and more on using white space to propel the narrative, others focus more on language, and still others make creative use of layout an important focus….others do it all. I have too many favorites to list here. Writing them is not for the faint of heart, LOL.
Long Way Down is my all-time favorite, but I’ve also loved Alone, The Canyon’s Edge, all of Kwame Alexander’s books, Call Me Athena, The Poet X, Clap When You Land, Everywhere Blue, Love That Dog, and more.
I have enjoyed a few of these, but never thought to listen to the audio versions. You’ve planted the seed in my head now, Keri! 🙂
Verse novels are widely popular. I especially love Kwame Alexander’s but will definitely check out Acevedo’s, thanks.