My Latest Obsession: The Verse Novel

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Obviously I’m familiar with the concept of narrative poetry.  Just like many others I was forced to study Homer’s epics in various literature classes over the years. I’ve also attempted and failed several times to tackle Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, the modern verse novel doesn’t seem to have the same notoriety. In fact it wasn’t until recently that I even knew they existed, much less read any. Now I can’t seem to get enough of them.

The most interesting thing I found looking into the genre is that it appears to be a growing trend in young adult literature. In fact, that’s where my obsession began. I happened to pick up a used copy of Ellen Hopkins Crank. When I bought the book I had no idea that it was actually targeted towards teens. I was a bit surprised because of the very adult topics and it’s graphic depictions. It tells the story of a young girl’s addiction to crystal meth. However, being written from a teenagers point of view and the simplistic style of the poetry, I can see how it appeals to younger readers. Hopkins has published several more verse novels including sequels to Crank. All targeted at teens, they take on difficult subjects such as sex trafficking, drug addiction and mental illness. Her simplistic poetry style makes it a pretty easy read.

The next book I enjoyed was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Another YA book highlighting a difficult issue that can face teens The main character Will is dealing with the grief of his brother’s violent death. The narrative takes place as he descends the elevator of his apartment building on his way to get revenge. On each floor he meets somebody that was part of the cycle of violence that led to his brothers death. The story is incredibly gripping, and I’m fairly certain I finished it in one day.

I promise this is the last YA book. Sister Slam and The Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman-High was actually my least favorite so far. It definitely felt more like a book intended for a younger audience. It’s a lot lighter in tone and theme. At first I wasn’t sure I would like it at all. It seemed very juvenile, in style and content. It’s a bit silly but that ended up making it a pretty fun read. In it we meet two recent high school graduates who dream of becoming famous slam poets. Their road trip begins with a poetry slam contest in New Jersey and the adventure continues to New York City. The story itself is ridiculous but the rhythm and rhymes really pulled me in.

My latest read was one of the few adult verse novels I could find available at the my library, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Just looking at the first page I realized this was going to be very different. The YA authors played around with form and style. And for the most part, excluding Sister Slam, were written in free verse. Golden Gate on the other hand is written in a consistent form of sonnets in iambic tetrameter with a set rhyme scheme. It makes it no less enjoyable to read, but due to it’s style and much longer length it definitely not a quick read.  I’ve rather been enjoying the slower pace of action. The novel mainly revolves around John and Liz, a couple who met through a personal ad. The narrative then follows a eclectic group of characters connected to the couple.

I’d love to hear back about your opinions on verse novels. I will be on the lookout for new reads in the genre. Actually I already have my next one picked out Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It’s about a pack of werewolves in LA, a supernatural horror verse novel. Now that sounds interesting. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any recommendations.

 

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