The Novel in Verse – Discover the Wonders: A review of three favorites.

May 1, 2018book review, Pat's Chat, Uncategorized

         A novel in verse was a foreign term to me not long ago, but now that they are on my radar – I am in love. A novel in verse takes poetry and wraps it into a novel. It is shorter and easier to read for reluctant readers, but carries the same power of a novel. The lyrical style carries the plot, while each individual stanza is a poem in itself. I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites.

           Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson won many awards including the National Book Award from Young People’s Literature, Coretta Scott King Award, NAACP Image Award and was also a Newberry Honor book. . . for good reason. Jacqueline Woodson uses powerful imagery through her poetry to describe growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. She lives first hand the civil unrest and remnant Jim Crow laws. She also finds her passion as a writer as she grows. Following in an excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming, a passage entitled Composition Notebook:


And somehow, one day, it’s just there

Speckled black-and-white, the paper

inside smelling like something I could fall right into,

live there–inside those clean white pages.


I don’t know how my first composition notebook

ended up in my hands, long before I could really write

someone must have known that this

was all I needed.

    I can relate to this poem and it is one of my favorites in the collection – and also explains why I can stand in the paper section at Target touching paper for an hour. Jacqueline Woodson invites the reader into her world as she searches for her place inside of it. This is a middle grade novel in verse perfect for readers of all ages.

       The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney is another powerful novel in verse that gives you the 12-year-old perspective of Amira during the raid on her Sudanese village. She and her family are forced to a refugee camp and surrounded by genocide by the Janjaweed militia. As her life crumbles, the gift of a red pencil provides hope and the power of creativity. An excerpt:


I show Old Anwar my red pencil.

“It suits you,” he says.

“Such a bold color. Strong.”


I share my drawings.

Old Anwar looks



“Healing” is all he says.

             The Red Pencil is a beautiful piece of ugly history written with grace and beautiful pencil images.


           My recent favorite novel in verse, that sent my book club into a tizzy was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. A multi-award winning book being a Printz Honor book, Coretta Scott King Honor book, Newberry Honor book, and more – Reynolds uses poetry to enter the raw world of violence. When 15-year-old Will’s brother is shot in gang violence, Will knows only the rules of the street – to take revenge on his brother’s killer. The story takes place over a brief period of time as Will takes his brother’s gun and descends an elevator. He stops on each floor only to be visited by loved ones previously killed at the hands of violence. What will he do at the first floor? An excerpt:




for a hug

to peel back skin

of time,

the toughened

and raw bits,

the irritated

and irritating

dry spots,


the parts that bleed?

       I devoured The Long Way Down in a day. The writing is powerful and sucks you into Will’s turmoil of emotions. The ending leaves questions – and my interpretation of the ending differed greatly with the interpretation of my book club! Whoa! Opens up great discussions and a fantastic book for all ages to read. 

     Every night I get lost in another world as I drift into the pages of a book. Reading opens your mind and allows a release of emotions. Consider a novel in verse on your next “must read” list.

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