A Quick Guide to Verse Novels

Have you read any verse novels before? Maybe you’re already a fan, in which case you might find some new favourites to read in this recommendations post! Or maybe the format is entirely new to you, so I’ll give a quick explanation first.

In this post, I’m recommending 20 verse novels. The books I’m recommending are middlegrade and YA.


What are verse novels?

Verse novels are a type of combination between novels and poetry. Where a novel is usually written in prose, and a poetry collection usually consists of different poems that don’t always make up a bigger story, a verse novel is written in poems, but it tells a complete story in the course of the book.

Personally, I think this is a very accessible and engaging way to (start to) read poetry, because you do get a story to get immersed in, but you also get the addition of a unique writing style with elements that you can further appreciate and analyse if wanted.


Recommendations

Dean Atta – The Black Flamingo

A fierce coming-of-age verse novel about identity and the power of drag, from acclaimed poet and performer Dean Atta. Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, and Kacen Callender.

Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough.

As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born.

Told with raw honesty, insight, and lyricism, this debut explores the layers of identity that make us who we are—and allow us to shine.

The Black Flamingo

I’m starting off with my very favourite verse novel, but the rest of my recommendations aren’t in any particular order. I’m in awe with Dean Atta’s writing, and I highly recommend the audiobook for this one as well, because he’s narrated it himself.


Mahogany L. Browne – Chlorine Sky

A novel-in-verse about a young girl coming-of-age and stepping out of the shadow of her former best friend. Perfect for readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Nikki Grimes.

She looks me hard in my eyes
& my knees lock into tree trunks
My eyes don’t dance like my heartbeat racing
They stare straight back hot daggers.
I remember things will never be the same.
I remember things.

With gritty and heartbreaking honesty, Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.

Chlorine Sky

A new release I haven’t yet read, but am very excited about, is Chlorine Sky. I’ve preordered it because I’ve been hearing amazing things about it, and I’m hoping to read it in February.


Dante Medema – The Truth Project

Seventeen-year-old Cordelia Koenig was sure of many things going into her last year of high school. For one, she wasn’t going to stress over the senior project all her peers were dreading—she’d just use the same find-your-roots genealogy idea that her older sister used for hers. Secondly, she’d put all that time spent not worrying about the project toward getting reacquainted with former best friend and longtime crush Kodiak Jones who, conveniently, gets assigned as Cordelia’s partner.

All she has to do is mail in her DNA sample, write about her ancestry results and breeze through the rest of senior year. Done, done and done.

But when Cordelia’s GeneQuest results reveal that her father is not the man she thought he was but a stranger who lives thousands of miles away, Cordelia realizes she isn’t sure of anything anymore—not the mother who lied, the life she was born into or the girl staring back at her in the mirror.

If your life began with a lie, how can you ever be sure of what’s true?

The Truth Project

This is the most recent verse novel I read, and it’s an intriguing one about a girl who finds out her dad is not her biological father when she takes a DNA test for a school project.


Meg Grehan – The Space Between

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Beth plans to spend a whole year alone, in her snug, safe house. But she has reckoned without floppy-eared, tail-wagging Mouse, who comes nosing to her window. Followed shortly by his owner, Alice. As Beth’s year of solitude rolls out, Alice gently steals her way first into Beth’s house and later into her heart. And by the time New Year’s Eve comes round again – who knows?

A tender and delicate love story in verse, The Space Between is a tale of how warmth, support and friendship can overcome mental anguish.

The Space Between

Another book I haven’t read yet, but that comes highly recommended by one of my friends because she adores the mental illness representation – it’s about anxiety and agoraphobia. It’s also a sapphic book!


Justin Reynolds – Long Way Down

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.

Long Way Down

This was one of the first verse novels that I read, and it’s so impactful. I believe the audiobook of this one is also narrated by the author, but I haven’t listened to it.


Jasmine Warga – Other Words For Home

I am learning how to be
sad
and happy
at the same time.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

Other Words for Home

Other Words For Home is the first middlegrade I’m recommending. It’s both happy and sad, and so beautifully written.


Eric Gansworth – Apple: Skin to the Core

Apple: Skin to the Core, is a YA memoir-in-verse. Eric Gansworth tells the story of his life, of an Onondaga family living among Tuscaroras, and of Native people in America, including the damaging legacy of government boarding schools—and in doing so grapples with the slur common in Native communities, for someone “red on the outside, white on the inside,” and reclaims it.

Apple: Skin to the Core

I haven’t managed to read this verse novel yet, but I’m hoping to get to it soon. I received an Audio Listening Copy from Libro.fm so I’m very curious about the narration; it’s narrated by the author!


Elizabeth Acevedo – The Poet X

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

The Poet X

You’ve probably heard of The Poet X, and for good reason: it’s AMAZING. The audiobook is perfectly narrated by the author, and I’d highly recommend listening to it, but the book is so good regardless of what way you take it in.


Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam – Punching the Air

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Punching the Air

I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I did order it recently because I’ve been wanting to read it since it came out, and I’ve been hearing the best things about it.


K.A. Holt – Redwood and Ponytail

Told in verse in two voices, with a chorus of fellow students, this is a story of two girls, opposites in many ways, who are drawn to each other; Kate appears to be a stereotypical cheerleader with a sleek ponytail and a perfectly polished persona, Tam is tall, athletic and frequently mistaken for a boy, but their deepening friendship inevitably changes and reveals them in ways they did not anticipate.

Redwood and Ponytail

Another middlegrade I’d recommend is this sapphic one! I think this is a super accessible verse novel for the target audience that can definitely be enjoyed by an older audience as well (but I honestly believe most, if not all, middlegrade can be).


Manjeet Mann – Run, Rebel

When Amber runs, it’s the only time she feels completely free – far away from her claustrophobic home life. Her father wants her to be a dutiful daughter, waiting for an arranged marriage like her sister Ruby.

Running is a quiet rebellion. But Amber wants so much more – and she’s ready to fight for it.

It’s time for a revolution.

Run, Rebel

I read this book as an eARC, and I’ve unfortunately not seen much buzz around it. Which is such a shame, because this book is so good! I really need more people to read it!!


Joy McCullough – Blood Water Paint

A debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

Blood Water Paint

Another book I haven’t actually read yet, but really want to. This is a fairly well-known verse novel too, and it comes highly recommended by many reviewers.


Jacqueline Woodson – Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson is, of course, a prolific writer. I have to admit I haven’t read many of her books yet, but this middlegrade memoir in verse is absolutely stunning.


Elizabeth Acevedo – Clap When You Land

In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Clap When You Land

I couldn’t resist recommending Elizabeth Acevedo’s other verse novel as well, because Clap When You Land is also very beautiful. It’s about two girls who have the same father, but only find out when he dies in a plane crash. It’s also sapphic and features a lovely established relationship between one of the main characters and her girlfriend.


Candice Iloh – Every Body Looking

Every Body Looking is a debut novel in verse in the style of Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds. Candice Iloh’s book tells the story of Ada–daughter of an immigrant father and an African American mother–and her struggle to find a place for herself in America and in her own family.

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set on the backs of first generation children, the pressures woven into the family dynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.”–New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds

Every Body Looking is a heavily autobiographical novel of a young woman’s struggle to carve a place for herself–for her black female body–in a world of deeply conflicting messages.

Told entirely in verse, Ada’s story encompasses her earliest memories as a child, including her abuse at the hands of a young cousin, her mother’s rejection and descent into addiction, and her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria.

The present-tense of the book is Ada’s first year at Howard University in Washington D.C., where she must finally confront the fundamental conflict between who her family says she should be and what her body tells her she must be.

Every Body Looking

Just like Chlorine Sky and Punching the Air, this is also a novel that I just ordered, so I haven’t read it yet. I’m hoping to get to it very soon though, and it sounds so good! From what I’ve seen, this book has questioning rep from a sapphic main character.


Nikita Gill – The Girl and the Goddess

Bestselling poet, writer, and Instagram sensation Nikita Gill returns with a collection of poetry and prose exploring Hindu mythology and legend.

Let her be a little less human, a little more divine
Give her heart armor so it doesn’t break as easily as mine

Meet Paro. A girl with a strong will, a full heart, and much to learn. Born into a family reeling from the ruptures of Partition in India, we follow her as she crosses the precarious lines between childhood, teenage discovery, and realizing her adult self. In the process, Paro must confront fear, desire and the darkest parts of herself in the search for meaning and, ultimately, empowerment.

Nikita Gill’s vivid poetry and beautiful illustrations have captured hearts and imaginations–but in The Girl and the Goddess, she offers us her most personal and deeply felt writing to date: an intimate coming-of-age story told in linked poems that offers a look into the Hindu mythology and rich cultural influences that helped her become the woman she is today.

The Girl and the Goddess: Stories and Poems of Divine Wisdom

I haven’t read anything by Nikita Gill before, but I’ve really wanted to, and this seems like a great place to start.


Aida Salazar – Land of the Cranes

From the prolific author of The Moon Within comes the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story in verse of a young Latinx girl who learns to hold on to hope and love even in the darkest of places: a family detention center for migrants and refugees.

Nine-year-old Betita knows she is a crane. Papi has told her the story, even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from cartel wars in Mexico. The Aztecs came from a place called Aztlan, what is now the Southwest US, called the land of the cranes. They left Aztlan to establish their great city in the center of the universe-Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. It was prophesized that their people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita that they are cranes that have come home.

Then one day, Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind on their own, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be. Will Betita and her family ever be whole again?

The Land of the Cranes

As I’m writing this post, I just read this book, in one sitting, a few days ago. And I’m still quietly thinking about it, because it’s such a beautiful read that made me feel incredibly sad for hours after I’d finished it. This one is a middlegrade too and I think it’s a must read for people of any age because of the way it talks about undocumented immigration and ICE.


Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess – Solo

When the heart gets lost, let the music find you.

Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he’d give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming—like many—that Blade will become just like his father.

In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana—both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he’s been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.

Solo

This is another novel I haven’t read yet, but it’s on my audio TBR, so I’m hoping to get to it soon. I’ve heard great things about the audio production!


Sarah Crossan – Moonrise

Seventeen-year-old Joe hasn’t seen his brother in ten years. Ed didn’t walk out on the family, not exactly. It’s something more brutal.

Ed’s locked up — on death row.

Now his execution date has been set, and the clock is ticking. Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with his brother, no matter what other people think … and no matter whether Ed committed the crime. But did he? And does it matter, in the end?

This poignant, timely, heartbreaking novel asks big questions: What value do you place on life? What can you forgive? And just how do you say goodbye?

Moonrise

I also want to recommend Moonrise, by one of the most well-known authors of verse novels.


Tami Charles – Muted

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of ambition, music, and innocence lost, perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds!
Be bold. Get seen. Be Heard.

For seventeen-year-old Denver, music is everything. Writing, performing, and her ultimate goal: escaping her very small, very white hometown.

So Denver is more than ready on the day she and her best friends Dali and Shak sing their way into the orbit of the biggest R&B star in the world, Sean “Mercury” Ellis. Merc gives them everything: parties, perks, wild nights — plus hours and hours in the recording studio. Even the painful sacrifices and the lies the girls have to tell are all worth it.

Until they’re not.

Denver begins to realize that she’s trapped in Merc’s world, struggling to hold on to her own voice. As the dream turns into a nightmare, she must make a choice: lose her big break, or get broken.

Inspired by true events, Muted is a fearless exploration of the dark side of the music industry, the business of exploitation, how a girl’s dreams can be used against her — and what it takes to fight back.

Muted

My final recommendation is a bonus for now, as it’s not yet released, but you could preorder it if you wanted. It’s not a long wait though, so I still wanted to include it: it comes out on February 2nd!


Have you read any verse novels? Do you want to read them?

14 thoughts on “A Quick Guide to Verse Novels

Add yours

  1. I love verse novels! I second your recs of The Black Flamingo, Redwood & Ponytail, The Poet X, and The Space Between. Meg Grehan has another novel in verse, The Deepest Breath, which is FINALLY releasing in the US and I am super excited for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a good list! A few of them are already on my shelves and I’m excited to read them!! 🙂 I didn’t know some of these were verse novels, like Other Words for Home and I’m so happy you put them on this list!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I adored this recommendation list. I was thinking of doing one myself but I didn’t even know about half of the books featured in here! I guess I have many more books to read now 🙂
    Every time I write a wrap-up I feature posts I’ve really enjoyed reading that month, linking back to the original and giving credit of course. Would it be okay if I featured your post? It’s completely opcional and with no preassure at all, but I wanted to ask first.
    Loved the post!

    Liked by 2 people

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