As previously discussed verse novels seem to lend themselves to subject matter that might considered “difficult”. This could be a function of their concise approachable form or simply because if they are already somewhat marginalized, where is the harm in exploring marginal territory, narratively speaking?
Perhaps this is also the reason that verse novels appear to suffer less from the Amero/Anglocentricity that plagues literature in general and books for young readers in particular. Many verse novels I’ve read recently not only include diverse characters but also delve deeply into non Anglo/American cultures while still telling universally relatable stories.
Just yesterday I finished reading ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson, a very contained and emotional story of a young girl’s remorse after the suicide of a bullied classmate. Though the protagonist Kana, is American, the bulk of the story takes place in a seaside village in Japan. The story relies on and is revealed through Japanese culture, the ceremonies, the familial relationships and customs Kana encounters when she is sent to spend the summer there. These details aren’t mere decoration. The Japanese respect, veneration of ancestors, traditional grieving practices and celebration of nature all enable Kana to come to terms with her role in her classmate’s death.
ORCHARDS, like many verse novels, is very short and very spare yet it somehow manages to be rich in detail and character and to present a narrative that will resonate with many young readers.
A few other verse novels that explore non-anglo culture include Newbery Honor book INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai (Vietnamese culture), UNDER THE MESQUITE by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Latino American), KARMA by Cathy Ostlere (Indian and Indo-Canadian), THE WILD BOOK by Margerite Engle (Cuban culture), THE GOOD BRAIDER by Terry Farish (Sudanese culture), ALEUTIAN SPARROW by Karen Hesse (Aleut/Eskimo culture), YELLOW STAR by Jennifer Roy (Polish/Jewish), and WHO WILL TELL MY BROTHER? by Marlene Carvell (Native American).
Some of the above are written “cross-culturally” as it were, by Anglo writers. While I’m not one to criticize cross-cultural writing (when it is done well and sensitively) I’d love to see more verse novelists who come from non-Anglo cultures telling stories inspired by their experiences within these cultures. Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, Indigenous Australians, the New Zealand Maori, Mainland China, the West Indies where are your verse novels? I know a verse novel might be challenge for someone writing in English as a second language, and that novels in verse don’t lend themselves as easily to translation but still. There are brilliant writers from all these cultures. Give us some verse!
Are there any stand out verse novels that I have missed?