Finding A Voice Through Poetry | New and Noteworthy YA Novels

A trio of recently published young adult verse novels offer portraits of teens who find their voice through the written word.
A trio of recently published young adult verse novels offer portraits of teens who find their voice through the written word. redstarAVEVEDO, Elizabeth. The Poet X. 368p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062662804. Gr 7 Up–Magnificently crafted, Acevedo’s bildungsroman in verse is a stunning account of a teen girl’s path to poetry. Sophomore Xiomara Batista is simultaneously invisible and hyper visible at home, at school, and in her largely Dominican community in Harlem—her body is “unhide-able” she tells readers early on, and she bristles at how others project their desires, insecurities, failures, and patriarchal attitudes toward her. Though she is quick to battle and defend herself and her twin brother Xavier, Xiomara’s inner life sensitively grapples with these projections and the expectations of her strict, religious mother. Acevedo’s depiction of a faith in crisis is exceedingly relatable and teens, especially those going through the sacrament of Confirmation, will deeply appreciate Xiomara’s thoughtful questioning of the Church and how it treats women. Forbidden kisses with a crush and an impromptu performance at an open mic prove to be euphoric, affirming moments for Xiomara: “it’s beautiful and real and what I wanted.” Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end. ­VERDICT Truly a “lantern glowing in the dark” for aspiring poets everywhere. All YA collections will want to share and treasure this profoundly moving work.–Della Farrell, School Library Journal GRIMES, Nikki. Between the Lines. 213p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. 9780399246883. Gr 7 Up–Darrian Lopez eats, sleeps, and breathes the life of a star reporter. His dreams of writing the real stories of black and brown people are surpassed only by his dream of writing for the New York Times. Darrian decides to join a poetry class after having a conversation about journalism with the school librarian. He initially joins the class to become a better observer and reporter. He believes the students in the class will provide excellent material for his budding reporter's mind. Darrian's opinion of and appreciation for poetic expression grows as he gets to know his classmates through their verses. These complex students use poetry to find their truest voices and write their own stories. This is the companion novel to the award-winning book Bronx Masquerade. Darrian is a reliable narrator and operates as the glue that ties all the other narratives together. Each character occupies his or her own space and no one character or voice monopolizes the story. The narratives of immigrants, foster children, families effected by incarceration, and teens taxed with familial burdens are thoroughly explored in a thought-provoking way. The poems and voices are a perfect blend of the many facets of American teens' lives. VERDICT An excellent companion book that lends itself easily to a teacher's poetry unit, this is great choice for school and public libraries.—Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH redstarMILlard, Glenda. The Stars at Oktober Bend. 288p. Candlewick. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763692728. Gr 9 Up–Fifteen-year-old Alice does not communicate the way most girls her age do. Because of a physically and emotionally traumatic injury, she must find alternative ways to express herself. Writing bits of poetry is one of her outlets, and she covertly leaves her short verses on walls around town. Her protective brother, Joey, brings her to ballet class and teaches her blurbs of information to make up for her lack of formal schooling. As the two siblings care for their ailing grandmother in their broken-down home, they learn about the hardships of life and the importance of loyalty. When Alice meets Manny, a refugee and former child soldier, she finds solace in the connection they have. Things become complicated as she cautiously begins to trust him. Ultimately, Alice must decide if she can break out of her insulated world and allow hope to prevail. The author writes in an exploratory style, which, at first, might be off-putting and confusing. A few chapters into the story, however, the words and their unique flow become beautifully lyrical, displaying emotion and pain in a way that a linear story line does not always accomplish. Though teens may be hesitant at first, they will be rewarded with a compelling, moving portrait of characters who have been through tragedy and can see through to the other side. VERDICT A heartwarming story that is a worthy addition to high school libraries.–Karin Greenberg, Manhasset High School, NY

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