What Are The Best Novels In Verse For Middle & High School Readers?
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What if we told you that there is an entire genre of novels that promise to pique the interest of students who don’t like to read? Of students who struggle with reading? Of students who have rejected the classics featured so often on middle and high school ELA syllabi? Of students who don’t know what they like to read because they’ve never read a book they’ve enjoyed?
Enter: novels in verse.
How Is Verse Different From Prose?
An unsuspecting reader might not be able to discern a novel written in verse from a novel written in prose. Once you open the pages to a novel written in verse, the difference becomes apparent.
Prose novels are typically written with longer paragraphs or blocks of text, while novels in verse look more like poetry. Sometimes, they are made up of poetry! However, they don’t necessarily have to rhyme, nor do they have to follow any strict meter or pattern. Novels in verse read more like a text conversation. Some pages may be full of text and dialogue, while other pages may house a single sentence or phrase. While a student may take several days or weeks to read a 300+ page novel written in prose, they might devour a novel in verse within hours or days.
Why Do Students Enjoy Novels Written In Verse?
One of the reasons students are attracted to novels in verse is due to their novel format. Typically, when young adult readers open a book, they expect to see hundreds of words filling up the pages. This can be intimidating for many readers who have trouble paying attention, lose their place frequently, or struggle with difficult vocabulary. While novels written in verse are certainly not synonymous with lower-level vocabulary, their unique structure and conservatism when it comes to filling up the page make them more approachable to readers overwhelmed by longer texts and denser pages.
YA readers may also flock to novels written in verse because they look similar to other mediums they enjoy: text messages, social media messages, song lyrics, etc. The unpredictability of how each page will be structured provides a sense of surprise and anticipation for students who get bored easily. Many novels in verse also incorporate multimedia elements like pictures, comics, and symbols.
Novels written in verse are almost always written for pre-teen and teenaged readers, which might create a sense of belonging for readers who feel isolated from denser texts. Novels written in verse typically rely heavily on dialogue, emotion, and themes of identity–the latter of which are particularly relevant to YA readers in the middle of a developmental phase where they are establishing their own identities.
Many of the books on this list of novels written in verse contain challenging themes that are relevant to teens’ lives: addiction, loss, love, heartbreak, illness, changing friendships, sexuality, leaving home, immigration, violence, sexual assault, and bullying. Whether fiction or nonfiction, we can promise that your most reluctant and disillusioned readers will find a book on this list. Let us know if we’ve missed any gems, and be sure to check out our post on The 28 Best Graphic Novels For Reluctant High School Readers for more text suggestions.
35 Novels Written In Verse For Middle & High School Readers
All Along You Were Blooming by Morgan Harper Nichols
Part poetry, part prose, All Along You Were Blooming invites readers to find purpose and meaning in their lives–even the parts that seem most unlikely.
All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
According to its Amazon description: “Matt Pin would like to forget: war-torn Vietnam, bombs that fell like dead crows, and the terrible secret he left behind. But now that he is living with a caring adoptive family in the United States, he finds himself forced to confront his past.”
A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Veda is a dance prodigy living in India until her leg must be amputated following a freak accident. Now, she must start over again in the dance world and fight off the voices that tell her that her disability now defines her.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
A haunting tale of a daughter who loses her mother, Blood Water Paint tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, who must choose to join a convent or spend her days grinding pigment to make paint for her artist father. After experiencing a terrible sexual assault, Artemisia must then decide if she will remain silent or speak out.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Prepare to see several Kwame Alexander novels on this list–after all, he is one of the most prolific authors of novels in verse! Booked is the second novel in “The Crossover Series” and its protagonist is a 12-year-old soccer player named Nick who is just trying to manage his home life, fend off school bullies, and impress his school crush.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Currently ranked as the #1 Best Seller in Children’s Literary Biographies on Amazon, and named as a President Obama “O” Book Club selection, Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of author Jacqueline Woodson’s upbringing in Greenville, South Carolina during the Jim Crow Era and burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.
Caminar by Skila Brown
In 1981 Guatemala, Carlos must make up his own mind about what it means to be a man during war-time. Does he join a band of Communist guerrillas? Or follow the instructions of the soldiers who swear they have his village’s best interest at heart?
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne
A coming-of-age novel about what it’s like to grow distant from your best friend, Chlorine Sky is a great pick for readers transitioning from middle to high school–a time when once-solid friendships start to diverge over changing values and peer pressure.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Told through the perspectives of Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios, this story is a heartbreaking account of how two sisters–separated by distance–must forge a path ahead after learning of the death of their father.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Crank is one of over ten books written by Ellen Hopkins, whose books are all written in verse, and whose difficult topics include drug abuse, sexual assault, suicide, and depression–all things that 21st-century teenagers are exposed to, in various ways. In Crank, Kristina Snow starts out as a reserved, people-pleasing high school junior, but after she spends the summer at her father’s house and gets addicted to crystal meth, everything changes. As dark as Hopkins’ books can be, they provide an opportunity for readers to vicariously experience the destructive nature of drugs.
Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh
Ada is a first-year student at an HBCU and striving to find her place in the new environment while simultaneously grappling with her self-image, sexuality, mother’s addictions, and relationship with her father.
For Every One by Jason Reynolds
According to its description on Amazon: “For Every One is exactly that: for every one. For every one person. For every one who has a dream. But especially for every kid. The kids who dream of being better than they are. Kids who dream of doing more than they almost dare to imagine. No matter how many times a dreamer gets beat down, the drive and the passion and the hope never fully extinguishes—because simply having the dream is the start you need, or you won’t get anywhere anyway, and that is when you have to take a leap of faith.”
Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo
Nima feels misunderstood by everyone around her and longs for a different identity. When she loses her best friend, she is compelled to assert her true self and be her own refuge.
House Arrest by K. A. Holt
Timothy is sentenced to house arrest for a full year. He is required to keep a journal, avoid trouble, and check in with his therapist. One day, he must choose between adhering to the law or risking getting into trouble in order to help his family survive.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lai
One of the most beloved novels on this list, Inside Out and Back Again is told through the voice of Hà, a young girl forced to leave her home of Saigon during the Vietnam War.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
We haven’t heard of a student who started reading this book and failed to fall in love with it. Even the most resistant readers will relate to the protagonist–Will–who deliberates taking revenge on the person he believes murdered his older brother. Taking place within the span of an elevator ride down several floors, Long Way Down compels readers to think about the pros and cons of revenge.
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
Nikki Grimes’ memoir tells the story of how she grew up with a mother suffering from schizophrenia and an absentee father. She poured her pain into her diary and fell in love with writing as a means to overcome and channel her pain.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
Told by Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam (one of the Central Park Five), Punching the Airis a story about a 16-year-old boy named Amal who is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
From its summary on Amazon: “This searing and soul-searching memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #MeToo and #TimesUp, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. SHOUT speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice–and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.”
Solo by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess
Blade is the son of a once-famous rock star and current drug addict who keeps sabotaging his own comeback. Blade is determined not to be like his father, and pours himself into his songwriting. When his drunk father crashes his high school graduation speech, Blade has to go solo or find his own family.
Swing by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess
Noah and Walt are unpopular best friends with big dreams. As they experience first loves and heartbreaks, social tensions are increasing around them, and they must decide what’s most important to them.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
According to Amazon: “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.”
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Twin brothers Josh and Jordan Bell are twin ballers in middle school who compete on and off the court. Their father’s illness becomes a game-changer for the family, which both boys deal with in different ways.
The Crossover: Rebound by Kwame Alexander
In this sequel to The Crossover, twins Josh and Jordan Bell take the sidelines and their father–Chuck Bell–is at the center of attention. We learn the back story of how Chuck “Da Man” Bell became the basketball star his sons admire.
The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings Of Hip-Hop by Saul Williams
From its description on Amazon: “In the underground labyrinths of New York City’s subway system, beneath the third rail of a long-forgotten line, Saul Williams discovered scrolls of aged yellowish-brown paper rolled tightly into a can of spray paint. His quest to decipher this mystical ancient text resulted in a primal understanding of the power hip-hop has to teach us about ourselves and the universe around us.”
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiomara ‘X’ Batista shares her challenges with relationships, dealing with her overbearing mother, and using her voice in a world that wants her to be silent. Students will relate to X’s passion and attitude, as well as her bravery in saying difficult things out loud. The Poet X is currently the #1 Best Seller in Amazon’s Young Adult Fiction Books About Emigration & Immigration.
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
Told in four parts–the princess, the damsel, the queen, and you–Amanda Lovelace’s book tells her story of moving through love, loss, healing, and empowerment.
The Truth Project by Dante Medema
From the Amazon description: “When Cordelia’s GeneQuest DNA results reveal that her father is not the person she thought he was, but a stranger who lives thousands of miles away, her entire world shatters. Now she isn’t sure of anything—not the mother who lied, the man she calls Dad, or the girl staring back at her in the mirror.”
When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmine Kaur
Each of the six sections of this novel depicts what it looks like to be a young woman coming of age in a world that doesn’t accept her. Readers can expect to touch on the topics of sexual assault, mental wellbeing, feminism, and immigration.
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