Are you craving a bit of poetry, but also wanting to read a longer story? Verse novels combine the best of both worlds, blending the succinct and powerful use of language in poetry with the detail and length of a novel. We’ve rounded up ten of our favorites below. Whether you’re completely new to the genre and looking for the perfect first book, or if you’ve been hooked on verse novels for years, you’re sure to find something here to fit your tastes.
Veda loves to dance, and she is incredible at it—just ask anyone who has ever seen her perform. But then, one day, her life changes: An unexpected tragedy forces her to undergo an amputation below the knee, and she struggles to dance with her new prosthetic leg. But Veda is determined to keep dancing, and relearns the steps and technique from the very beginning. Along the way, Veda befriends Govinda, and falls even more in love with the Bharatanatyam dance form.
This was one of our editors’ favorite books of 2016; she called it “absolutely stunning.” It tells the story of Grace and Tippi, 16-year-old conjoined twins who decide to enroll in a private high school for their junior year. It’s a bit jarring at first, especially after being home schooled for years, but the girls soon adjust and make friends with Yasmeen and Jon. For Grace and Tippi, it’s an exciting year of firsts: first time behind the wheel of a car, first sip of alcohol, first time cutting class, and first crushes. But when the girls’ doctor shares that Grace has a problem with her heart, the two must decide if they’ll risk undergoing separation surgery.
You may already know Marilyn Nelson for her poetry, and American Ace marks her first foray into the verse novel form. Connor’s grandmother dies, and his family is thrown into further turmoil when they read the note that she left Connor’s father. The letter contains news that will rock the entire family: Connor’s father’s real dad was not the man who raised him. Connor decides that he will do whatever he can to find out who his father’s birth father was, and learns about the nuances of race and family along the way. When Connor’s dad has a stroke, the search becomes even more urgent.
Mira believes that she knows what her senior year of high school will bring: college applications, a new role on the yearbook staff, and finding time to connect with her boyfriend. But her plans all seem insignificant when she discovers that her father is sleeping with his male teaching assistant. Suddenly everything Mira thought she knew about her family and her parents is called into question, especially when she learns that her father has been keeping an even bigger secret: He’s HIV positive. Cordelia Jensen’s debut, which is loosely based on her own life, is an emotional, realistic, and powerful tale about family, understanding, and love.
In Stone Mirrors, author Jeannine Atkins novelizes the life of the sculptor Edmonia Lewis. Lewis was half African American and half Native American, took art classes at Oberlin, and then built a career as a notable sculptor while living in Rome,Italy before passing away in 1907. In this verse novel, Atkins fills in the gaps in what we know about Edmonia Lewis with her own imagination, culminating in a fascinating and aesthetically beautiful work of art about an important historical figure.
Percy Jackson fans, this one might just be up your alley. David Elliott gives voice to some of the most fascinating characters from Greek mythology: Poseidon, Minos, Daedalus, Pasiphae, Asterion, and Ariadne. Together they retell the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, complete with thoroughly modern language (Poseidon opens the novel with an enthusiastic “Whaddup, bitches?”). It’s a hilarious and wild ride, ideal for readers looking for a fun read.
Audacity tells the life story of Clara Lemlich, who organized the biggest strike by women in the history of the United States. Lemlich moved to New York City from Russia in the early twentieth century, and was horrified by the conditions endured by factory workers on the Lower East Side. There, she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the workers, and most famously organized the Uprising of the 20,000 in 1909. Readers will be inspired to learn Lemlich’s story, which is rendered in verse by author Melanie Crowder.
When she’s first admitted to the hospital, Chessie is more mortified than anything else. She can’t believe her stomach pain caused her to embarrass herself in front of her crush. Then the doctor reveals his diagnosis, Crohn’s disease, and her world is turned upside down. Chessie is kept in the hospital and forced to share a room with Shannon, who also has Crohn’s but suffers from a more aggressive form. This verse novel explores the mental and physical toll of living with a chronic autoimmune disorder, as well as the close bond that forms between two girls who are different in every way, but share the same diagnosis.
For a long time, Brendan Chase has felt like something wasn’t right. Brendan’s life is pretty good–Brendan is a star athlete with an amazing girlfriend, Vanessa. But Brendan can’t quite shake the feeling that despite being raised as a boy, he is actually supposed to be a girl. Brendan’s POV mingles with two others (Vanessa, and Angel who is transgender) in this verse novel that will enlighten readers and open their minds. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raved: “Debut novelist Clark uses free verse to write a gripping story about a complex topic: the challenges of growing up transgender or genderqueer.”
A list of young adult verse fiction would be incomplete without a mention of Ellen Hopkins. Hopkins’ backlist is long enough that you could be reading her novels all summer long, but we’d recommend starting with her most recent release, which we named a must-read 2017 book. The novel follows a teenager named Ariel who lives with her father. She’s spent her entire life believing that her mom abandoned her, until one day her mother shows up and claims that Ariel wasn’t abandoned, she was kidnapped by her father. This is a mix of prose and verse, an ideal combination for anyone new to the verse fiction genre.