Stories in verse have a special place in my heart. I read a lot of books that move me, but stories in verse have a way of instilling that wondrous feeling of awe, that words can make me feel things so immense and deep. Almost always, the stories in verse that I have read find ways to captivate me. You don’t have to be a poetry lover to appreciate stories in verse (take it from me)! Therefore, I am so excited to be recommending to you all 8 stories in verse, as well as share 3 upcoming stories in verse that you all need to add to your to-read lists!
Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario
A teen navigates questions of grief, identity, and guilt in the wake of her sister’s mysterious disappearance in this breathtaking novel-in-verse from the author of 500 Words or Less—perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo.
Rowena feels like her family is a frayed string of lights that someone needs to fix with electrical tape. After her mother died a few years ago, she and her sister, Ariana, drifted into their own corners of the world, each figuring out in their own separate ways how to exist in a world in which their mother is no longer alive.
But then Ariana disappears under the cover of night in the middle of a snowstorm, leaving no trace or tracks. When Row wakes up to a world of snow and her sister’s empty bedroom, she is left to piece together the mystery behind where Ariana went and why, realizing along the way that she might be part of the reason Ariana is gone.
Haunting and evocative—and told in dual perspectives—Turtle Under Ice examines two sisters frozen by grief as they search for a way to unthaw.
CW: I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this little gem, but I did not expect it to gut-punch me so hard that I would feel the pain and ache of this story hours after I finished this.
- Follows Row and Ariana, two Filipino-Chamarro-American sisters who are still reeling from the loss of their mother six years ago. When Ariana disappears, the story explores both sister’s perspectives and the ways they grapple with grief.
- The book explores grief, how people deal and grapple with grief differently, and the people-shaped holes in our hearts. It shows people grieving, in their most painful and messiest – and I loved that the characters were given room to just feel pain.
- I also loved how this story explores sisterhood – how both sisters are looking for something in the wake of an absence they feel keenly – and the irrevocable effect sister relationships can have on our lives.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
I am learning how to be
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.
CW: It’s been almost two years since I have read this book, and still I think of it fondly. Other Words for Home is one of my favourite books of all time – it is just such a masterpiece and I will always take any opportunity to recommend it to others.
- This is a story about many things, but chief among them are about immigrating, regrowing roots, finding yourself, and the gnawing ache of separation.
- Other Words for Home explores tough topics like belonging and anti-Islam rhetoric, most of which are subtle, but with simple and heartfelt words.
- The way complex and life-changing experiences are expressed in such simple yet astute ways? And how raw and vulnerable emotions are perfectly captured and conveyed in a few lines? Warga is an incredible wordsmith.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
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.
CW: If you have heard all the praise for The Poet X, then you’ve heard correctly. The Poet X is a stunning story about family, love, bodies, and secrets whispered into the dark.
- The Poet X feels like such a personal book that just lays all the heartache and grief and joy bare and vulnerable. I fell in love with the words and the main character/narrator, Xiomara.
- This book explores the relationship Xiomara has with the world, her body, and her Dominican and religious identity.
- Moreover, this book explores how Xiomara is forcefully placed into rigid boxes and expectations of how she should be and exist – and how she finds freedom and power in poetry and slam poetry.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
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
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.
CW: Punching the Air is magnificent. Gut-wrenching, mesmerising in its immaculate words, and just a marvel. I was a wreck of emotions when I finished this.
- Based on Yusef Salaam’s real story about being wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, this story explores the devastating, and sometimes deadly, impact of racial profiling, the prison industrial complex, and how Black men are portrayed in the media – as men – when White men of the same age are called ‘boys’.
- I listened to this on the audiobook, so I think I’ll be re-reading the story as text, because the words were so evocative of imagery and feeling.
- The story balances its thematic exploration with its wonderful and humanising story about Amal, a Black-Muslim teen who was wrongly incarcerated, but also an artist and poet. How the story breaks Amal free of the small and rigid boxes and expectations places on Black teens is transformative and liberating.
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.
This is an achingly beautiful story in verse about the beauty and art of bharatanatyam, an Indian form of dance. I loved Veda’s story and I still remember it to this day.
- The poetry in this is just gorgeous and evocative. There were so many beautiful lines and moments where the intersections of religion, culture, and tradition meet. I also really loved the exploration of dancing to compete and be good vs. dancing as an expression of spirituality and feeling.
- Not only is the story about Veda finding herself and rediscovering her love for dance, there are also many moments where Veda is a vulnerable and flawed person with messy feelings.
- I liked that this book didn’t have an abled-centered narrative. It explores disability and the experiences of being an amputee, but in a way that is humanising and explores other aspects of her life as well.
Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
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.
CW: Raw, vulnerable, and fierce, The Black Flamingo is a coming-of-age poetry book that has stayed with me since I read it in exactly one year ago.
- Explores so many things so tightly without compromising an iota of depth and emotion. This book is packed with emotive verses, powerful imagery, and thought-provoking moments.
- I loved how this book was a big love letter to poetry – and how poetry is the avenue Michael uses to find himself, define himself, and understand himself.
- The book largely explores Michael’s gay identity and his phases of questioning, what it’s like being Black and mixed race, the imperfection and earnestness of family, and the relationships that shape who he is. And then, he finds drag – place and people that allow him to not really find himself, but let him come into who he always was.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
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.
Skye: Elizabeth Acevedo truly never misses. Every single book of hers I have read has reduced me to tears, and I didn’t know how she was going to follow up the masterpiece that was The Poet X, but I am so delighted to inform you that this book is so very, very worthy of her legacy and body of work. It has all the heartache and lush writing characteristic of an Acevedo book, as we follow the story of two sisters, unknown to each other, in the aftermath of a tragedy that took their father. There is so much tenderness here, and a love and yearning for Dominican culture that absolutely radiates through the story—there’s a poem about leaving home that swelled my heart with so much ache. If you loved The Poet X, you’ll probably find that something in this book that feels like it was written for you too.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
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.
Skye: This book is an exceptional example of the power that stories-in-verse can hold. Blood Water Paint is an account of the 17th-century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi, whose life and career are overshadowed by the men in her life as well as the sexual assault she endured from a mentor as a teenager. We follow Artemisia’s life while she grows up under the roof of a father who underestimates her, as she finds her painterly inspiration from the untold stories of the women who have come before her. Her anger, her passion, and her tenderness are rendered in heartbreaking poetry here, as is the court trial that she later stands at for the sexual assault. I read through a few quotes as I was writing this blurb, and they are just as haunting and moving today as the first day I read them.
2021 Novels in Verse To Read
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne
A novel-in-verse about a young girl coming-of-age and stepping out of the shadow of her former best friend.
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.
Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.
Skye: Chlorine Sky explores the way friendships can wax and wane when you’re a teenager, and I’ve never wanted to read a book more. We don’t get nearly enough stories about how formative friendships can affect our lives, especially ones that deal with the aftermath of devastating friend breakups. I know I definitely would’ve gravitated to this book when I was a teenager myself, and I’m so excited to pick this up.
Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo
A mesmerizing novel in verse about family, identity, and finding yourself in the most unexpected places–for fans of The Poet X, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and Jason Reynolds.
Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself.Until she doesn’t.
As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry.And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s. . .she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.
Skye: The fact that this book has been blurbed by Elizabeth Acevedo is all I need to know before diving into this, honestly. And what an evocative title! This debut YA is follows Nima, a first-generation Muslim teenager, who feels caught between her home country and suburban America. Going by its reviews so far, this book sounds like a heartwarming (heartaching) story with just a touch of magical realism—all the things I absolutely adore in a novel-in-verse.
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride
A debut YA novel-in-verse that is both a coming-of-age and a ghost story.
Moth has lost her family in an accident. Though she lives with her aunt, she feels alone and uprooted.
Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover the history she carries in her bones.
Moth and Sani take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. The way each moves forward is surprising, powerful, and unforgettable.
Here is an exquisite and uplifting novel about identity, first love, and the ways that our memories and our roots steer us through the universe.
Skye: I’ve been anticipating this book ever since its very first book announcement from 2020, and we are finally edging ever closer to its release date. This is both a coming-of-age and a ghost story, following ‘the granddaughter of a Hoodoo root worker who thinks she is invisible, and a Navajo boy who is the only one who really sees her, and what happens when they take a road trip and discover their families were connected long before they were born’. And doesn’t this sound absolutely amazing? I got chills just from typing that out! August cannot come soon enough.
I hope you found this book recommendations post helpful! We have so much love for novels in verse, so I hope this book recommendations post inspires you to read more gorgeous poetry and novels in verse.
- Have you read any of the books that we recommended? What did you think of them?
- Do you have any books that you could recommend to us?