Sunday, April 15, 2018

7 Reasons I Enjoy Novels in Verse

Last year, I read a lot of books to be sure. 109 to be exact. In all of those stories, I discovered a new favorite form: novels in verse.

What is a novel in verse, you might ask? For those of you unfamiliar with this form, it’s basically a novel written as a series of poems. The form is kind of like Paradise Lost or Beowulf, but not really. While classics like the ones mentioned tend to use formal poetry-form, novels in verse tend to use free verse. Also, the latter novels tend to be more introspective than your average novel.

Because I’m a fan of poetry, here’s just a couple of reasons why I enjoy novels in verse* and why others might enjoy them as well!

*For clarity, I will also refer to novels in verse as lyrical novels, not in the sense that they’re sing-songy but rather that they’re poetic. I’ll use the terms interchangeably to avoid overusing one term alone.

1)      Poetry!

“Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and the new
until it doesn’t matter
which is which.”
—Hà, Inside Out & Back Again

I didn’t discover my passion for poetry until college, and in some ways, I wish I had discovered it sooner, but in other ways, that’s okay. My preferences as a teenager were weird. Books I didn’t like then, I like now (e.g. Inkheart), and books I liked then, I don’t care for now (e.g. Eragon). So maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t discover poetry until college (see The Importance of Poetry: A Journey of Acceptance).

Either way, poetry can be fun to read and write. Do I want of a whole book made up of poems with a continuous storyline? How about YES!

2)      Novels in verse are quick, easy reads.

Which makes them great for reluctant readers! Or readers like me who are simply tired of reading 800-page novels. (Shhhh, you didn’t see me write that.) I like my dear 800-page books, but they can be exhausting. Whereas an 800-page novel is like a long and strenuous, albeit gorgeous hike, novels in verse are like a shot of espresso downtown in your favorite city.

3)      They’re targeted at middle grade and young adult audiences.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

If you haven’t already noticed, middle grade and young adult books tend to be among my preferred books. Why, you might ask? Well, they tend to have great themes, adventures, and characters. They continue to challenge me as a reader, and they’re just fun to read!

Lyrical novels tend to appeal to and connect with young audiences, presenting experiences that are relateable. Some such novels speak about what it’s like to be a foreigner or a newcomer in a strange place and others speak about the difficulties with school and stereotypes.

Novels in verse are great for young readers and the young at heart!

And for those who believe adults shouldn’t read young adult or middle grade books, I ask you to consider the words of C. S. Lewis when he dedicated The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to his goddaughter:

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

4)      Poetry tends to use a lot of imagery, metaphors, similes, you name it.

While prose can include imagery, in poems imagery is often symbolic. Writers can also do a lot more with metaphors and similes and sounds than prose writers can. I could tell you that when I visited Venice in the fall how the shade of the buildings covered me and the seagulls. Or I can show you in verse:

“I’m in over my head in darkness,
standing in shadows of the box-shaped buildings,
[…] with the seagulls gliding overhead,
their underbellies alight against the blue,
like they’re gliding on light.”

Sure, I could’ve just written that the seagulls looked like they were gliding on light in a prose piece, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect.

5)      Novels in verse tend to be thought-provoking.

“how can I leave this fight
flit off to college
when so many still suffer
when I can feel tension
like mercury rising

“a wisp of hope
beginning to drift
—Clara, Audacity

Poetry is full of quotes I want to write down and memorize and lines that just make me want to buy all the books and think on them again and again. At least that’s my experience.

6)      Lyrical novels tend to evoke emotion.

There’s something about poetry that has the ability to present and evoke emotion in a way that prose can’t.

As a writer, I use poetry as a means to express emotion in an abstract way that prose can’t handle. Take my poem “Heartbeat” for example. I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people why I find heartbeats disturbing, and I don’t entirely understand it myself. So I decided to take the emotion of fear and asked myself “What does fear feel like?” and “How do I communicate that?” Here’s some of the result:

“she’s the reminder that I need fresh air—
kiss of sharp needles, stabbing my feet as
they plunge in this icy green lakeside shore from
liquefied glaciers where old trunks sank”

I took some imagery from Mt. Rainier (Washington State) and from Mt. Saint Helens (Oregon) and used the sting of cold from glacier lakes as a metaphor for fear. Then I stripped the poem of proper capitalization and punctuation to add an unsettling, raw feel to the poem as a whole. My sister, who wasn’t originally afraid of heartbeats, told me she found them disturbing after I read her this poem. Whoops.

Of course, not all novels deal with fear. It’s only one emotion to write about. That an author can achieve any sense of emotion for the span of a novel is inspiring!

7)      Poetry can be downright beautiful.

“On this clear and moonless night,
Mama and I wrap up in our winter clothes
and go outside to watch and listen.
The trees beyond our backyard form a torn-paper line
between the snow and this sky
filled with stars.”
—Mimi, Full Cicada Moon

You had me at snow and stars. Need I say more?

Some books in prose have their fair share of moments of beauty, but such moments tend to be more frequent in verse.

Book Recommendations!

Looking for novels in verse recommendations? Look no further! Here are three I read and enjoyed last year: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (5/5 stars), Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (4/5 stars), and Saving Red by Sonya Sones (4/5 stars). And one I read this year: Audacity by Melanie Crowder (4/5 stars).

Back in February, I attended WriteOnCon, an amazing online writing conference, and one of the live panels featured a bunch of authors who write novels in verse talking about their books and some of their favorite lyrical novels. I’m pretty sure I added at least ten novels to my to-be-read list.

Though I haven’t read them all yet, here are just a few: The Way the Light Bends by Jensen Cordelia, Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles by Shari Green, House Arrest by K. A. Holt, The Magic of Melwick Orchard by Caprara Rebecca, and Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott.

Let’s chat! Have you read any novels in verse yet? If you have, what are some of the ones you’d consider the best? On a scale of boring clichés to fantastic themes, how much do you enjoy poetry?


Literary references: Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again; Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart; Christopher Paolini’s Eragon; C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Melanie Crowder’s Audacity; Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon; Sonya Sones’ Saving Red; Jensen Cordelia’s The Way the Light Bends; Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat; Shari Green’s Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles; K. A. Holt’s House Arrest; Caprara Rebecca’s The Magic of Melwick Orchard; and Meg Wiviott’s Paper Hearts

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