A Poet’s Glossary defines books in verse as “A novel in poetry. A hybrid form, the verse novel filters the devices of fiction through the medium of poetry.” Fiction filtered through verse are stories gifted with all the beauty and liberation provided by poetic devices. Here’s a list that holds wonderful books in verse that have moved me with their narrative, intensity and rhythm.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
This book in verse follows a young Syrian refugee as she leaves her home, father, and brother behind to live in Cincinnati with her mother and relatives. The tender and torn perspective of the middle grader captures the inner conflict of being a refugee. The verse format and hard-hitting lines call for our empathy and kindness.
“There is an Arabic proverb that says:
She makes you feel
like a loaf of freshly baked bread.
It is said about
The type of people
who help you
For Every One by Jason Reynolds
For Every One truly is for every one. It is a letter in verse to all dreamers. Jason Reynolds acknowledges and appreciates all the colors and shades of dreams that humanity can hold within its heart. It reminds every reader of both the weight and weightlessness of every dream they hold. I highly recommend that you read this short, wonderful book in verse in one sitting.
“Though the struggle
is always made to
the thumping uncertainty
is still there.”
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
This beautiful book follows Michael, a half Jamaican, half Greek-Cyprian boy who is trying to come to terms with his mixed-race queer identity. The novel holds important conversations about race, sexuality, homophobia, and racism. It introduces ideas such as internalized racism and homophobia which give us much-needed insights. Filled with intensity, fierceness, confusion and celebration; this verse novel is an entire journey.
“Don’t come out unless you want to. Don’t come out for anyone else’s sake. Don’t come out because you think society expects you to.
Come out for yourself.
Come out to yourself.
Shout, sing it.
Correct those who say they knew before you did.
That’s not how sexuality works, it’s yours to define.”
Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario
Told in dual perspectives, this verse novel captures the grief and hope of two sisters after losing their mother. Its haunting yet eloquent style makes the story hit home. The lines make you pause and ponder and feel deeper.
“But that’s not what our family is.
It’s a frayed string of lights
that someone needs to fix
with electrical tape.
It’s the electricity
that can’t get to us
because Mom’s bulb
has burned out,
so now the whole string is dark.
But without the lights turned on,
does anyone even notice
that we are broken?”
When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur
Wonderfully woven with poetry, illustrations, and prose, this book will leave you in awe. It tells the story of two Sikh women in a land away from home; a mother and a daughter navigating with fear, love and hope. It tackles difficult political, feminist and mental health themes with a voice that is as fierce as it is gentle.
“a woman once
offered me a pencil
and i thanked her profusely
another offered me life
again and again
and i never got around
to thanking her.”
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lai
Inside Out & Back Again was inspired by Thanhhà Lại’s own experiences. She writers in the author’s note: “At age ten, I, too, witnessed the end of the Vietnam War and fled to Alabama with my family. I, too, had a father who was missing in action. I also had to learn English and even had my arm hair pulled the first day of school. The fourth graders wanted to make sure I was real, not an image they had seen on TV.” The eloquent verse format explores the journey of a young, fierce girl navigating an unfamiliar world while craving the comfort of home.
“But last night I pouted
when Mother insisted
one of my brothers
must rise first
to bless our house
because only male feet
can bring luck.
An old, angry knot
expanded in my throat.
to wake up before dawn
and tap my big toe
to the tile floor
Not even Mother,
sleeping beside me, knew.
For more recommendations, check out our list of 100 Must-Read YA Books in Verse.