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20 More Must-Read YA Verse Novels

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

The last few years have been an utter boon in the world of YA verse novels. With superstar YA authors starting or continuing their legacies in verse, more and more room has been made on shelves for verse novels. Verse novels are musical, and they give readers an opportunity to experience stories in an entirely different manner.

YA verse novels are nothing new. They’ve been a part of the category of YA for decades, and like other formats and genres, their popularity rises and falls. We are deep into a rise and for that, we’re being rewarded with a rich array of voices, stories, and perspectives.

In 2016, I pulled together a list of 100 must-read YA verse novels. The YA world has been treated to an incredible array of new verse novels in the time since, so it feels right to revisit the list and add to it.

Find below 20 more must-read YA verse books to add to your ever-growing TBR. I’ve limited to one book per author — I could have included multiple by some of these writers — and I tried to not include too many books by authors who were included in the previous list. Most of these are novels, but this isn’t exclusively fiction. In some cases, these are fictionalized novels based on real people, stories, or history; in others, they’re real stories about real people; still in others, they’re entirely fictional.

21 More Must-Read YA Verse Novels

Apple: Skin To The Core by Eric Gansworth

A YA memoir-in-verse about Gansworth’s coming-of-age as an enrolled Onondaga Native, the history of Native Americans in the United States, and the damage done to Native communities through atrocities such as boarding schools and more.

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford

Who was Marilyn Monroe? This verse novel attempts to explore that question by diving deep into Monroe’s traumatic childhood, how she fought her way to stardom, and the experiences she had with exploitation, drugs, and depression as she found herself further and further in the spotlight. Though fictional, the book is based on reality.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Michael is half Greek-Cypriot, half-Jamaican, and he lives in London with his mother. The book begins with Michael’s young age — he’s 6 in the first section, coming to understand his mixed race heritage, as well as his family’s unique structure.

As the book progresses into Michael’s teen years in high school, it becomes clearer and clearer that Michael is queer. He’s lucky in that his family is mostly supportive, particularly his mother, who at times oversteps in trying to provide Michael a safe place to explore and express his identity while he’s not quite ready to step into it entirely himself.

It’s in Michael’s first year in college when everything changes — he’s eager to try on a new identity, eager to find people like him at school in a very queer-friendly college and community. And while he sidesteps the opportunity to take part in the Greek club and the LGBTQ+ club…he signs himself up for Drag Society, which plays deeply into his interests in acting and performance. He’s immediately overwhelmed by the idea of performing drag, but, as he begins to come into his drag identity as The Black Flamingo, Michael also begins to come to understand his identity can shift, can sway, and it can be whatever it is he desires it to be. And it’s the first Drag Society performance — one he almost misses — which helps him to this realization and allows him to become deeply, fully himself.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Perfect for fans of Ruta Sepetys, McCullough’s debut verse novel tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi in the early 1600s. A young painter, apprenticed by her father — who is profiting from her work — she dreams of capturing the true essence of the women whose stories her deceased mother told her into her art. But when she is raped by a potential client, her life turns upside down and she turns to the strength of those women to find her voice and speak up and out about what happened to her.

Powerful, moving, and despite the setting, utterly contemporary, this is a book about women, about power, and about discovering the ways your voice, by virtue of being female, can change your life (for better or for worse).

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino loves when her father comes to visit her in the Dominican Republic during the summer. But the day he’s to arrive, there’s a plane crash and it’s clear he didn’t survive.

Yahaira, who lives in New York City, gets a call to the principal’s office on that same day to learn her father died in a plane crash.

Camino and Yahaira, sisters who’ve never met nor known about each other’s existence, are suddenly discovering a whole new world of secrets, of their complicated shared father, and about what binds them together as family.

Acevedo writes an emotionally-compelling, engaging, and immersive story of grief and love. Camino and Yahaira each have a distinct voice and we get to hear both sides of the story, of how their shared father kept his dual life a secret from them.

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

This verse novel is heavily autobiographical and follows Ada, daughter of an immigrant father from Nigeria and African American mother, as she tries to make sense of her place in America as a Black girl and within her own struggling family.

I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner

Set in the 1960s, Bottner’s book follows Maisie through her first year of high school. She’s eager for the escape from her home life, with a mostly-absent father and an abusive mother.

Maisie begins to fall deeply into art as a means of making sense of her life and quickly becomes close with Rachel, as well as Rachel’s mother, who are living the sort of artistic life she could only dream of. But this friendship comes with risks, both in her relationships and when it comes to her future.

Junk Boy by Tony Abbott

Bobby Lang’s nickname at school is Junk, partially because his house looks like a junk yard and partly as a way to keep him down. Bobby lives at home with a neglectful father and tries not to let the nickname or loneliness he carries with him impact his day to day.

But when Bobby meets Rachel, an artist whose parents hate her because she’s queer, he finally feels seen in a way he never has before.

Kent State by Deborah Wiles

Told through multiple points of view and vantages, Wiles’s verse novel is a fictional exploration of the very real historical moment of May 4, 1970, when the National Guard shot war protesters at Kent State.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen-year-old Will shoves a gun down the waistband of his jeans, and he’s going to get revenge on the person who killed his brother Shawn. But over the course of the 60-second elevator ride from his apartment to the ground level, he’ll meet an array of people who might just change his mind about the plan.

Muted by Tami Charles

Seventeen-year-old Denver and her two best friends love to sing and have their own girl group. They’re desperate to get noticed by Sean “Mercury” Ellis, a big shot in the R&B world, and when it happens, they can’t believe their luck. But it’s not roses here: Mercury takes advantage of these teen girls, their potential stardom, and, ultimately, their lives.

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

A brutal and powerful verse memoir about growing up in an unstable family dealing with schizophrenia, absenteeism, sexual assault, and the foster care system. But through it all, Nikki’s solace in writing comes through, as does her commitment to being a survivor.

Punching the Air

Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

“Boys will be boys” is a phrase applicable only to white boys, as seen through this powerful verse novel. Amal has always been an artist and poet, but because of a biased system, he’s automatically seen as disruptive and unmotivated because he’s Black.

After an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood, Amal is arrested and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. While he’s angry and desperate to get out, he once again returns to his art to find hope — and to fight back against a racist justice system.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is Laurie’s story, about being a survivor, about being a woman, about being an advocate who is passionate about young people, about intellectual freedom, and about being the best people we can all possibly be. It’s angry and it’s hopeful. It’s sad and it’s powerful. It’s real and raw.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf

In 1846, 89 emigrants bound for California take an untested trail as a short cut to their destination. This shortcut, though, was their biggest mistake.

Told in verse through multiple points of view, this is the story of the ill-fated Donner party as they attempted to travel across the Sierra Nevadas during the winter. The story includes the voices of not only the human travelers, but the non-human ones as well.

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela

Thirteen-year-old Anamaria is visited by her 30-year-old self while at the movies changing her pad in the bathroom. She’s annoyed and suspicious: how could this be her? More, in a community where girls regularly go missing, she’s worried that this 30-year-old version of her may not be who she claims to be.

Written in a combination of Spanish and English, this verse novel is a compelling and hard-edged story about female friendship, about the challenges of being “the best,” experiencing and understanding depression, and about living in a reality where safety is of constant concern.

Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley

When Liv’s older brother Jonah accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun, he needs round-the-clock care to stay alive. Liv sees the spirit of her brother still fighting for his life, even as her family and community are torn over who is responsible for the incident and who should be punished for it.

The Truth Project by Dante Medema

Cordelia isn’t worried about her big senior year project like so many of her peers are. She’s going to do a similar genealogy project to the one her sister did to graduate. But when Cordelia does a mail-in DNA test and discovers the person she thought was her father isn’t, her entire life is upended as she seeks to know the truth of her family, of herself, and of her life to come.

Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario

Ariana has disappeared. Her sister Row is first to discover this, but she can’t find any clues as to where she might be. Told in two voices in verse, this is a heartfelt story about grief and the ways it can manifest and emerge so differently for everyone.

When Row and Ariana’s stepmother loses her 12-week pregnancy, Ariana spirals into grief as the wounds of losing her mother six years prior — and being the person with her as she died. Row, too, finds sadness welling up inside her again, but she takes it out by turning deep into her love of soccer. For her, whenever she’s on the field, her mother is right there with her.

With the help of her friend Kennedy, Row begins to look for her sister.

Ariana’s voice is present in this story, though it’s told primarily through flashbacks. She’s hopped on a bus, and we know there’s a piece of artwork in her lap. A few stops in, a former best friend gets on the bus, and she begins to share the story of the dissolution of their once-close connection. Ariana wanted to be so mired in her grief she couldn’t understand that other people, including this friend named Alex, deal with their personal losses in different means.

The story is tightly told over a period of less than a single day. But within that day, we see a large expanse of life for both Row and Ariana. Both are girls of color who are part Filipina, and their ethnicity is something that furthers the power of exploring grief here — it’s not something palatable, clean, easy, and consumable like the white media and “research” suggests it should be.

What Goes Up by Christine Heppermann

What led Jorie to waking up in the bed of a college boy she doesn’t know? Heppermann’s verse novel works to reconstruct that night, digging deep into Jorie’s father’s infidelity, her mother’s acceptance of it, Jorie’s recent breakup, as well as her connection to making art. A short but powerful read about betrayal and redemption.