Books to Read For National Poetry Month (And Any Other Month)

Books to Read For National Poetry Month (And Any Other Month)

April is National Poetry Month. I try to share poetry throughout the month in my Poetically Speaking series here on the blog. This year, I thought I’d also share some of my favorite poetry collections and verse novels to read this month and all year to add more poetry to your life.

You can shop the full list at Bookshop and Amazon.

Collections:

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Diaz’s work interrogates the erasure of indigenous peoples in America while making space for new stories.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
Are you like me and discovered Amanda Gorman and her work after she delivered her poem at the 2021 presidential inauguration? If the answer is yes, you will be as happy as I am to find this collection of some of Gorman’s other works.

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood
Gatwood is one of my favorite poets and, while grim, this is one of the most cohesive collections of poetry I’ve seen. Loosely inspired by Gatwood’s own interest in true crime this is a sharp, feminist collection that will stay with you.

Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
In this collection Hepperman presents 50 poems that bring fairy tale themes and ideas together with the lives of modern girls in clever ways. Eerie photographs accompany the poems to lend a haunting quality to this deceptively slim volume.
Read my review.

the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur
Kaur’s collections are and interesting combination of artwork and poetry. Sparse verse and line drawn art work well to complement each other in this visually oriented collection.

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
I love Limón and no poetry roundup would be complete without one of her collections.

the princess saves herself in this one by amanda lovelace
There are a lot of entry points to amanda lovelace’s work but this collection is still one of my favorites. I love the empowerment and the way the poems play with traditional fairytale imagery.

Verse Novels:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Can you know a sister you have never met? Can you claim a family that doesn’t know you? As Camino and Yahaira come to terms with their father’s lies and transgressions both girls will have to grieve everything they have lost while they try to understand what they have to gain in this verse novel that pulls no punches as it tells the story of a complicated family with immediacy and care.
Read my review. (Want even more Acevedo? Be sure to check out The Poet X too.)

500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario
What happens when your attempt to be a better person might be making you worse? To revamp her reputation with her Ivy League obsessed classmates, Nic Chen has a simple plan: she will write college admission essays. For a price. But as Nic learns more about her classmates, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about herself and her moral compass in this shining verse novel.
Read my review.

Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu
This verse novel introduces readers to the Dovewick family and tackles the isolation and loss of the pandemic (specifically 2020’s quarantine months) while also exploring what it means to carry generational trauma. A powerful, ultimately healing story that is easily my favorite book of the year.
Read my review. Read my interview with Corey about the book.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Rome, 1610: Artemisia Gentileschi had limited options when her mother died at twelve. She could join a convent or she could work in her father’s studio grinding paint, preparing canvases, and modeling as needed. She chose art. McCullough beautifully details Artemisia’s passion and commitment to her art in this verse novel that follows Artemesia’s teen years and continues through her rape by Agostino Tassi and the subsequent trial.
Read my review. Read my interview with Joy about this book.

After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy
This book explores a love triangle from two sides and dual POV and verse. It’s also one of the older ones featured but I had to included it because this book is such a key part of my blog. Terra was the first author I ever interviewed and in many ways this book inspired what eventually became Poetically Speaking.
Read my review. Read my interview with Terra about this book.

Amber & Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz
What begins as a story about a spoiled girl and a common boy becomes, in the author’s capable hands, a much larger commentary on art, friendship, and identity as we watch Melisto and Rhaskos transform, becoming “the girl as electric as amber, the boy, indestructible as clay” in this richly layered verse novel.
Read my review.

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford
Everyone knows about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life and tragic end. Few people know the traumatic start of her life watching her mother struggle with schizophrenia, moving through foster care, and even teen marriage. While evidence of her transition from brunette pin-up model to blonde bombshell is immediately obvious, the road that got her there has never been explored from her own perspective. Until now.
Read my review.

Poetry-Infused Stories:

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Paul is gone and with him pieces of Emily are gone too. Even before his suicide, Emily knew she would never be the same. She just didn’t know it would hurt this much. Vacillating between guilt and anger, Emily Beam is sent to an all girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Surrounded by history from Emily Dickinson’s life, Emily delves into poetry and her new life hoping to escape.
Read my review.

Undercover by Beth Kephart
Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words in this book that is partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique.
Read my review.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
This story is told entirely through Gabi’s diary entries as she navigates an especially complicated year in her life as many long-standing problems come to a head including her father’s addiction and Gabi’s mother’s disapproval of Gabi’s plans to go away to college.
Read my review.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.
Read my review.

Lawless Spaces: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It is
too much and
I get a zap
of when we were in quarantine
and I missed both the life I had been living
and the future one that felt impossible
and the ones I’d never lived but should have. I had so
much time
for
missing

Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann HayduThe Dovewick women have always had complicated relationships with their pasts. Maybe that’s why the tradition of the notebooks started. No one knows anymore. It’s expected, though.

As Mimi struggles to find a way to connect with her mother–always withdrawn, always a little cold–she wonders if being a Dovewick daughter is another name for being a disappointment. No wonder she prefers to be @MimiDove. She can curate who she is online. She can show people the best pieces. The ones that don’t make anyone ask her why she’s so short, why she wore that top; online Mimi can share the pieces that won’t ever show how she turned sixteen alone, how her mother’s boyfriend barely tolerates her presence.

Mimi has always known about the notebooks kept by every woman in her family. She’s seen them all lined up on the mantle. All the girls in all the pictures that bleed together as background noise.

Writing in her own notebook is daunting. But it’s also a place where, finally, Mimi can present an unvarnished version of herself. One that is allowed to be scared and hurt, one that is allowed to miss all of the things she never really had.

Mimi doesn’t like to think about the past. She doesn’t like to think about what happened before or what her mother said after. She tries to ignore the sexual assault case that’s all over the news, tries to make it more background noise. Until her mother comes forward as an accuser.

Suddenly, Mimi feels like she doesn’t recognize her mother or her own life. As she digs through the old notebooks she finds her mother’s story, her grandmother’s, her great-grandmother’s. So many Dovewick women. All navigating the same confusing space between girl and woman, absorbing the same hurts as daughters, hoping they’ll learn how to be better mothers.

Looking to the past gives Mimi strength to understand a lot of truths about her own life and her relationship with her mother. But before she can look ahead, she’ll have to decide who she wants to be and how she wants to navigate this confusing world in Lawless Spaces (2022) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lawless Spaces is a standalone novel in verse. The primary story follows Mimi in 2022. Readers also encounter Mimi’s ancestors as Mimi unearths stories from Betty (1954) and Tiffany (1999), among others. Mimi and her family are white. Despite tackling so many voices and time periods, each girl’s voice remains as distinct as her story–even as common themes like loneliness begin to come through.

Through Mimi and her family, Haydu’s sophisticated verse addresses the damaging legacy of the male gaze while looking through a smaller lens focused on the fractured relationship between a daughter and her mother. It’s a story about what happens when you realize you have to save yourself because the grownups who were supposed to keep you safe can’t even protect themselves.

Lawless Spaces is a timely, forward-facing story that tackles the isolation and loss of the pandemic while also telling an entirely different story about what it means to carry generational trauma. Powerful, ultimately healing, and very highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, 13 Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

You can also check out my interview with Corey about this book.

Amber & Clay: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Amber & Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Julia IredaleThe god Hermes draws readers into “the tale of a girl as precious as amber, / the tale of a boy as common as clay” as he introduces Melisto, a pampered girl in Athens, and Rhaskos, a Thracian slave in Amber & Clay (2021) by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Julia Iredale. Find it on Bookshop.

Although close in age, the two “weren’t alike, but they fit together, / like lock and key.” In normal circumstances, they would never meet, but what is ever normal when the gods are watching?

Their stories begin when both are young children. In segments of verse, Rhaskos remembers his early years as a slave up to the night his mother tattoos him in the Thracian tradition, only to be sold before she can explain the markings to him. Renamed Thratta, Rhaskos’ mother joins Melisto’s household, where she is meant to tend the little girl and ease some of the child’s wildness.

While Rhaskos misses his mother and treasures small moments of beauty observing the horses in his master’s stables in Thessaly, Melisto has her own struggles in Athens. Her mother resents Melisto’s disobedience and willfulness. She also fears that she will “crack her skull / or black her eye, or shake her / so hard” that she will break her daughter’s neck.

Rhaskos’ lyrical, carefully structured blank verse provides contrast with Melisto’s prose passages as the story weaves in voices from Hermes and Hephaistos to Athena and Artemis, among other members of the Greek pantheon. A comprehensive author’s note explains the creative choices Laura Amy Schlitz made in drawing from Greek history and embracing the strophe-antistrophe technique common in Greek plays — as seen in the “Turn and Counterturn” poems, where two characters share their different perspectives on parts of the plot. The book also includes a helpful cast of characters at the beginning.

Archaeological images (illustrated by Julia Iredale) and exhibit-style captions add further dimension to this sprawling narrative. Artifacts that prove key to the story include an “unusually fine” amber gold necklace “found on the Athenian Akropolis, near the ruins of the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia”; Rhaskos’ first pottery casting; and others.

Everything changes for both children when Melisto is called on to serve as a Little Bear at the Sanctuary of Artemis in Brauron. As Hermes explains: “My point is: little is known. / What was meant to be a mystery / is still a mystery. / Except we’re going to lift the veil a little, / and peek. We’ll see Brauron / through Melisto’s eyes— / Melisto’s going to Brauron, / to serve as a Little Bear.”

At the sanctuary, Melisto enjoys unprecedented freedom, allowing her to explore nature, indulge her wildness, and finally thrive as she begins tending a bear cub reserved for a future sacrifice to honor Artemis. Back in Thessaly, Rhaskos’ world becomes even smaller under his abusive new master, Menon, inspiring Hephaistos, the god of fire, metalworking, and masonry, to form a plan to intervene on Rhaskos’ behalf to “send my boy to Athens / and wrest him away from Menon.”

While Melisto decides to honor what she knows is right at Brauron despite Artemis’ supposed wishes, and Rhaskos dreams of a life where he is free and able to make art, events are set in motion that will put the pair on a life-changing, utterly unexpected collision course.

Schlitz’s ambitious standalone middle-grade story is meticulously researched and brings ancient Greece to life as Hermes instructs readers on the country’s proper name (“Don’t call it Greece”), and Rhaskos is shown Athenian attractions like the Trojan Horse and the Akropolis, where “the stones of the temples were bathed in gold” for the first time.

What begins as a story about a spoiled girl and a common boy becomes, in the author’s capable hands, a much larger commentary on art, friendship, and identity as we watch Melisto and Rhaskos transform, becoming “the girl as electric as amber, the boy, indestructible as clay.”

Possible Pairings: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, Stone River Crossing by Tim Tingle

Clap When You Land: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth AcevedoCan you be from a place you have never been? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own? Camino Rios wonders what home really means, what family really means at the end of every summer when her father’s visit to the Dominican Republic ends and he goes back to New York City. Camino wants nothing more than to live with her father and put her apprenticeship to her curandera aunt to good use at Columbia as a pre-med student.

But no matter how many times she asks, Camino is still in the same home she’s always been. It’s not a bad home. They can clean up the mud after a flood, they have a generator when the power goes out, they can pay for Camino’s private school, and Camino’s father keeps her safe even if he can’t be there. But Camino knows none of that is enough to make her dreams a reality.

Can you be from a place you have never been? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own? Yahaira Rios wonders that every time her mother talks about how happy she is to have emigrated from the Dominican Republic. She wonders more every summer when her father leaves them to visit the DR.

But Yahaira can’t ask either of them. That doesn’t mean that Yahaira doesn’t have a bad life. Her girlfriend lives next door. She’s a sensational chess player. Her mother supports her and her father is there most of the time. Just not every summer. But Yahaira soon realizes all of that isn’t enough to always keep her safe.

When Yano Rios’ place crashes on the way to the Dominican Republic both Camino and Yahaira’s worlds are shaken. Camino has to confront the reality of a world without her father’s influence to protect her, without his money to pay her school tuition. Yahaira is forced to unearth all of the secrets her father kept and what they have meant for her own life.

Can you know a sister you have never met? Can you claim a family that doesn’t know you? As Camino and Yahaira come to terms with their father’s lies and transgressions both girls will have to grieve everything they have lost while they try to understand what they have to gain in Clap When You Land (2020) by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Find it on Bookshop.

Acevedo’s latest novel is written in verse alternating between Camino and Yahaira’s narrations as both girls learn about their father’s crash, begin to grieve, and try to come together. Acevedo cleverly uses different stanza structures to offer some distinction between the two narrations and to powerfully highlight moments of solidarity between the two sisters.

Evocative settings and visceral emotions immediately draw readers into this story of loss and forgiveness. Both girls have benefited, in different ways, from having Yano Rios as a father. And both girls face difference consequences in the aftermath of his death. In the Dominican Republic Camino faces the possibility of having to stop school and dangerous threats from a local pimp her father previously kept at bay. Meanwhile, in New York City, Yahaira is finally confronting her father’s secrets–a burden she has carried for months after finding his second marriage license while searching for a way to reach him in the Dominican Republic after she is sexually assaulted on a crowded subway car.

Clap When You Land pulls no punches as it tells the story of a complicated family with immediacy and care. Hopeful, surprising, thoughtful and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Untwine by Edwidge Danticat, Turtle Under Ice by Juleah Del Rosario, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe: A Review

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston WeatherfordEveryone knows about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life and tragic end.

Few people know the traumatic start of her life watching her mother struggle with schizophrenia, moving through foster care, and even teen marriage.

While evidence of her transition from brunette pin-up model to blonde bombshell is immediately obvious, the road that got her there has never been explored from her own perspective. Until now in Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe (2020) by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Find it on Bookshop.

Weatherford’s latest verse novel explores the turbulent and often sad life of Marilyn Monroe from her start as Norma Jeane Baker to her death at 36 from an overdose. After a prologue the day of her infamous “Happy Birthday” performance for President John F. Kennedy, the poems move roughly chronologically from Monroe’s early years to her death.

Because it is a verse novel and not a true biography, Beauty Mark is frustratingly lacking in concrete facts. Important figures in Monroe’s life like her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess, are often referenced only to be dropped without explaining their role later in Monroe’s life.

Similarly, while touching upon key points in Monroe’s filmography the choices Weatherford makes in what (and whom) to mention feels largely arbitrary. River of No Return is discussed but co-star Robert Mitchum is never mentioned nor is the complex plot which includes an assault attempt–something, presumably, that would have been of note to Monroe given her own history of sexual abuse. (Lytess also created complications on set but her presence is never mentioned.)

Some Like It Hot is discussed at length with a full plot summary and, again, no mention of co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Nor is this a choice to center Monroe in her own story as other actors (male and female) are mentioned throughout.

A life, even one as tragically short as Monroe’s, covers a lot of ground. Unfortunately in Beauty Mark the authorial choices for what to cover at length (the nude calendar photo scandal in 1952) and what to gloss over (the reasons behind Monroe’s constant move from one foster home to the next as a child) are never made clear either in the text or in supporting back matter.

Beauty Mark is an interesting if ultimately uneven verse novel that gives Monroe her voice and works to move her from sex object back to genuine and complex person. Recommended as an introduction but not for anyone hoping to find a true biography or in-depth life story.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration.*

The Poet X: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Poet X by Elizabeth AcevedoXiomara Batista may not know exactly who she is, but she knows who she isn’t. She isn’t the devout, proper girl her traditional Dominican mother expects her to be. She isn’t the genius like her twin brother. She isn’t the quiet girl that her teachers would probably prefer. And she definitely isn’t whatever it is that the boys and men who catcall her expect either.

Xiomara is tough. She is a fighter. She is unapologetic. She may not believe in god–or at least not enough to complete her communion classes the way her mother wants. She might be falling for a boy for the first time. And, after discovering slam poetry in her English class, she is starting to realize that she is a poet in The Poet X (2018) by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Poet X is Acevedo’s powerful debut (verse) novel. It is also a National Book Award and Printz award winner.

Individual poems come together to tell Xiomara’s story as she journals her way through a tumultuous year in high school as she tries to reconcile expectations placed upon her with the person she wants to become.

Familial conflict is tempered with a sweet romance and Xiomara’s journey from quiet observer to a poet ready to take center stage. Questions of faith and what it means to be devout are also constantly on Xiomara’s mind as she tries (and fails) to be the kind of Catholic girl her mother expects.

The Poet X is a fierce, engaging, feminist story that explores what it means to create and live on your own terms. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

500 Words or Less: A Review

cover art for 500 Words or Less by Juleah del RosarioWhat happens when your attempt to be a better person might be making you worse?

Nic Chen isn’t going to spend her senior year known only as the girl who cheated on her boyfriend with his best friend. She had enough grief when her mom left under a cloud of scandal. This year isn’t going to be a repeat of that.

To revamp her reputation with her Ivy League obsessed classmates, Nic has a simple plan: she will write college admission essays. For a price.

But as Nic learns more about her classmates, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about herself and her moral compass in 500 Words or Less (2018) by Juleah del Rosario.

500 Words or Less is a shining verse novel with a strikingly original story. Through free verse poems Nic contends with painful memories from her past including when her mother left and her last year in high school that changed everything.

Nic is a flawed character well aware of her own shortcomings both in reality and in the eyes of her peers. She grapples with her identity, both as a biracial teen and an outsider at her school, as she tries to figure out how to embrace all of herself–even the ugly pieces.

500 Words or Less is a unique story whose format works well to emphasize elegant prose and complex characterization. An excellent debut that proves del Rosario is an author to watch. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Blood Water Paint: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I paint the blood.”

cover art for Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughRome, 1610: Artemisia Gentileschi had limited options when her mother died at twelve. She could join a convent or she could work in her father’s studio grinding paint, preparing canvases, and modeling as needed.

She chose art.

Now, at seventeen, Artemisia is a key factor to the success of her father’s studio–not that anyone knows it since she can’t sign her name to her art. Instead Artemisia works in secret while her father takes the credit.

Artemisia dreams of improving her craft, stepping out of her father’s shadow, and painting heroic figures like Susanna and Judith the way they were meant to be seen–not as titillating figures colored by the male gaze.

When she is raped by a fellow artist who she thought she could trust and respect, Artemesia dares to tell the truth–and to demand justice–in spite of the horrendous cost in Blood Water Paint (2018) by Joy McCullough.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blood Water Paint is McCullough’s debut novel. Artemisia narrates the story in sparse verse. Interspersed between these stories are prose sections in which Artemisia remembers the stories of Susanna and Judith as her mother told them to her as a child.

McCullough beautifully details Artemisia’s passion and commitment to her art. The story begins in Artemesia’s teen years and continues through her rape by Agostino Tassi and the subsequent trial. Her rage and frustration against the artistic establishment and her limited options as a woman in Rome are palpable throughout the story–especially during the trial when she is subjected first to a gynecological exam and later torture with thumbscrews to “prove” the truth of her testimony. The novel ends as Artemisia begins again returning to her painting in the wake of the trial and its outcome.

McCullough makes excellent use of free verse to highlight Artemisia’s talents and internalize her anger and fear after the rape. This format also allows the novel to provide a thorough telling while sticking to the broad strokes of Artemesia’s triumphs rather than focusing in on her suffering.

Blood Water Paint is an excellent verse novel and carefully researched historical fiction. Recommended.

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Joy about Blood Water Paint too!

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

 

The Ghosts of Heaven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It was all the same thing; the same sign, and now she knew what it meant.”

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus SedgwickIn a time before modern history, a girl tries to use a charred stick and ochre to make magic with disastrous results. Staring at the spiral shapes found everywhere in nature, she begins to grasp the enormity–the power–that can be found in written marks.

Centuries later, Anna hopes to care for her brother after her mother’s death only to have the entire town turn against her. As she fights rumors and increasingly vocal accusations that she is a witch, Anna too begins to see hidden meaning in the spiral found in their traditional spiral dance that begins to appear everywhere.

In the twentieth century an American poet watches the ocean from within the walls of an inhospitable asylum. He can see the shapes there too. Spirals. Helixes. Shapes that have become emblematic of the horrors he can scarcely fathom.

Keir Bowman knows, in the distant future, that he will become an astronaut on a desperate mission to colonize a new planet. He knows he will keep looking forward. What Bowman can’t guess is that in hurtling himself through space, he will also move toward his destiny and an understanding of these spirals that march through history in The Ghosts of Heaven (2015) by Marcus Sedgwick.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a standalone novel in the same style as Sedgwick’s Printz Award winner Midwinterblood.

After an introduction from the author, The Ghosts of Heaven includes four short stories titled “Whispers in the Dark,” “The Witch in the Water,” “The Easiest Room in Hell,” and “The Song of Destiny.” As the introduction explains, these stories can be read in any order. (I read them in the order given in the book which is also the order listed above.)

The Ghosts of Heaven is an incredibly smart and ambitious novel. The stories here span a variety of genres and forms as they work together to convey a larger meaning.

“Whispers in the Dark” is told in sparse verse as a girl begins to make sense of written words and forms.

“The Witch in the Water” returns to more traditional prose as the story watches the hysteria and fear that fed the fires of witch accusations and  trials in the seventeenth century. This segment also demonstrates how much of the novel deals with unequal power dynamics–in this case as Anna tries to work around much unwanted attention.

“The Easiest Room in Hell” brings readers to an asylum on Long Island where supposedly revolutionary treatments highlight the arcane and unfeeling nature of much mental health care in the early twentieth century. This story also underscores the fine line that can exist between creativity and madness.

Finally in “The Song of Destiny” Sedgwick brings the golden ratio (and the Fibonacci sequence) to the forefront in this solitary and meditative story as all of the vignettes come together in a conclusion with surprising revelations about the spirals and their ultimate meaning.

Sedgwick weaves subtle references between each quarter to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as readers–along with the characters–move toward a larger understanding over the course of the entire novel.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a startling, clever and life-affirming novel that pushes the written word to its limit as Sedgwick expertly demonstrates the many ways in which a story can be told.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Folly by Marthe Jocelyn, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, In the Shadow of Blackbirds of Cat Winters

You can also read my interview with Marcus Sedgwick about the book.

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

After the Kiss: A (poetic) Review

After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoyCamille isn’t impressed with her new town. It’s nothing like her old town (or the one before that, or the one before that). It’s tedious making new friends during senior year only to move on like she always does, like they all will with college around the corner. Still, she’ll put on a show and pretend it all matters while she marks time until her escape like she always does.

Until she meets Alec at a party. He isn’t the boy she left behind. But he’s here. He’s smart. He’s a poet. That’s pretty close to perfect.

Camille doesn’t want to get involved or care, not really. But when Alec kisses her out of nowhere at a party isn’t that what he’s asking for? Isn’t that the right thing to do?

Becca is in love and it’s wonderful. She sees Alec after school, on the weekends, during her free time. Being with him, being a girlfriend to his boyfriend, doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things. But Alec is enough. He’s smart. He’s a poet. He’s perfect. In fact, they’re perfect for each other.

At least, Becca thought so until Alec kisses some girl at a party.

After the kiss Becca is heartbroken, Camille is confused. In another life they might have been friends. That won’t happen now, but maybe after everything they can find themselves instead in After the Kiss (2010) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Find it on Bookshop.

Love triangles are nothing new in young adult literature, or any literature really. But McVoy looks at this familiar situation in a new way and from all sides in this clever verse novel. Even though the book is ostensibly about a kiss and romance, it’s more than that too. Both Becca and Camille are forced to take a hard look at who they are before and after the kiss in alternating narrations in their own unique poetic styles.

Both of the characters, especially Becca for me, are authentic narrators who grow and change throughout the story. They are achingly human with moments where they are far from perfect. Still by the end of the story readers will find themselves cheering for both heroines and wondering, like the girls themselves, how things could have been different without that kiss.

After the Kiss is McVoy’s second novel. It is also a smart, smart book written in verse that is filled with emotion, humor, and even nods to other famous poets. If you are an English major or just a poetry lover After the Kiss is a must read.

Possible Pairings: Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my exclusive interview with After the Kiss author Terra Elan McVoy!

Exclusive Bonus Content: How great is this cover? Looking at it never fails to make me happy. Brilliant design by Cara E. Petrus.

In other news: Remember today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The poem in my pocket is this whole book. Don’t forget to carry a poem of your own in your pocket today to share!