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Thursday, March 3, 2011

YA Foray into Wordplay

I don't know much about YA (young adult) fiction, but I have noticed recently a trend of YA novels in verse. I even saw on the blog of a literary agent the following warning: Don't send me any more YA novels in verse as I've already got one sitting on my desk that I like, so I won't be looking at yours. Or something to that effect.

Sonia Sones has a rather extensive list of novels in verse on her website (scroll down the page till you get to the right list; it's not the first one). Although her target audience seems to be the over-twelve age group, she lists Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, which is a fabulous book but hardly one I would recommend for that young a crowd (due to stylistic sophistication rather than content, but clearly I'm not a good judge of what the YA market wants anyway). Still, Sone's website is a great resource if you are looking for novels in verse for the YA reader. There's a less extensive list, but one that has synopses of the stories and the issues dealt with, at Connected Youth.

Somehow the idea that teenagers would be interested in reading novels in verse strikes me as counterintuitive. I don't know why. After all, rock lyrics are the last bastion of the rhyming couplet, and there's nowhere better to find inventive wordplay than in rap music. And when do most people experiment with secretly writing poetry? Their teen years, right? So wouldn't they want to read verse as well? Still, I find it odd that the young adult market wants to read novels in verse. Odd, but hopeful.

For a recently released novel in verse written by an ex-pat American living in Japan, see Holly Thompson's Orchards (Delacorte/Random House), the story of a half-Japanese half-Jewish American teen who must cope with the extent of her responsibility for the suicide of a classmate due to bullying. The protaganist wasn't herself the bully, but neither did she interfere with the dynamics in motion. (Disclaimer: I haven't actually read the novel yet. Living in Japan with a limited book budget which must take into account overseas shipping in addition to book price, I tend to spend my cash on plain old poetry, but I will get around to reading this someday.)

Like most effective YA novels, Orchards deals with some pretty sophisticated issues. Perhaps the use of verse as a medium helps add some beauty to what is an otherwise stark subject. Maybe the poetry helps the reader cope with the difficult issues. I don't know. I just know it's a trend, and apparently an effective one.

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