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New Novels in Verse

I enjoy novels in verse. So, when I received both Salt by Helen Frost and The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan, I decided to read them one after the other to compare and contrast! Both are novels in verse (obviously), both are written by women who are mostly known for their YA work, and yet both are for the younger set.

Salt will perhaps get more notice. It’s historical fiction and Helen Frost is probably the more well-known author. But I didn’t like it as much. The story is told in alternating poems by the two protagonists: Anikwa, 12, is a member of the Miami tribe and James, also 12, is an American boy. We are on the verge of the War of 1812 in the Indiana Territory. Anikwa’s poems look like “patterns of Miami ribbon work,” according to the author, while James poems are like stripes on a flag. It’s a nice conceit and works well. Unfortunately, the conflict between the characters (war is coming, whom can you trust?) is set up and resolved rather quickly. And there are a lot of stereotypes. James’s family isn’t like the others—they respect the Indians’ ways. And Anikwa’s family sees that and trusts them. Meanwhile, Isaac – another boy at the fort – is a brat and represents the ugly Americans. So, it’s a rather simplistic story. The best poetry in the book comes from the poems about salt that separate different parts of the book

The Weight of Water also features a 12-year-old protagonist – Cassie, an immigrant from Poland now living in England. It’s set in the current day. Cassie and her mother have come to England to look for Cassie’s runaway dad. Cassie faces lots of bullying and prejudice from other girls as a stranger in a strange land. But she’s wise enough to almost respect the shunning she receives from the cool girls – saying she might have done the same thing at her old school. There are many conflicts in the book, including Cassie vs. her mother, who stubbornly makes them look each day for the missing dad; Cassie vs. the cool girls at school; Cassie vs. the school, which places her two grades below her level because she doesn’t speak English well. Not all of these conflicts are totally resolved by the end of the book, which is as it should be. But Cassie learns to stand up for herself and finds friends who support her. As an added bonus, the poems are both lyrical and stay true to Cassie and others’ voices (particularly her friend William’s when he’s describing how sick he was)

My two all-time favorite novels in verse are Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which everyone knows, All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg, which everyone should know. The Weight of Water and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose come close. For poignant lessons combining poetry and grief, you can’t go wrong with Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (and the sequel Hate That Cat, of course).

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