2 Coming-of-Age YA Novels-in-Verse | SLJ Spotlight

These YA novels pair a lyrical verse format with engaging narratives of teen girls coming of age.

These novels pair a lyrical verse format with engaging narratives of teen girls coming of age.

GREEN, Shari. Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams. 304p. Andrews McMeel. Mar. 2024. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781524881139; pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781524881122.
Gr 7-10–Set in East Germany during the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this accessible verse novel is told from the perspective of Helena, a 16-year-old pianist who dreams of one day working as a conductor. When her best friend escapes over the border with her family, ­Helena begins to question the restrictions and surveillance imposed upon the citizens of the German Democratic Republic. Her burgeoning activism is further stoked by her father’s involvement with the freedom movement and by a romantic relationship with Lucas, an idealistic piano student who wants Helena to flee to the West with him. When Helena is approached by the secret police, the Stasi, to inform on Lucas, she is forced to evaluate her loyalties and make decisions that will define her as an artist, daughter, citizen, and friend. Helena’s voice is clear and earnest, and her desires and challenges easy for readers to grasp, although the consequences of Helena’s choices are somewhat anticlimactic at times. Green’s lyrical style features restrained use of imagery, with poetic elements most visibly expressed through line breaks and the positioning of words and phrases for rhythmic and expressive effect. Personification is also employed, with Helena’s first-person narration interspersed with short sections in the voice of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig; these sections use a pattern poem format, with the lines arranged in a pillar shape to reinforce the notion of collective strength. VERDICT This verse novel has thematic and stylistic similarities to works by Kip Wilson and will be of interest to those seeking read-alikes, as well as lovers of classical music. It could also support classroom units relating to the German Democratic Republic or political activism.–Leonie Jordan

COLE, Olivia A. Ariel Crashes a Train. 464p. Random/Labyrinth. Mar. 2024. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593644669.
Gr 9 Up–Ariel must complete a series of rituals including tapping, counting, and chanting to keep her family safe. If she misses a beat or tally, the scaly green crocodile creeps in with horrific intrusive thoughts of stabbing, slicing, crashing, and burning others. It's a hidden secret even from her bestie, Leah. Only Ariel’s sister Mandy knows the truth about the rotting, putrid depravity inside her. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but maybe her brain does. She is grappling with society’s expectations of her size, her parents’ expectation of faith, questioning her gender and sexuality, and thwarting the crocodile tangle into chaos in her mind. Verse is a perfect fit for Ariel’s narrative, as her intrusive thoughts beat a sharp staccato that interrupts her story metaphorically. Although Mandy is away at college, she provides a safe space of sorts for Ariel to talk that neither her parents nor Leah offer. Addressed in a sensitive and clinical but clear way, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is explained by psychology student Mandy in a highly accessible story about the amygdala who sounds the alarm in the brain. Ariel develops new coping skills, so she has the ability to live her life authentically and robustly with hope. VERDICT This deeply compassionate and sharp-edged dive into OCD is a must for all collections.–Lisa Krok

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