verse novels for children and teens are in vogue, it would seem -- 15 years ago i would only have been able to name a small handful (karen hesse, maybe), now almost every venture into the J or Y section of the library brings another encounter with one... not that i do not appreciate verse novels, but i do want the verse to be good, you know, otherwise their very proliferation also proliferates the prejudice that free verse is just prose broken into lines (which in fact, many of these ya attempts unfortunately are; even the better ones are merely competent -- 3 (or even 4) stars for the narrative, 2 for the verse, ho hum.)

two however i enjoyed very much recently (neither of these particularly fine where the verse is concerned, but at least not shabby, and the overall swells of their narratives and emotional tenor help them bob above others of their ilk.):

1. terry farish's the good braider (published 2012) is a sensitive, moving account of a teenage girl's life during the south sudanese civil war while waiting for her refugee status and approval for immigration to the us, and her subsequent cultural adjustment as part of the refugee community in portland, maine. particularly poignant moments: she, reflecting on how her rape by a soldier in sudan has rendered her bride-price valueless in the eyes of her own community even as a white girl (who, it's implied, has no understanding of its cultural significance) asks her to help braid her blonde hair to surprise her african-american boyfriend. and, towards the end of the book, suffering a horrific punishment for defying her mother and 'learning the american way' by befriending an american fisherman who is teaching her to drive, and a confrontation with the 911 paramedics and cops who come to arrest her mother.

2. patricia hruby powell's loving vs virginia: a documentary novel of the landmark civil rights case, just published two months ago. the verse is no great shakes, but i'd told you that. the tale is well-researched (enriched with original oral interviews conducted by the author with friends of the lovings), and is published as a hardcover, oversized (coffee table) book full of historical inserts: photos of segregated schoolrooms and anti-integration protesters outside schools and courthouses, excerpts from lower court rulings and virginia's 'racial integrity' legislation, hair-raising quotes from gov. george wallace. i like that it barely focusses on the court case (which happens almost entirely off-page -- we see only them meeting with cohen and hirschkop, then we see them at a press conference years later, after the supreme court ruling) but instead tells of the youth, courtship and homelife of the lovings, on the daily struggles of their exile lives as a mixed couple and separation from the family support structures they were forced to leave behind in virginia (living on county borders), voicing the ordinary bewilderment of the layperson baulking at how long a court case takes, uninterested in creating a legal precedent, just worn down and worn out and wondering when they can move home to virginia).

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