YA Poetry Recs

We’ve been reading a lot of novels-in-verse lately, so to celebrate National Poetry Month, here’s a list of some of our faves!

Amber and Clay
By Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Julia Iredale
544 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536201222 | Candlewick
In a warlike land of wind and sunlight, “ringed by a restless sea,” live Rhaskos and Melisto, spiritual twins with little in common beyond the violent and mysterious forces that dictate their lives. A Thracian slave in a Greek household, Rhaskos is as common as clay, a stable boy worth less than a donkey, much less a horse. Wrenched from his mother at a tender age, he nurtures in secret, aided by Socrates, his passions for art and philosophy. Melisto is a spoiled aristocrat, a girl as precious as amber but willful and wild. She’ll marry and be tamed – the curse of all highborn girls – but risk her life for a season first to serve Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Bound by destiny, Melisto and Rhaskos – Amber and Clay – never meet in the flesh. By the time they do, one of them is a ghost. But the thin line between life and death is just one boundary their unlikely friendship crosses. It takes an army of snarky gods and fearsome goddesses, slaves and masters, mothers and philosophers to help shape their story into a gorgeously distilled, symphonic tour de force. Blending verse, prose, and illustrated archaeological “artifacts,” this is a tale that vividly transcends time, an indelible reminder of the power of language to illuminate the over- and underworlds of human history.

Chlorine Sky
By Mahogany L. Browne
192 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593176399 | Crown BFYR
She looks me hard in my eyes
& my knees lock into tree trunks
My eyes don’t dance like my heartbeat racing
They stare straight back hot daggers.
I remember things will never be the same.
I remember things.
With gritty and heartbreaking honesty, Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend.

Closer to Nowhere
By Ellen Hopkins
416 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593108611 | Putnam BFYR
For the most part, Hannah’s life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she’s popular at school, and she’s been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in. For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn’t let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their best to love him. Told in verse from the alternating perspectives of Hannah and Cal, this is a story of two cousins who are more alike than they realize and the family they both want to save.

Concrete Kids
By Amyra León
Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
96 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593095195 | Penguin Workshop
Concrete Kids is an exploration of love and loss, melody and bloodshed. Musician, playwright, and educator Amyra León takes us on a poetic journey through her childhood in Harlem, as she navigates the intricacies of foster care, mourning, self-love, and resilience. In her signature free-verse style, she invites us all to dream with abandon – and to recognize the privilege it is to dream at all.

Every Body Looking
By Candice Iloh
416 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525556206 | Dutton BFYR
When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family – and the first time that she’s been able to make her own choices and to seek her place in this new world. As she stumbles deeper into the world of dance and explores her sexuality, she also begins to wrestle with her past – her mother’s struggle with addiction, her Nigerian father’s attempts to make a home for her. Ultimately, Ada discovers she needs to brush off the destiny others have chosen for her and claim full ownership of her body and her future.

Home Is Not a Country
By Safia Elhillo
224 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593177051 | Make Me A World
Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to belong somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn’t. As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s . . . she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard
By Lesléa Newman
144 Pages | Ages 14+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781536215779 | Candlewick
On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was kidnapped from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life. Back matter includes an epilogue, an afterword, explanations of poetic forms, and resources.

The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country
By Amanda Gorman
Foreword by Oprah Winfrey
32 Pages | All Ages | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593465271 | Viking BFYR
On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the sixth and youngest poet to deliver a poetry reading at a presidential inauguration. Taking the stage after the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, Gorman captivated the nation and brought hope to viewers around the globe. Her poem “The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country” can now be cherished in this special gift edition. Including an enduring foreword by Oprah Winfrey, this keepsake celebrates the promise of America and affirms the power of poetry.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire
By Joy McCullough
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780525556053 | Dutton BFYR
Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts – a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice. But the victory is short-lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence makes her want to learn “how to use a sword” goes viral. From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a fifteenth-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims. We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.

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