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Adapting to a new country or calibrating different cultures that exist in one’s family—or oneself—is a deeply personal process. It’s no wonder that these are subjects frequently explored by novels in verse, a writing form driven by emotion, imagery, and the senses. Reem Faruqi’s new middle-grade verse novel, Unsettled, and Safia Elhillo’s Home Is Not a Country, for tween and YA readers, venture into these sometimes turbulent, sometimes healing waters to join a poetic roster of titles about finding oneself and one’s home.
Beyond Me. By Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu. 2020. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $17.99 (9781481437899). Gr. 4–7.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan reverberate through this historical novel in verse and through the life of Maya, a Japanese American child living near Tokyo, who develops intense anxiety after the tragedy. Well-implemented graphics and stylized fonts reflect Maya’s personal journey to regain her equilibrium in this story of hope and community.
Full Cicada Moon. By Marilyn Hilton. 2015. Dial, $17.99 (9780525428756). Gr. 4–7.
It’s 1969 and Mimi Yoshiko Oliver has just moved to Hillsborough, Vermont, where she stands out as the only half-Black, half-Japanese student. While Miimi wants to fit in, her interests in science and shop class only make her stick out more. This novel in verse captures key snapshots of Mimi’s journey through a transitional time in our history.
The Land of the Cranes. By Aida Salazar. 2020. Scholastic, $17.99 (9781338343809). Gr. 3–6.
Betita has always loved Papi’s stories of how their people came from Aztlán, “Land of the Cranes,” now known as the U.S. Southwest, but when he’s deported and she and her mother are detained, Betita reveals her American experience and family trauma through “picture poems.”
Other Words for Home. By Jasmine Warga. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $16.99 (9780062747808). Gr. 4–7.
After fleeing Syria, Jude and her pregnant mother are living with relatives in Cincinnati. This beautifully written verse novel captures Jude’s tumultuous emotions as she adjusts to her new life while dealing with friendships, Islamophobia, learning English, and worries about her family back home.
Red, White, and Whole. By Rajani LaRocca. 2021. Harper/Quill Tree, $16.99 (9780063047426). Gr. 5–8.
Navigating eighth grade, Reha finds herself pulled between two worlds: 1983 America, where she is growing up, and India, where her parents did. When her mother’s cancer diagnosis results in a flood of support from friends and family alike, the two sides of her identity finally meld.
TWEEN & YA
Clap When You Land. By Elizabeth Acevedo. 2020. HarperTeen, $18.99 (9780062882769). Gr. 8–12.Two teenage girls, one living in New York and the other in the Dominican Republic, learn they are sisters after their father’s death exposes his double life. Free verse poems for each girl display clear perspectives, easy cadence and thoughtfulness, and lyrical strength as the story explores grief and the meaning of family.
Thirty Talks Weird Love. By Alessandra Narváez Varela. 2021. Cinco Puntos, $18.95 (9781947627482). Gr. 8–12.
Anamaria Aragón Sosa is a 13-year-old girl living in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, whose life is forever altered by the appearance of her 30-year-old self. Telling her story through a series of vignettes about her family members, the city, and her classmates, Anamaria experiments with poetry structures and formats as she explores young womanhood and self-love.
The Things She’s Seen. By Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. 2019. Knopf, $17.99 (9781984848789). Gr. 7–10.
Beth’s story begins after a car accident leaves her spirit stuck on the mortal side of death, somehow entangled with an arson case in a remote Australian town. In between sections of Beth’s narration are chapters told in verse from the point of view of Isobel Catching. Fantastical elements beautifully overlay Isobel’s poems and shed much-needed light on the history of abuse perpetrated against aboriginal girls.
A Time to Dance. By Padma Venkatraman. 2014. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $17.99 (9780399257100). Gr. 7–12.
Veda lives with her warm, traditional Indian parents and blissfully expresses herself through dance. When tragedy strikes, she struggles to find her rhythm using her new, severely diminished physicality. In Venkatraman’s delectably scented, sensual world, lyrically described through verse, life is illuminated as a beautiful celebration of doing what comes naturally as well as one is able.
The Good Braider. By Terry Farish. 2012. Amazon Children’s, $17.99 (9780761462675). Gr. 8–12.
In free-verse poems, Viola, 16, remembers being driven from home with her mother by the brutal Sudanese civil war and the harrowing journey to join Viola’s uncle in Portland, Maine. Never exploitative, Viola’s narrative will grip readers with its harsh truths as well as relatable touchstones, such as making friends at school and learning to drive.
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