Thursday, September 23, 2010


My new blog is at my freshly redesigned website!
See you there.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sometimes people ask...

Q: I’m an aspiring author. Can you give me some tips?
A: Read and write as much as you can. It seems deceptively simple, but I think those are the keys. Also, being in a writing class or critique group is helpful. That way you can get feedback and bounce ideas off of people.

One of my favorite authors, Ellen Hopkins, has done a masterful job of answering this question and so many others. Check “For Writers” at

Q: Are you working on a new book?
A: Book #3 is in the early planning stages. All I’ll say about it now, is that I need to go to Thailand to do research!

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: Everywhere. From my life, from my friends’ lives . . . But lately I’ve been into listening to podcasts. I’m addicted to “The Moth” and “This American Life.” “The Moth” is a live taping of people telling true stories--without notes. “This American Life” has all sorts of fiction and nonfiction stories—often with unique twists. A story I heard on “This American Life” actually inspired the idea for my third book.

Q: Why do you write in verse?
A: This is how I’ve always written. When I was younger I was an avid journal writer and my writing never really came out in complete sentences — more like fragments. But as the years have gone by, I’ve learned to play with the format more. Writing in verse gives me the opportunity to lead the reader in a way that’s more aggressive than traditional prose. By changing the line breaks or the way the words are spaced out, I can give a different effect. I can really stress something. Or I can lead a reader to think one thing, and then have it revealed as another when you read the next line. I get to be tricky. (For example, read the excerpt below from You Are Not Here and pay attention to the seventh and eighth lines.)

There are men digging Brian’s grave.
They are digging a hole
in the cool earth,
on a hot day for the boy who has occupied
my thoughts and my heart
for the last three months,
for the boy I lost
my virginity to,
for the boy I think I loved.

Another great thing about writing a novel in verse is how spare I can be. I try to use my words wisely. (BTW, the phrase “use my words wisely” is something I would definitely delete in the editing process. I never want to use phrases that my reader can complete on his/her own. I think it makes the work less unique and the reader less engaged.) And I often try to use as few words as possible. Writing in verse allows me to cut out all the fat and just get to the meat — the emotions — of the story.

Q: Who are some of your favorite poets, contemporary or classic?
A: Erica Jong, Louise Glück, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton. And those are just the women…

Q: What are some of your favorite books?
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Burn Journals by Brent Runyon
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Stop Pretending: What Happened when My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plat
Water for Elephants by
The Journals of Anais Nin
Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

More posts to come soon!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Writing Process (aka: type. type. coffee. muffin. type. facebook. type. type. twiter. type. nap.

People ask how I have a day job and still write books—especially a day job that involves kids’ books. The first part of the answer is that for the most part, I didn’t work on You Are Not Here (or I Don't Want to Be Crazy) during the work week. Maybe I’d tinker for a few minutes if something was on my mind…but that would never last too long. When I get home from work I want to see friends, watch TV, cook, sleep. The only times that I worked a lot during the week were right before deadlines. And it sucked to have to go to a café after work (to stare at yet another computer screen) for a few hours. I was beat, but I knew the extra work was worth it.

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that You Are Not Here was written little by little on the weekends—only three to four hours at a time. So, if you’re curious what the not-so-glamorous weekend life of a writer looks like, here it is:

Wake up by ten.
Do not snooze the alarm.
Do not turn on TV.
Do not even look at the bed.
Go get coffee and a muffin.
Come back and make breakfast.
Eat breakfast while checking email.
Do not look at the bed.
Start reviewing wherever I left off the last time I worked on the manuscript.
Frequently check email, facebook, twitter .
Work for 3-4 hours.

For better or worse, I often read from the beginning of the manuscript or the beginning of the section I was working on…that sucked up a lot of time, but I think it helped. It naturally led me to the part I wanted to work on that day. Another way I would begin would be by typing up poems or ideas that I had written in my journal while on my 30-40 minute subway ride to work. A surprising amount of the book was born this way. I don’t know what it is about the subway that makes me so productive. Maybe it’s that I am moving? Maybe it’s all the people around me? Or maybe, despite insisting that I am NOT a morning person, my brain is perkier than I thought it could ever be at 8am. So, once that poem was typed up and tweaked, maybe I’d slot it into the manuscript. Or maybe I’d put in a different doc and save it for later. Or maybe I’d decide it was crap and not use it at all (I always save these discarded bits in a doc named "where poems go to die.")

So once my ass was firmly planted in the seat and I was staring at the laptop, I usually only lasted about three hours. And that includes lots of checking email and facebook. But eventually I would get distracted by the bed or the TV and take a break…that would turn into a nap…and then I was done for.

To prevent TV watching and napping, I’d often go to a café in my neighborhood. It was great since that way I could have access to all the coffee and food I wanted. And there’d be enough background noise to keep me sane, but not so much that I’d get distracted.

I almost always write with music on. It keeps me from getting too distracted by other things (but there is no way I could ever write with the TV on). The music I’m listening to can’t be too fast or too loud. When I was writing YANH I listened to a lot of Sigur Ros (perfect since it’s in a different language), Metric, Yelle, Tegan & Sarah, and Bon Iver. Whenever I hear any of those albums now, it’s like listening to the soundtrack to YANH.

Through the writing process, I realized how much I need solitude (something that I will try to keep in mind for my third book). When it was getting close to the due date for the first draft, I spent a few days in Western Massachusetts. While a friend went to a yoga retreat during the day, I worked on YANH at the house we were staying at. Or I would work on the grounds of the retreat. It was great. I was able to sit for many, many hours at a time and get some serious work done--without any distractions. And it definitely helped that I didn’t know the password for the wifi.

The weekend before the first draft was due, I stayed at my parents’ house. They were out of town and the house was nice and quiet (and there was a fridge stocked with food). So I sat on the back deck and worked for hours on end. It was one of the first times that I felt there just weren't enough hours in the day. I guess, for me, there’s nothing quite as motivating as a looming deadline.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A long-ish bio (but a whole lot shorter than my memoir)

Queens, New York, December 1978. I was born too early and too small. Weighing just shy of four pounds, my father said I looked like a chicken. My mother said I looked like a china doll. I’m not sure what my three-year-old sister thought of me, but I’ve heard stories about toddlers trying to put their new siblings in the trash.

Elementary school started out okay. I have a few select memories from kindergarten: a student’s grandfather, an Italian chef, coming to our class to cook squid on a hot plate; building a toy car out of pieces of wood; and putting milk money into a very, very small brown envelope.
The next few years were mostly all right. The highs included: performing as Jackie and the Beanstalk in a third-grade play, reading Choose Your Own Adventure books (and always cheating), and getting up to “knee-zies” in Chinese jump rope. The lows included: hiding in the bathroom whenever math homework was collected in the fifth grade, frequent feelings of déjà vu, and being told I had “skeleton hands” by the boy I had a crush on.

Sixth grade was the beginning of a new era—private school—where the classes were small and my inability to do math was quickly discovered. This is also when I wrote my first short story. It was based on an old photograph of a woman standing in the woods with her back to the camera. [Click the image to see it bigger.]

My teacher gave me an A, something I didn’t often get. My parents went crazy for the story, and my seeming maturity. The consensus was that I had talent.

At some point in high school I started keeping a journal. Every few months I’d go to the drug store to buy a new marble composition book. I’d spend a lot of time decorating the cover with stickers, drawings, photos, and cut outs from magazines. And when I thought the cover was sufficiently cool, I’d start writing in it.

When I was a senior in high school, I took AP Writing. Our teacher required us to write ten journal pages a week. I think I was one of the few students in the class that didn’t mind. But by then I was already a journal addict. I couldn’t go anywhere without it. And if I left my notebook at home by mistake, I would write on scraps of paper, napkins, my hand, anything. (This was also the year I discovered Anais Nin--the queen of journal writing.)

There were two things I loved most about having a journal. The first was that it filled my time. Waiting for a train? No problem. Stuck on the bus? All set. Trying to ignore my classmates during my free period? Super. The second thing I loved was how my journals felt. Not the weight of the book, but the pages. I loved running my hands over my writing, over the impressions made by my pen. It was like my own version of Braille.

After high school, I went to Skidmore College in upstate New York. I still kept journals at the time, but used them less and less. At school, I focused on creative writing and literature, but also took several art and dance classes. I had all sorts of jobs while in college. I worked in the school cafeteria and The Children’s Museum at Saratoga. I also assisted a genius English professor for three years.

Toward the end of college, I got my first taste of being published. Several of my poems (and one photograph) were included in the 1999 and 2000 editions of Folio, Skidmore’s literary Journal. I also spent a momentous semester abroad in Paris my junior year. (All this and so much more is covered in I Don’t Want to Be Crazy—a memoir based on my experiences from ages 17 to about 21.)

After college I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do something that involved kids, art, and writing—I just wasn’t sure how to put it all together. Happily, by the end of the summer, I scored a job as an Editorial Assistant at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books. While there I read manuscript submissions, made photocopies, filed papers, wrote oodles and oodles of copy for the back covers of books, and eventually edited some books. After several years at S&S, I took a job at Scholastic where I edited mostly licensed books (those are books based on TV shows, movies, games, etc). After a working at Scholastic, I moved on to my current job at Penguin as a Senior Editor. At Penguin, I work on all sorts of projects, but I mainly edit licensed books for kids.

I currently live in Brooklyn, NY and can often be found sitting on my porch (ok, this is just a really big fire escape), going to the farmers’ market, making pancakes, and listening to “This American Life Podcast” while on the subway. I also like to go to events like The Moth, Rooftop Films, and the Air Guitar Championships.

My first book, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, is a memoir about anxiety disorder written in verse. My second book, You Are Not Here, is a verse-novel about grief and loss. I am currently working on my third book for young adults and plan to take a trip to Thailand for research. If all goes according to plan, the book could be on shelves by late 2012.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

After writing my memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I was eager to try fiction. Eager, but totally stumped as how to begin. When I wrote I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I knew the story, the characters, the setting, the ending. But when I started developing You Are Not Here, all I knew was that there was a teenage girl whose boyfriend died, and that he is buried very close to her house. That was it. That was all I had. At times, it was scary to think that every moment — every word — had to come from somewhere inside my brain. I have some friends who write fiction, and they think that all those possibilities are freeing (and that writing a memoir would be considerably harder), but it was the opposite for me. So I started with what I knew…

We all struggle with loss (including losing touch with a friend, moving away, or someone dying) and I very am interested in how people cope with those feelings. Much to my surprise, I found that when I was working on You Are Not Here, I could draw on my own experiences—even the saddest of them. For example, when I was nineteen, a friend of my best friend died suddenly. While I had only met this girl a few times, her death reminded me that scary, unexpected things can and do happen. Also, there are people that I’ve dated or been friends with that are no longer part of my life…and on some days that void seems really big, and I start wondering things like: What is that person doing right now? What would my life be like if that person were still in it? And finally, on a lighter note, I’ve had a few “sort-of-boyfriends” like Brian and have plenty of experiences to draw from.

I wish I could do some sort of annotated manuscript or interactive website where you could click on a part of You Are Not Here and it would tell you the real story behind the inspiration. [You'll be able to see some inspiration photos in a later post.] For starters, an important photo from Annaleah’s past is based on an actual photo of me as a baby.
Names of people in the book are based on people in my family. Even one of the final scenes is VERY heavily based on an experience I had when I was about seventeen. Or at least it’s based on what I remember all these years later.

I am also very inspired by the books I read, the art I see, the music I listen to. While I was working on the manuscript for You Are Not Here, I was reading The Bell Jar and had been to see a Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both of those things found a direct way into the book. Also, I’ve been into listening to podcasts lately. I’m addicted to “The Moth” and “This American Life.” “The Moth” is a live taping of people telling true stories--without notes. “This American Life” has all sorts of fiction and nonfiction stories—often with unique twists. A story I heard on “This American Life” actually inspired the idea for my third book. But that's another story... :)

The Life Cycle of You Are Not Here

Only 30 days until You Are Not Here launches! To celebrate I'll be doing several new blog posts about my writing process, inspiration, behind the scenes info, and more. So check back every few days for something new!

People often ask me, "How long does it take to make a book?" I still don't have a good answer (besides: somewhere between a few weeks and a lifetime). But I can tell you how long it took to write You Are Not Here...and how long it took to get from the manuscript stage to a finished book!

Summer 2006
Sitting in a work meeting, a coworker says something like: “Wow. That would be a crazy place to live.” The first thing I think of is that it would be weird to live across the street from a cemetery. Later, I think it’d be even weirder to live across the street from a cemetery if someone you cared about were buried there. Then this little idea becomes a bigger idea. What if a teenage girl’s boyfriend suddenly died and was buried outside of her window? At first I think that I would make it about really lovely relationship, but soon realize (or was it my editor who told me?) that happy relationships are boring (to write or read about anyway). After telling my editor, David Levithan, this idea he suggests making the boyfriend already dead on page one. And so it went… (Only now, the cemetery is a few blocks from her house. It seemed like overkill to have it be right out her window.)

I toy with the idea a bit, do some reading about religions and burial practices, read books about grief...start working on an outline and some sample poems.
September 22, 2008
Email my awesome editor the concept for You Are Not Here (which is about 20 pages of poems and story notes mixed together) and ask if we can have lunch to talk. I feel pretty nervous, but I want his feedback to see if he thinks I’ve got something. I assume lunch will entail him giving me ideas/suggestions…then I’d go off and rework and formally submit the proposal to him.

September 23, 2008
Miraculously, David and I schedule lunch for the next day. While sitting at an outdoor Soho café, David tells me he loves the proposal and doesn’t need me to rework it. He wants to show it to his colleagues at Scholastic to see if he can acquire it. This is highly shocking!

I sold my first book, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, without an agent and wanted to do things differently this time around. So, the search for an agent becomes a lot more pressing. I make lots of phone calls, read lots of agent websites, poll author friends, etc.

October 10, 2008
Send first choice agent, Barry Goldblatt, my proposal.

October 14, 2008
Meet with Barry. It’s a love fest. We decide to work together!

October 16, 2008
David makes Barry an offer—and it’s for two books! I wonder, can I handle two books—especially when I have no clue what the next one will be about? I get more than a little freaked out, but Barry talks me through it. We accept the offer!

Work, work, work. Coffee, cafes, visits to cemetery, muffins, reading about religion.

June 15, 2009
Send first draft to David. Finger crossed!

Excitement turns to nervousness. Why hasn’t David gotten back to me? Is the manuscript that bad? Mild panic is soothed when David tells me he’s workload is really backed up and it’s going to take awhile to get back to me.

September 10, 2009
Get general comments from David. He says,
“I think what you’ve written is fantastic – thoroughly disturbing at first, then with the right veins of hope toward the end. The writing itself is nearly flawless – you capture her voice perfectly, and the verse is deeply effective in its starkness.”

I may be a teensy bit too excited that he called it “disturbing.” But that sounds like a compliment to me.

September 11, 2009
We meet for lunch and David gives me various general “homework assignments” about things he’s like to see developed. Among other things, he wants more about Annaleah and her mom and more happy flashbacks about Brian and Annaleah together.

Work for about a month on the homework poems. It feels strange--but good--to be writing again after a few months off.

November 5, 2009
See first cover. LOVE IT! But later find out that there is another YA cover that is very similar and we will have to rethink our plans. Sad. (And yes, my last name is mispelled. I'm used to it by now.)

November 8, 2009
Send David second draft! This includes all the new “homework poems.”

December 28, 2009
Get amazing comments back from David.
“As you’ll see, I think it’s in wonderful shape – I’d say the mass majority of my comments are words of praise. It’s really come together beautifully – I think the additions you’ve made really deepen the work, and that you’ve conveyed Annaleah’s experience is a genuinely moving (if at times profoundly sad) way.”

Review David’s edits. Accept most (after all, David is a genius). Reject some.

January 11, 2010
Send David third and final draft!

February 3, 2010
See second cover. Do NOT love it. It's good, but not great. Have VERY long talks with friends (especially ones who are designers/artists). Have long talk with Barry (my agent) about my concerns.

February 12, 2010
Get copyedited manuscript from David. The copy editor (the person who goes through the manuscript with a fine toothed comb and notices all sorts of errors) seessome really funny typos. Also, it is clear that I do not know how to use commas. CE also noticed some creepy typos. For example, on two separate occasions I use the word “widow” instead of “window.” (color key to image below: yellow is the copyeditor, blue is my editor, red is me.)

February 22, 2010
Return copy edited manuscript.

March 4, 2010
See third and final cover and LOVE IT! Hurray!
As an editor it is SO hard not to make notes about nerdy things like leading (the amount space in-between the lines), fonts, colors, etc. I do send excessive notes, but I am pretty sure that I will be ignored. I need to be the author not the editor here.

March 11, 2010
Get first pass (aka “pages”). This is the first time I see the manuscript designed and looking like an actual book. It’s real. And really big! I make some additions and deletions.

March 22, 2010
Return first pass (aka 1P) with comments.

March 28, 2010
See and return 2P. Perfecto!

May 21, 2010
Twitter post: “galleys are in for You Are Not Here. if you see a crazy person runnin thru Soho, throwing people aside & muttering ‘it's here!’ that's me!”

August 25, 2010
Get first copy of You Are Not Here. Run around the office like a lunatic showing anyone and everyone that will talk to me.

October 1, 2010
You Are Not Here goes on sale…

Monday, August 30, 2010

Let's celebrate the launch of my new book, You Are Not Here!

To celebrate the 10/1 launch of my first novel, You Are Not Here, I am going to write 10 new blog posts in the next 30 days. Check them out starting 9/1.
Among other things, they'll be about my writing process, inspiration, and my favorite: behind the scenes photos of the real places the book is based on.

More to come soon!

Pre-order here!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Great round-up of YA books in verse

Great article from School Library Journal about YA books in verse! This list should keep you all busy for awhile.

By Jill Heritage Maza -- School Library Journal, 06/01/2010

A little more than 15 years ago, novels-in-verse began appearing on publishers' YA lists. Titles such as Virginia Euwer Wolff's Make Lemonade and Mel Glenn's Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? tackled meaty issues including teen pregnancy and school violence. Through verse, these authors were able to craft authentic teen voices and amplify a story's emotional punch, all at a pace impossible to reach through prose. Shortly thereafter, Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust segued the verse novel from teen problem novel to middle-grade historical fiction. Now a staple of young adults' reading diet, titles written in verse continue to hit the mark on trueness of voice, quickness of pace, emotional impact, and abundant white space. Realism still reigns, but writers of historical fiction and, increasingly, biography turn to verse for the same reasons. What might have felt irrelevant to a reader is rendered immediate when the inner thoughts of a character ring eerily familiar.

Readers are now just as likely to discover intricately constructed poems in traditional forms as they are to find free verse, meant to be read by budding poets and laymen alike. Perhaps Mr. B., Kevin's teacher in Ron Koertge's Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs, sums it up best: “Don't worry so much about what poetry means. Pretend poetry is chili and you're starving. Would you ask what chili means? Just eat it up.” Readers have clearly taken this directive, as what was once a drip in the publishing world has become a steady stream, the numbers of novels-in-verse rising year after year. Gold standards like Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, David Levithan's Realm of Possibility, Nikki Grimes's Bronx Masquerade, Jacqueline Woodson's Locomotion, and Helen Frost's Keesha's House, all exemplars of the form, have paved the way for the not-to-be-missed titles that follow.

Melodious Memoirs

BERNIER-GRAND, Carmen T. Diego: Bigger Than Life. illus. by David Diaz. Marshall Cavendish. 2009. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5383-3.

Gr 5-8–Brilliant, stylized illustrations punctuated by reproductions of Rivera's own works combine with playful free verse to depict the life of fiery artist Diego Rivera in this companion to Frida: ¡Viva la Vida!/Long Live Life! (Marshall Cavendish, 2007). Readers discover the origins of Rivera's socialistic leanings, follow the evolution of his artistic style, and glimpse his rocky relationships.

ENGLE, Margarita. The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba.Holt. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-9082-6.

Gr 8 Up–Engle, a biography-in-verse master, illuminates a little-known person in Cuban history while evoking the breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty of the island nation. She chronicles the 1851 journey of Swedish novelist and women's rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer to Cuba and her interaction with Elena, a wealthy planter's daughter, and Cecilia, a house slave.

HEMPHILL, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. Knopf. 2007. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-83799-9; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-93799-6; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-440-23968-0.

Gr 8 Up–Through a series of skillfully crafted poems, Hemphill pieces together a collage of the life and work of the American poet. The poems, many of which are written “in the style of” Plath's work, are spoken by a cast of characters from her life and scattered with the poet's own imagery and language. Audio version available from Listening Library; audio download available from Audible.

SCHUTZ, Samantha. I Don't Want to Be Crazy. Scholastic/PUSH. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-439-80518-6.

Gr 9 Up–This memoir-in-verse skillfully captures the utter breathlessness Schutz felt while coming to terms with an anxiety disorder that surfaced and plagued her throughout and after her college years. Regardless of mental health issues, teens will undoubtedly feel a kinship with her sometimes-overwhelming search for self-identity.

SMITH, Charles R., Jr. Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali. illus. by Bryan Collier. Candlewick. 2007. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-1692-2; pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5002-5.

Gr 5-8-Each “round” depicts a different period in Ali's colorful life, from childhood through religious conversion to his life after retirement from boxing. Smith's rhythmic verse speaks to Ali in the second person, “you declared your goal 'to be the greatest of all time,'” while Collier's stylized watercolors amplify the subject's larger-than-life personality.

WEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Becoming Billie Holiday. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2008. RTE $19.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-507-2.

Gr 9 Up–Holiday's hard-edged, soulful voice sings out in this portrait of the legendary jazz musician told through nearly 100 poems spun from her song titles. Cooper's evocative illustrations drive home the singer's vulnerability, from a scene portending her rape at an early age to a young girl's innocent dreams of dancing “safe in my hero's arms.”

Lyrical Love

HERRICK,Steven. Cold Skin. Front St. 2009. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-572-0.

Gr 9 Up-In this coming-of-age novel/murder mystery set in post-World War II Australia, Eddie longs to work in the mines but is forbidden by his father. While treading water at school, he tenderly discovers first love and dark secrets about the adults in his life. The voices of various townsfolk, expressed in poems, reveal clues to a killer's identity.

KOERTGE, Ron. Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs. Candlewick. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4435-2.

Gr 5-8-Kevin, aka Shakespeare, who made his poetic debut in Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (Candlewick, 2003), now navigates girls, baseball, and his father's new romance. Well-versed in the rules of poetry but less adept in the ways of adolescent love, he starts to fall for fellow budding poet Amy while flip-flopping on his feelings for girlfriend Mira.

MCVOY, Terra Elan. After the Kiss. S & S/ Pulse. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0211-9.

Gr 9 Up–Two teens' lives collide when Camille, the new girl in town, unknowingly kisses Becca's haiku-spouting boyfriend at a party. Camille tells her side in a sort of stream of consciousness, while Becca speaks in free verse. The girls' distinct voices make this book so much more than a predictable YA drama.

MYERS, Walter Dean. Street Love. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-028079-6; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-028080-2; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-06-440732-8.

Gr 8 Up–The rhythm of the street is palpable. Damien, bound for Brown, must make a life-altering decision when he falls in love with Junice, whose mother is in prison. Myers lifts verse to a whole new level as he manipulates pace and beat to craft unique voices for each character.

RICHARDS, Jame. Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood. Knopf/Borzoi. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85885-7; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95885-4.

Gr 8 Up–This cross-class romance between wealthy Celestia and miner's son Peter is set against the backdrop of a Gilded Age retreat on Lake Conemaugh, Pennsylvania. Readers will lie in wait for the inevitable climax, the collision of Celestia and Peter's tale with the very real Johnstown Flood of 1889.

SCHROEDER, Lisa. Chasing Brooklyn. S & S/Pulse. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-9168-7.

Gr 7-10–Still recovering from the death of Lucca, his girlfriend, Brooklyn, and his brother, Nico, are crushed when Lucca's best friend kills himself. As both Brooklyn and Nico start conversing with the dead boys' spirits, they rediscover pieces of themselves and one another.

For the Younger Set

CREECH, Sharon. Hate That Cat. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler Bks. 2008. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-143092-3; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-143093-0; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-06-143094-7.

Gr 3-6–Once again flexing his poetic muscles for Miss Stretchberry, Jack begrudgingly opens up a space in his life for a new kitten. His poems are frequently inspired by famous poets, just as in Love That Dog (HarperCollins, 2001), and illustrate his growing maturity as a poet. Audio version available from HarperChildrens Audio; audio download available from Audible.

HERRICK, Steven. Naked Bunyip Dancing. illus. by Beth Norling. Front St. 2008. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-499-0.

Gr 3-6–With a title culled from a nonsensical brainstorming session, this is a collection of poems by the zany, fictional class of 6C. Replete with a poem-spouting teacher, Australian slang, and some less fantastic real-life troubles, the students lead readers into their quirky world. Spunky cartoon illustrations add an extra dash of energy.

NERI, G. Chess Rumble. illus. by Jesse Joshua Watson. Lee & Low. 2007. RTE $18.95. ISBN 978-1-58430-279-7.

Gr 5-8–Marcus's words, rife with frustration, tumble out of him in free-flowing verse as he paints a picture of his quickly fading innocence after a year of tragedy. Blacks, whites, and grays form the backdrop for Marcus's urban concrete world and growing relationship with CM, the Chess Master, a mentor who sets him straight.

SMITH, Anita Hope. Keeping the Night Watch. illus. by E. B. Lewis. Holt. 2008. RTE $18.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-7202-0.

Gr 5-8–In The Way a Door Closes (Holt, 2003) 13-year-old CJ came to terms with his father's departure. Now the man of the house is back, and CJ struggles to let him into his heart and home. Lewis's watercolors show a tender mix of budding maturity and vulnerability while free verse and other poetic forms echo CJ's moods.

SPINELLI, Eileen. Where I Live. illus. by Matt Phelan. Dial. 2007. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3122-6.

Gr 1-4–Through free verse and list poems, Diana talks of all she loves in her small part of the world. When her father loses his job, the family must move six hours away from all that matters to her. This rare novel-in-verse for the younger end of the spectrum is peppered with heartwarming pencil drawings.

WOODSON, Jacqueline. Peace, Locomotion.Putnam. 2009. Tr $15.99 ISBN 978-0-399-24655-5.

Gr 4-6–This stand-alone sequel to Locomotion (Putnam, 2003) is told through letters from 12-year-old Lonnie to his younger sister. Still settling into foster life with Miss Edna, Lonnie gets to know his injured-returned-from-war foster brother. Though admittedly this is not a novel-in-verse, two of Lonnie's lyrical and vividly constructed poems about peace bookend the letters. Audiobook available from Brilliance Audio.

For the Older Set

APPLEGATE, Katherine. Home of the Brave. Feiwel & Friends. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-312-36765-7.

Gr 5-7–A Sudanese refugee and orphan finds himself transplanted to modern-day Minnesota in the wintertime. Seeing the U.S. through Kek's wide-eyed verse will, for better or worse, prompt readers to take a second look at the world American teens take for granted. Audio version available from Listening Library.

BINGHAM, Kelly. Shark Girl. Candlewick. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3207-6.

Gr 6-10–In a flash, 15-year-old Jane goes from the top artist at her California high school to the girl who lost her arm in a shark attack. Verse captures her frustration and anger as well as her budding hope that she might still find a future in her passion.

HOPKINS, Ellen. Tricks. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2009. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5007-3.

Gr 9 Up–Five teens resort to the unthinkable in order to survive, only finding a glimmer of redemption when their lives begin to intersect. Through their raw voices, Hopkins once again delivers a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens and her dedicated fans.

MCCORMICK, Patricia. Sold. Hyperion. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-5171-3; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-7868-5172-0.

Gr 9 Up–Most realism-in-verse focuses on teens confronting varying yet distinctly American problems. McCormick, however, captures the gut-wrenching story of 13-year-old Lakshmi, a Nepali teen who is sold into prostitution in India by her stepfather. Free verse relays her quest to survive and rise above dire circumstances.

SONES, Sonya. What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know. S & S. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-689-87602-8; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-689-87603-5.

Gr 9 Up–This follow-up to What My Mother Doesn't Know (S & S, 2001), voiced by social-leper Robin rather than his popular girlfriend, more than stands on its own. Through poetry and a few of his own comics, Robin grapples with his seemingly unequal relationship and finds a place for himself through art.

WOLFF, Virginia Euwer. This Full House. (Make Lemonade Trilogy). HarperCollins/Bowen Press. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-158304-9; PLB $18.89. ISBN 978-0-06-158305-6.

Gr 9 Up-LaVaughn, a senior in high school, struggles to find her way into a medical science program and discovers new information about the women in her life in this final installment of Wolff's trilogy. As in Make Lemonade (Holt, 1993) and True Believer (S & S, 2001), her story digs into the consequences of life choices and the possibilities of second chances. Audio version available from Listening Library; audio download available from Audible.

Poetic Past

BURG, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces. Scholastic. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-08092-7.

Gr 5-8–Matt's new life with a loving adoptive American family is hard to reconcile with the life he left when airlifted out of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Wounds run deep as he blames himself for events in Vietnam and vets struggle to regain a foothold in their old lives. Audio version available from Scholastic Audio.

BRYANT, Jen. Kaleidoscope Eyes. Knopf. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84048-7; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94048-4.

Gr 5-8–While cleaning out her grandfather's attic, 13-year-old Lyza discovers a few old maps, a letter marked “for Lyza,” and a key. These clues spur a treasure hunt that unfolds against the backdrop of suburban New Jersey circa 1968. The Vietnam War looms heavily as race issues, the draft, and hippy counterculture touch the child's life and quest.

ENGLE, Margarita. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom. Holt. 2008. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-8674-4.

Gr 9 Up–Poems in alternating voices during Cuba's wars with Spain from 1850 to 1899 tell the story of Rosa, a “freed” slave and natural healer, destined to a life on the lam in the island's wild interior. A ruthless soldier and an escapee from a reconcentration camp are among other narrators in this hauntingly beautiful glimpse into Cuba's troubled past. Audio version available from Listening Library; audio download available from Audible.

FROST, Helen. Crossing Stones. Farrar/Frances Foster Bks. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-31653-2.

Gr 6-10–In free verse and cupped hand sonnets, Frost tells of four teens from two families in rural Michigan who must reconsider all they hold true when World War I enters their lives. For Muriel, the gutsy protagonist, this means reconciling her antiwar sentiments with a confusing bond to Frank, who has left to fight. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

ROY, Jennifer. Yellow Star. Marshall Cavendish. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7614-5277-5.

Gr 5-8–Syvia, a young Jewish Pole (and the author's aunt), describes life in the Lodz Ghetto, from her entry at age four to liberation six years later. Free verse is punctuated by prose that presents the bleak historical setting for her innocent depictions, which include an especially breath-holding scene of Syvia and her father hiding in a grave. Audio version available from Recorded Books; audio download available from Audible.

WEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Birmingham, 1963. illus. by author. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2007. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-440-2.

Gr 5-8–Told through free verse and illustrated with a collage of archival photographs and ephemera, the tragic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombings tug hard at readers' emotions when seen through the eyes of a fictional child attending church that day, her 10th birthday. Endnotes contextualize the poignant story by providing further historical information and documentation. Audio version available from Recorded Books.