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Tag Archives: novels in verse

“Burned” by Ellen Hopkins

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Ellen Hopkins is the bestselling author of such novels in verse as "Crank" and "Glass." If you're confused by the term "novel in verse," think of it as a story written as a series of poems. Probably my favorite teen verse novel is Virginia Euwer Wolff's brilliant "Make Lemonade," but there are literally tons of other choices, including "Hard Hit" (baseball and grief), "Shark Girl" (a surfer girl's survival after amputation), and "Sold" (a Nepalese girl sold into sexual slavery in India, reviewed here).

"Burned" is the first Ellen Hopkins novel I've read, and I have to admit to being pretty disappointed. While her talent in constructing and crafting the individual poems is breathtaking — truly, some of these poems are works of art — the overall story is unconvincing and, I hate to say it, melodramatic.

As the story begins, high school junior Pattyn is living in a fundamentalist Mormon household with her abusive, alcoholic father, a lazy, beaten-down mom, and six younger sisters. Pattyn is burdened with the responsibilities of her church and family, so she's as startled as anyone when she starts dreaming and fantasizing about a hot classmate, Justin. Quicker than you can blink, our girl — originally portrayed as a free thinker, but one who is shy and bookish — is swilling tequila in the desert, fooling around with Justin's friend Derek, and getting violent at school. After her half-crazed father learns of Pattyn's antics, he ships her off to rural eastern Nevada to spend a summer with his estranged sister Jeanette.

Now, if you're like me, you might wonder why Pattyn's dad would set her loose with his unconventional, independent sister — a sister he disowned years before — just as Pattyn is questioning church doctrine and acting out in increasingly destructive ways. Yeah, doesn't make much sense, right? Hrm. Next thing you know, Pattyn meets another hottie — college sophomore and cowboy Ethan — and they soon fall crazy in love, complete with naked swims and passion and the whole deal. Because this story is exactly as cheesy as you might suspect, Pattyn gets pregnant (because a college veterinary student has never heard of the morning-after pill? shame!), returns home to Carson City, and then desperately tries to run off with Ethan, all with disastrous consequences. Be thankful I haven't mentioned Aunt Jeanette's background or the wholly improbable turn her life takes.

I won't give much else away, but if you've seen even one single episode of "General Hospital" or "Days of Our Lives," you'll be able to predict every single plot turn in this ill-conceived story. Too many of the characters are cardboard cutouts, including Pattyn's horrifically evil dad and the super-sweet and caring Ethan, that you may want to cringe. I hate to give a book a bad review, particularly when, as I mentioned, the craft of the poems is extraordinary. Plus, the book reads quickly and Pattyn, at least, is a compelling, complex character. But I think "Burned" is just so messy, ridiculous, and ultimately irresponsible that I cannot recommend it. If you feel otherwise, please let us know.

PS – If you decide to read "Burned," please know that it is most definitely a high school book, with lots of drinking and sexual situations.

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Posted by on April 21, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Sold” by Patricia McCormick

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Author McCormick does an outstanding job of conveying the hope, fear, and bravery of a young girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution in Calcutta, India. Through a series of short free-verse (not rhymed) poems, Lakshmi narrates her life story. The reader follows the girl from her poverty-stricken yet generally happy life in the isolated mountains of Nepal to her bleak, brutal existence in an Indian brothel. Lakshmi's stepfather has wasted the family's meager money on gambling and drinking, and so sells her as a "maid" to a traveling "auntie." Both Lakshmi and her mother actually believe that she will work as some type of servant for a wealthy Indian family. Lakshmi, although homesick and afraid, is eager to become the best maid she can and send some money back to her mother. It's only when Lakshmi arrives in Calcutta that she realizes the awful truth — she has been sold as a prostitute and must now work years and years while locked away in the brothel to pay off her debt. At first, Lakshmi resists the men, behavior for which she is beaten, isolated, and even has her head shaved. Later, Lakshmi is regularly drugged so that she cannot resist the men's advances.

While the poems are often frank, brutal, and difficult to read, there is also a certain beauty in Lakshmi's refusal to surrender. The story provides tremendous insight into a world of poverty and violence that is so different from our own. Just as importantly, it shows so beautifully how one girl's strength and courage saved her life. In the end, "Sold" is an inspiring story of hope that will stay with the reader long afterward. It is highly recommended for readers in high school and beyond.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“Hard Hit” by Ann Turner

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Another novel in free-verse (think poetry) form. "Hard Hit" is a short, easy read that may have special meaning for anyone who has lost a loved one. Mark is a 10th-grader, a pitcher on his school's baseball team, and a good son to a father who is struggling with pancreatic cancer. The poems create a nice story of Mark’s friendship with his best friend Eddie; his crush on a girl named Diane; his attempts to grow lettuce with his father, who becomes increasingly ill as the story moves on; and his desire to pitch a no-hitter as a sacrifice for his dying dad. The ups and downs of terminal illness, and the reality of grief, make this a gripping story.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl” by Tanya Lee Stone

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

I won't lie, I was a bit thrown off by the title and cover of this book. I expected it to be one of those shallow teen chick-lit books, like the "A-List" or "Gossip Girl" series. It's *so* not!!

This book is told in free-verse format (sort of like a long poem, but without the rhyming). There are three alternating narrators, all teen girls — none of whom are friends — who recount their relationships with "TL" (total loser!), the beautiful, popular senior who gives new meaning to the term PLAYER. This book is recommended for older teens, particularly any girl who has ever fallen for a guy despite knowing better. The experiences are raw and honest, but the book overall is very positive without feeling preachy or heavy-handed.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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