By the time readers get to high school, they’ve often fallen out of love with reading. Now that I’ve taught both middle and high school, I can admit that it’s even more challenging to hook high school students on books! If you’re a high school teacher hoping to rekindle your students’ love for reading, then your first priority should be high-interest books that will give your readers the kind of momentum they need to keep reading. And what better books than young adult novels in verse to give students the “quick win” they need after who-knows-how-long of not reading a book for fun?
Novels in verse are game-changers for all readers, but especially for students who may be struggling to find the right book. Students often pick them up because they aren’t as daunting as their prose counterparts and their subject matter is often highly relevant and intriguing. Novels in verse can be read much quicker, so the “I finished a book!” warm-and-fuzzies come much sooner. And once students read one, they’re often hooked for life…and the rest is history!
Whether your readers are hooked or hesitant, here are 10 of my favorite young adult novels in verse that will please even the most reluctant of readers!
FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT NOVELS IN VERSE FOR HIGH SCHOOL READERS
1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
If you’re searching for THE book that will turn anyone into a reader, Long Way Down is your best bet. This quick but emotionally charged story follows 15-year-old Will’s quest for revenge after his brother Shawn is murdered. Believe it or not, the entire story takes place in the span of the 60 seconds it takes for Will to grab a gun and ride the elevator down to exact revenge. In spare but moving verse, Reynolds explores the cycle of gun violence and one young man’s choice of following it or stopping it in its tracks. Again, this is a book you can’t recommend enough. I triple dog dare you to find a reader who doesn’t love it!
2. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo:
Written by the queen of verse herself, Clap When You Land is a gorgeous, heartfelt, and emotional story of two girls separated by an ocean but brought together by grief and a shocking secret. Written in the dual perspectives of two sisters who don’t know of each other’s existence until their dad dies in a plane crash, this is a book that will leave readers aching alongside Yahaira in New York City and Camino in the Dominican Republic. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, but brimming with hope, love, and healing. This is one you don’t want to miss book-talking and recommending to your high school students.
3. The Truth Project by Dante Medema
Told as a series of poems, emails, and texts, The Truth Project is the story of a girl who is so convinced she must be adopted that she decides to do her senior project on her genealogy. But when 17-year-old Cordelia gets her DNA test results back, they’re more than she bargained for. Suddenly, her whole life feels like a lie, and her project feels impossible. This is one compelling, fast-paced, and heartfelt read, perfect for fans of Clap When You Land. It’s a GEM that deserves more hype in the YA world!
4. Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
Perfect for fans of Long Way Down, Moonrise is a gut-wrenching, thought-provoking story about 17-year-old Joe, whose brother Ed is awaiting execution on death row. When Joe travels down to Texas to be with Ed during his final days, he grapples with a question he’s ignored for too long: Is Ed guilty? This book will leave teen readers contemplating the ethics of capital punishment, questioning the criminal justice system, and aching with empathy for Joe and Ed.
5. Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley
Another good rec for fans of Long Way Down, Three Things I Know Are True also explores gun violence, grief, forgiveness, and family. After Liv’s brother Jonah accidentally shoots himself at their friend Clay’s house, her family’s life is changed forever. Caught in the middle of taking care of Jonah, a lawsuit against Clay’s family, and her feelings for Clay himself, Liv struggles to navigate the aftermath of the tragedy. Just like Moonrise explores capital punishment, this story gently explores gun violence, giving readers another chance to build understanding and empathy.
6. Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
Co-written by one of the exonerated “Central Park Five,” this emotional novel in verse is about a young Black Muslim teen who ends up wearing his prom suit to his first trial. Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, Punching the Air is the story of Amal’s pain, grief, and rage against an unjust system. It’s raw, heartbreaking, and powerful – just the kind of book that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
7. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
For readers mature enough to dive into a gritty, disturbing, and very visceral book, Crank is a must-read struggle about one girl’s struggle with addiction. Inspired by author Ellen Hopkins’ experience with her own daughter, this story follows young Kristina and her alter-ego, Bree, who is addicted to crystal meth. The book is terrifyingly real, difficult to read, absolutely necessary, and impossible to put down. Better yet, it’s the first in a series, so it will keep your teen readers busy for a little bit (but not long).
8. When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez
Great for fans of Acevedo, When We Make It is a stunning debut that explores what it means to “make it” in a world often working against you. It’s about Sarai, a first-generation Puerto Rican growing up in Brooklyn, struggling with her identity, and questioning the world around her. This book is one that doesn’t shy away from reality, touching on everything from teen pregnancy to misogyny to gentrification. It’s a breath of fresh air and a big dose of resilience and hope, just what your teen readers will appreciate.
9. Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell
Written from alternating points of view, this book tells the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving’s fight to legally marry and live together as an interracial couple. Loving vs. Virginia is structured “documentary style,” with illustrations, photographs, quotes, excerpts from speeches and Supreme Court decisions, and more. This brilliant, rich context, combined with the engaging narrative, brings history alive in an accessible, powerful way.
10. Muted by Tami Charles
Muted is an incredibly powerful novel in verse about a young musician who is manipulated, abused, and exploited. Sound familiar? If you’ve watched Surviving R Kelly on Netflix, you’ll notice a striking resemblance to the artist’s decades-long history of abuse. Muted is heartbreakingly real and difficult to read, knowing that what happens to the young protagonist, Denver, has actually happened to countless young women in the music industry. For mature teens who can handle the heavy content, this book is necessary and powerful.
Whew, there’s a lot more where that came from! I could recommend novels in verse all day, and I guess I kind of do. Ha! In all seriousness, if you love these young adult novels in verse and are craving more book recs, I’ve got you covered! Check out the following resources and blog posts for MORE.
READY TO HARNESS THE POWER OF NOVELS IN VERSE IN YOUR CLASSROOM?
If you want a fun lesson that will give your students a chance to explore these amazing novels in verse (and many more), check out this engaging digital book menu. It’s a super cool tool that is linked to samples of ebooks so students can easily browse books. The resource comes with two different variations of engaging lessons: a digital book tasting and an inquiry-based “What do you notice?” lesson. You can check it all out HERE.
If I’m beginning to convince you to teach a novel in verse, 1. YOU TOTALLY SHOULD & 2. Read this post about why Before the Ever After is such a perfect whole-class novel. Even if you’re not planning on teaching that exact text, the post makes the case for teaching a novel in verse.
If you’re considering teaching some novels in verse via book clubs or lit circles, you’re in the right spot! That’s exactly what I do! For tips on setting up book clubs, check out this blog post that covers the logistics, frontloading, and planning. For ideas of facilitating the book clubs, head to this post that covers everything else.
WANT MORE BOOK RECS FOR YOUR YOUNG ADULT READERS?
Want even more book recommendations for your students? You and your readers will love these book recommendation brochures. Each brochure includes an interactive reader personality quiz that automatically gives students personalized book recs based on their interests. Yep, you read that right: instant, automatic book recs!
It’s a magical, self-sustaining system that will get good books into the hands of your readers! Both you and your students will love it! Happy readers = Happy teacher. 🙂
In fact, most of the above book recs (and dozens more) are featured in the different genre brochures. Head HERE to browse all of the high school brochures or HERE to go straight to the novel in verse one. If you’re looking for the middle school version of this resource, you can check it out HERE.
If that doesn’t cover it, here are a few quick links to find what you may need:
- 5 Ways to Help Your Students Fall in Love with Reading
- Engaging Nonfiction for High School Readers
- 10 Reasons to Try First Chapter Friday
- Book Trailer Tuesday: How to hook students on books in 3 minutes!
- How to Host Book Speed Dating in Middle or High School ELA
- 5 Ways to Use Overdrive (& Help Your Students Read More
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