The best middle grade verse novels published in 2021

The Books I Picked & Why

Alone

By Megan E. Freeman

Alone

Why this book?

As a teacher of verse novel specific classes, I’m always looking for verse novels that take on new and interesting plots and settings. This is the very first dystopian verse novels I’ve read which makes it refreshing. Maddie wakes up alone in her town, everyone, except her neighbor’s dog, has taken a transport that she’s missed. She must survive on her own in this town, find food, water, heat, and fight against scavengers. Verse wise, I loved how her poetry advanced as she aged and read all the poetry books in her local, abandoned library. I had no idea how this book would end, and it kept me on the edge of my seat!  


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Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca

Red, White, and Whole

Why this book?

Like my own YA verse novel Skyscraping, Red, White & Whole doesn’t just deal with the aftermath of losing a parent but, also, what it is like to live alongside a sick parent. This book is heavy in this way, but it is also filled with fun 1980s nostalgia, interactions with a new crush, and the everyday life of school and friends. Verse wise, this poem’s first poem works as a “seed poem” and other poems come later and at the end that references this first one, showing just how much Reha’s life shifts and the growth she gains along the way. 


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The Magical Imperfect

By Chris Baron

The Magical Imperfect

Why this book?

The main character in The Magical Imperfect has selective mutism. This is a clever idea for a main character written in verse because, typically, there’s little dialogue in the form. What really stood out to me, though, is the climax of the story that takes place during an earthquake. Baron cleverly uses time stamps and white space in a striking way to help create story tension and layer meaning during this exciting and scary twenty-page multi-poem scene.


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Starfish

By Lisa Fipps

Starfish

Why this book?

Starfish by Lisa Fipps has captured the hearts of many this year. Ellie is bullied by many for her weight, and it is heartbreaking to read but, through the help of a therapist and a new friend, Ellie learns to feel confident about herself and find her voice. Verse wise, the concept of what it means “to take up space” works as a theme in the narrative but also as a poetic concept.  


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Unsettled

By Reem Faruqi

Unsettled

Why this book?

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi, loosely based on the author’s own story, chronicles the experience of Nurah, a thirteen-year-old girl who moves from Pakistan to Georgia. She experiences racism and prejudice in a variety of forms, she makes new friends, discovers new passions, undergoes loss, and learns to adjust to a vastly different place. Many verse novels tell stories of immigration, but this one stands for its consistent lyricism and its honest, moving portrayal of a coming-of-age experience that is at once specific and universal. 


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