The best prose-poetry novels about childhood in a messy adult world

Who am I?

I’m a writer, theatre artist and calligrapher who has spent a lifetime dedicated to the look, sound, texture and meaning of words. Writing in verse and prose poetry gives me a powerful tool to explore hard themes. Poetry is economical. It makes difficult subjects personal. Through poetry, I can explore painful choices intimately and emerge on a different path at a new phase of the journey. While my semi-autobiographical novel These Are Not the Words “is about” mental health and drug addiction, I’ve shown this through layers of images, sounds, textures, tastes—through shards of memories long submerged, recovered through writing, then structured and fictionalized through poetry.


I wrote...

These Are Not the Words

By Amanda West Lewis,

Book cover of These Are Not the Words

What is my book about?

These Are Not the Words takes place in New York City in 1963. It is a semi-autobiographical novel, set in the rhythms of the jazz, beat poets, and the 60s visual arts world.

Twelve-year-old Missy lives the most exciting city in the world. She goes to a great school where she learns about poetry, music, and plays. Missy’s father starts taking her on secret midnight excursions to Harlem and the Village so she can share his love of jazz. But things start to spiral out of control. Missy and her father write poems for each other that become an exchange of apologies as his alcohol and drug addiction begin to take over their lives. It’s a raw journey from innocence to action, and finally acceptance.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of I'll Be Watching

Amanda West Lewis Why did I love this book?

I’ll Be Watching is a verse novel that evokes place and character in tight, specific moments. It’s a page-turner that tells a harrowing story of children in 1941 surviving on their own through the brutal winter in a small Prairie town. Nuanced and impressionistic, moments are layered to create a world of childhood without a supportive adult net. I love the restraint and the specificity of Porter’s writing. She has focussed on childhood, during the war, in a very ordinary, very unlikely location and written a thriller.

By Pamela Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I'll Be Watching as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of The Crazy Man

In a small prairie town like Argue, Saskatchewan, everyone knows everybody else's business. It's common knowledge that the Loney family has been barely hanging on, but when the Loney children's father George dies in a drunken stupor and their stepmother takes off with a traveling Bible salesman, it looks as though the children are done for. Who's to save them when everyone is coping with their own problems the lingering Depression and the loss of the town's young men to the Second World War? Under the watchful eye of their ghostly parents and…


Book cover of My Book of Life by Angel

Amanda West Lewis Why did I love this book?

My Book of Life by Angel is an unlikely subject for a novel in verse—the life of a young prostitute on Vancouver’s East side. Drugs, illness, abandonment, violence are all shown in a first-person narrative of incredible sensitivity and honesty. It is a novel that will both open and break your heart as you see life on the street through Angel’s flawed and imperfect humanity. I love the grace and delicacy of Leavitt’s poetry as it contrasts with the horror of Angel’s life.

By Martine Leavitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Book of Life by Angel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

When 16-year-old Angel meets Call at the mall, he buys her meals and says he loves her, and he gives her some candy that makes her feel like she can fly. Pretty soon she's addicted to his candy, and she moves in with him. 

As a favor, he asks her to hook up with a couple of friends of his, and then a couple more. Now Angel is stuck working the streets at Hastings and Main, a notorious spot in Vancouver, Canada, where the girls turn tricks until they disappear without a trace, and the authorities don't care. But after…


Book cover of The House on Mango Street

Amanda West Lewis Why did I love this book?

The House on Mango Street is an evocation of a place written in prose poetry vignettes. Families, relationships, and neighborhood emerge as the vignettes are woven to create a narrative. Shards are pieced together as the setting becomes a character that supports, encourages and is the catalyst for young Esperanza’s emerging sense of self. It is this sense of neighborhood that draws me in, making me think of the responsibility of a community to help raise each child.

By Sandra Cisneros,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The House on Mango Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A coming-of-age classic, acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught in schools and universities alike, and translated around the world—from the winner of the 2019 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.

The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Told in a series of vignettes-sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous-Sandra Cisneros' masterpiece is a classic story of childhood and self-discovery. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

“Cisneros draws…


Book cover of A Wreath for Emmett Till

Amanda West Lewis Why did I love this book?

In A Wreath for Emmett Till, Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the unique beauty of a life, of the vibrancy of youth at 14 years old. Written as a “crown of sonnets,” where the last line of one sonnet becomes the first of the next, it is a book that bears witness and conveys huge themes of justice, loss, and remembrance while focussing on small moments, gestures, and images. I am in awe of Nelson’s ability to use a very formalized writing style to depict one of the most brutal murders of the twentieth century.

By Marilyn Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Wreath for Emmett Till as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1955, people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention.

Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement.This martyr's wreath, woven from a little-known but sophisticated form of poetry, challenges us to speak out against modern-day injustices, to 'speak what we see.'


Book cover of Little Comrades

Amanda West Lewis Why did I love this book?

Little Comrades is a memoir written in prose poetry. It is about growing up in a dedicated Communist home in the 1930’s in Canada. It is a home where The Party is more important than the family. Young Laurie and her brother Andy try to understand the world that they are growing up in while their abusive, alcoholic father uses his commitment to the cause to justify brutality and abandonment. In the end, it is a story of triumph but the journey to that “happy” ending is colored by the reaction of The Party, and eventually, the horrors of McCarthyism. Full disclosure—Laurie Lewis is my mother. It was not until she was 80 that she was able to tell the tale, just showing that a story cannot be told until it is ready.

By Laurie Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Little Comrades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Little Comrades tells the story of a girl growing up in a dysfunctional left-wing family in the Canadian West during the Depression, then moving, alone with her mother, to New York City during America's fervently anti-Communist postwar years. With wit and honesty, Laurie Lewis describes an unusual childhood and an adventurous adolescence.


You might also like...

She Refused to Bow

By Farida Manekshah,

Book cover of She Refused to Bow

Farida Manekshah

New book alert!

What is my book about?

A personal memoir which introduces the supernatural in the most natural way.

A message which came in a dream and brought you wealth. A sadhu's warning. The presence you feel as you pray at a grave. A well that dries up. The vision you see as you peer out of the window of your cabin. A jinni. An ancient religion. When everything you say and do has consequence. Because nothing that is done can be undone.

She Refused to Bow

By Farida Manekshah,

What is this book about?

A personal memoir which introduces the supernatural in the most natural way.

A message which came in a dream and brought you wealth. A sadhu's warning. The presence you feel as you pray at a grave. A well that dries up. The vision you see as you peer out of the window of your cabin. A jinni. An ancient religion. When everything you say and do has consequence. Because nothing that is done can be undone.


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