Perhaps some of the difficultly readers and reviewers have with this form stem from its newness. While epic poems are as old as literature and challenging literary long works in verse have long been a staple of esoteric libraries, popular accessible long verse narratives for young readers are a relatively new phenomena. Beginning in the 1990s and growing in popularity ever since, verse novels for young readers continue to defy categorization – are they poetry? They don’t qualify for most poetry prizes. They are rarely shelved with poetry. Are they novels? They have occasionally been nominated and even won major prizes such as Newbery or Printz awards which are mostly reserved for novels. They are almost always shelved with prose novels.
Verse novels are hard to define, certainly, and just as hard, if not harder to write than prose novels. In many cases, however, they are described as easier to read. Why is that? The themes in verse novels are no easier than prose. The vocabulary varies, but can be just as advanced as the most challenging YA and MG novels. Syntax, if anything, is MORE challenging in many verse novels. And word length? Well it’s true that many verse novels are quite short but some others are as long as many prose novels for young readers.
I think there is a lot of conjecture and anecdotal evidence that reluctant or struggling readers find the form “less threatening” perhaps because of all the” white space on the page”. My personal opinion is that it has less to do with white space and more to do with “breathing room” and the narrative rhythm. The narrative beats of a verse novel tend to be shorter. In a prose novel sometimes it can take ten pages just for the hero to express the urgency of packing for the zombie apocalypse. In a verse novel this could be achieved perhaps with a short acrostic:
Zippered backpack Overstuffed My life depends on Bringing only what matters In case this really is the End
Verse novels tend to have at least as many narrative beats as prose novels but they are delivered more quickly, in manageable sizes. In this way they are something like high/low books for struggling readers. However, the wonderful thing about verse novels is that rather than being less syntactically complex, rather than having simpler vocabulary (like high/low) it is perfectly conceivable that they can just as syntactically and linguistically rich as prose novels, if not more, not to mention their narrative complexity.
Read the full piece at Those Who Know blog