Thursday, March 24, 2016

Arc Review: Free Verse by Sarah Dooley

Free Verse by Sarah Dooley. 335 p. G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 17, 2016. 9780399165030. (Review from arc courtesy of editor)

This quiet novel, part of which is in verse, packs a powerful punch. There is so much loss in young Sasha's life, it's no wonder she has anger issues. Her mother abandoned the family when she was five. Then her father died in a mining accident when she was eight, leaving her and her brother Michael to fend for themselves. Michael, who desperately wanted to join the military and leave Caboose, West Virginia, put his dreams on hold to care for Sasha. When he died fighting a fire, Sasha believes she has no one. 

Luckily for her, there are a number of caring adults in her life who won't give up on her despite how many times she runs away or erupts violently. Phyllis takes her in to foster and tries to provide stability and space. Slowly, Sasha lets her guard down and when family is discovered right next door, Sasha warily begins to hope. But then a new loss causes her to stop speaking. She retreats into her poetry notebook, where she finds her voice.

Ms. Dooley (Livie Owen Lived Here) paints a vivid picture of the hardships that residents of a mining community face - the dangers for the workers, the poverty, as well as social problems such as addictions, that might arise. But all is not bleak, there is beauty, even in the grime, and a strong sense of community as well. This novel is peopled with memorable characters.

The language is lovely. I dog-earred quite a few pages to revisit. Lines like, "We see houses in town that lean toward each other like they're cheating on a test." (p.196)

I agree with the marketing blurb that teachers and librarians should give Blank Verse to fans of Sharon Creech, specifically, Walk Two Moons. Fans of emotionally wrenching books, or first-person narratives, or introspective, character-driven books will appreciate Sasha's voice. Don't miss this gem.

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