Somewhere along the way in my YA readership experience, I decided that I "didn't like" verse novels. To be fair, that may have been in high school, after I was assigned to read a really depressing, slow-moving, and semi-boring verse novel, and I decided that ALL verse novels must be depressing, slow-moving, and semi-boring.
Forgive my ignorance.
Way back in April, the delightful Cathy Ostlere wrote an excellent guest post on writing novels in verse, and I read an excerpt from her novel, KARMA ... and loved it.
The imagery! The lyricism! The emotion! The gorgeous, gorgeous details!
I knew I had to break my verse novel embargo. And when I do something, I do it right. So I doubled up on the verse novel awesomesauce with an audiobook of Ellen Hopkins' IDENTICAL.
I loved them both for very different reasons and highly recommend them.
Without further ado...
KARMA by Cathy Ostlere
KARMA just didn't let me go. I was unfamiliar with the backstory -- 1984 India, and the riots and political instability after Indira Gandhi's assassination -- but what drew me in were the characters and the writing.
|One of my all-time |
I love Maya. She's multicultural -- of Indian heritage, born and raised in Canada, half-Hindu and half-Sikh -- but she's a multidimensional, fully realized 15-year-old girl whose multiculturalism is just a part of who she is. She has crushes on boys, she's betrayed by her best friend, she wrestles with her parents' expectations, and she struggles to discover who she is in a ridiculously confusing and contradictory world. I connected with her immediately.
Her mother commits suicide, and she must bring her ashes to India with her grieving father. And then riots break out, and she's separated from her father in a foreign, dangerous place. Her traumas have only just begun.
Then we meet Sandeep, the other narrator, who speaks when Maya can't. I love Sandeep. He's impulsive and funny, charming, loyal, and desperate to prove himself. His family dynamics leap off the page, and his parts of the dual narration expose another layer of Indian culture and tradition, giving the reader a nuanced view of life in India during such a bloody, complicated, and divided time in its history.
Ostlere paints a vivid portrait of Maya and Sandeep's struggle to reunite Maya with her father and the development of their tentative love for one another in the midst of turmoil.
Do yourself a favor, and read this gorgeous, epic novel.
IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins
Wow. Certain parts of IDENTICAL were so difficult to listen to that I considered switching to the radio in my car, just so I could breathe and escape for a minute. It may have been the most difficult book I've ever read -- even surpassing Elizabeth Scott's harrowing but incredible LIVING DEAD GIRL.
In reality, their manipulative, controlling, alcoholic and OxyContin-addicted father has been molesting Kaeleigh since she was nine, and Raeanne's chosen to cope with the knowledge and her father's favoritism via drugs, sex, and bulimia. Their mother has abandoned them, emotionally and physically, in favor of her political career, and the girls' lives spiral further and further toward total disintegration.
Hopkins tackles the topic of incest without reservation. Kaeleigh and Rae have suffered so much psychological trauma and dysfunction since childhood that it's unsurprising they turn to cutting, eating disorders, promiscuity, and drug and alcohol abuse to escape. You want to scream at them to TELL SOMEONE, but you're so deep in their minds that you understand why they feel trapped in their world.
IDENTICAL is raw and disturbing, painful and powerful -- but Hopkins leaves you with shreds of hope. It's one of those stark, gripping novels that you'll never forget reading. A book you can't say you enjoyed reading, but you're glad you did, even though it took some time to pull yourself from its depths.
This book is not for everyone, but there are readers out there for whom this book will be a lifeline, and I respect Ellen Hopkins for telling this story -- I can't imagine how difficult it must've been for her to write.
Ok, guys! What do you think? Are you verse novel fans? Which ones do you recommend? Have you reviewed either of these? Leave it in the comments!