An outcast at school and within her own family, “Lexi / (rhymes with sexy) / Mcleen, sixteen,” articulates a life of desperation and determination in this verse novel.
The format keeps readers moving quickly through familiar teen-literature motifs (pot smoking, critical classmates and family, first crushes and their “intoxicating / fumes from / across the room”). But beyond the standard challenges, Lexi’s first-person account is like a run-on sentence of personal sadness: alcoholic dad in jail; overwhelmed, critical, anorexic and bipolar stepmother; autistic half brother; infant half sister claimed by crib death one year earlier. During a health-class project, traumatized Lexi—recalling the lost sister—paints her “Almost-Real Baby” girl doll blue because “Pink stinks. / It makes me think too much.” Mental health intervention, a supportive librarian and meeting the right guy all help pull Lexi back from the brink. With varying verse structures and styles, High uses typeface changes and word placement to magnify the message, with varying degrees of effectiveness. At its best, it ranges from the cleverly contemporary (“Zelda’s a walking, talking Google search. Yahoo!”) to the credibly evocative (“I like / to open my / window / this time / of the year. / / It smells / like a painting / by Norman Rockwell”).
So swiftly do the pages turn, however, the story may stay with readers, but the poetry probably won’t. (Verse fiction. 12-18)