Novels in verse are a staple for young readers who often have not yet absorbed many adults’ negative associations with poetry as something obscure, difficult, and intimidating. In fact, verse novels are particularly well suited to struggling and reluctant readers, as the ample white space and minimal text make them highly accessible.

The Academy of American Poets sponsors National Poetry Month each April, providing a wonderful opportunity to focus on this versatile method of storytelling. In some cases, each poem in a verse novel can be savored individually yet they are linked together, in whole telling a complete story. In other cases, free verse functions in the more unified manner of a traditional novel. Many offerings experiment with a range of poetic formats, giving readers exposure that is far more engaging than any textbook.

These early 2023 titles explore a diverse range of subjects; each one is compelling and well executed, highlighting the flexibility and reader-friendliness of this format.

We Are All So Good at Smiling by Amber McBride (Feiwel & Friends, Jan. 10): “We are shaking & free / & imperfect but hopeful.” Whimsy is a Black girl wrestling with suicidal ideation in this original tale that intertwines fantastical elements with an exploration of very real issues, offering readers solace through lush writing and imagery.

One Last Shot: The Story of Wartime Photographer Gerda Taro by Kip Wilson (Versify/HarperCollins, Jan. 17): This fictional retelling of the life of a remarkable young Jewish woman in 1930s Europe—a photojournalist determined to expose the truth—has an immediacy that draws readers in and will encourage them to learn more about the real woman who inspired it.

Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge (Zest Books, March 7): “Oppressed and weighed down by grief, / my love of liberty great, / I determined to seize the first opportunity / of making my escape.” The authors transformed the elements of Equiano’s 1789 autobiography into a found poem, creating this absorbing account of his life before, during, and after enslavement.

Spin by Rebecca Caprara (Atheneum, March 28): Arachne’s story unfolds in a way very much in keeping with contemporary #MeToo themes, reframing a tale from classical mythology. Pushing back against the charge of hubris, Arachne presents readers with a provocative version that gives voice to the concerns of a mortal girl.

An Appetite for Miracles by Laekan Zea Kemp (Little, Brown, April 4): Two Mexican American teens fall in love, bonding over their shared understanding of the impacts of stressful family circumstances, including parental pressure to lose weight and succeed in school. The strong characterization pulls readers into a richly realized world as Danna and Raúl find ways to heal.

Wings in the Wild by Margarita Engle (Atheneum, April 18): A refugee camp in Costa Rica brings two teens together—Soleida, who has fled Cuba following political persecution of her artist parents, and Daniel, a visitor whose musician grandfather left Cuba for the U.S. under similar circumstances. This beautiful, emotional work shares hard truths but offers genuine hope.

Standing on Neptune by Valerie Sherrard (DCB, April 18): As this delicately told story unfolds, a high school student, feeling alone, fears she may be pregnant: “I cannot help but think / this week has / acquainted me with truths / that may only / have been found in the / silence of a solitary path.”

Forever Is Now by Mariama J. Lockington (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 23): Mental health is explored compassionately in this novel centering Sadie, a queer Black girl in Oakland, California, wrestling with personal heartbreak and racial trauma while doing everything she can to build community and work for change—in the world and in herself.

Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.