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8 Novels in Verse by Authors of Color to Read for National Poetry Month

Rachelle Saint-Louis
These authors are tackling important subjects in verse.
These authors are tackling important subjects in verse. / LordRunar via Getty Images (background) // Quill Tree Books / Amazon
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Novels in verse are a hybrid of poetry and traditional prose fiction that provide readers with a different spin on their favorite genres and themes. And today, there's a whole new generation of writers utilizing the style and tackling subjects that are important to our current climate, including issues of race, sexuality, and more. So before National Poetry Month comes to a close, here are eight novels in verse by modern authors of color that you should be reading this month (or any month).

1. Other Words for Home // Jasmine Warga (2019)

'Other Words for Home' book cover.
'Other Words for Home' / Balzer + Bray / Amazon

When the violence in Syria begins getting closer and closer to her city, Jude’s family decides that it would be best for her and her (pregnant) mother to stay with relatives in Cincinnati. The move means leaving behind her brother and father, which is something Jude isn’t prepared to do. Other Words for Home, which was named a Newbery Honor Book in 2020, includes themes of place, displacement, identity, and family. Author Jasmine Warga drew upon her own experience as the daughter of a Jordanian immigrant for the emotional hook in the book, which is aimed at a middle-grade crowd (but can be enjoyed by anyone).

Buy it: Amazon

2. Home Is Not a Country // Safia Elhillo (2021)

'Home Is Not a Country' book cover.
'Home Is Not a Country' / Make Me a World / Amazon

This moving novel in verse by Safia Elhillo, who was featured on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30,” follows the story of Nima, a first-generation Muslim teenager struggling to find where she belongs in the world. That may sound like a familiar premise—but Nima’s struggles are wrapped up in her racial, ethnic, and religious identity, providing a conflict that many readers can identify with today. Despite growing up in an American suburb, Nima dreams of the “home” country that she’s only ever heard her mother speak of; it's a home that Nima has never known, but it's one she constantly yearns for. In 2021, Home Is Not a Country was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Buy it: Amazon

3. The Black Flamingo // Dean Atta (2020)

'The Black Flamingo' book cover.
'The Black Flamingo' / Balzer + Bray / Amazon

The Black Flamingo follows Michael Angeli, a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London and figuring out what it means to be his fullest self. The novel starts with his childhood and follows him into the start of his college experience, as he deals with his ethnic identity and sexuality. Along the way, Michael takes on the title of The Black Flamingo, his drag alter-ego. The book was named one of the 100 best YA books of all time by TIME magazine and won a Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award in 2020.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Clap When You Land // Elizabeth Acevedo (2020)

'Clap When You Land' book cover.
'Clap When You Land' / Quill Tree Books / Amazon

Elizabeth Acevedo, whose YA novel The Poet X won a National Book Award in 2018, is a staple of any poetry lover's shelves, and her latest novel is just as worthy of your attention. Clap When You Land follows two teen girls— Yahaira and Camino—who have the same father but haven’t met or even heard of one another until their father dies in a plane crash. The chapters alternate between the two girls' perspectives of the events immediately before and after their father’s death and present a story of grief, secrets, and the family we find along the way.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Turtle Under Ice // Juleah del Rosario (2020)

'Turtle Under Ice' book cover.
'Turtle Under Ice' / Simon & Schuster / Amazon

If you’re looking for a companion piece to Clap When You Land, Turtle Under Ice is an easy call. Though not plagued with secret families like Camino and Yahaira, the two young girls in this novel—Rowena and Ariana—are struggling to figure out how to navigate the world without their mother, who died several years ago. This grief is compounded by the disappearance of Ariana, who suddenly vanishes without a trace during a snowstorm. When interviewed by Publishers Weekly, author Juleah del Rosario said that working in verse, "allows me to see what is working, what isn’t working, what is important, and what is dragging down the story. And the use of the white space on each page allows my reader to rest and absorb the emotion and experience."

Buy it: Amazon

6. Every Body Looking // Candice Iloh (2021)

'Every Body Looking' book cover.
'Every Body Looking' / Dutton Books / Amazon

Every Body Looking starts off with 18-year-old Ada, a first-generation Nigerian American girl, who is going off to college. As we learn more about Ada’s story, we see how her conservative upbringing has forced her into a box that she no longer wants to be in. It’s a story that many readers can relate to and learn from—and one that encourages us to break the mold and explore our options, even if that means leaving our comfort zone.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Punching the Air // Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (2020)

'Punching the Air' book cover.
'Punching the Air' / Balzer + Bray / Amazon

In collaboration with critically acclaimed Young Adult author Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam brings a moving story of a Black Muslim teen going through the juvenile detention process in the 2020 verse novel Punching the Air. Salaam is one of the Central Park Five—now referred to as the Exonerated Five—and his book tells the story of Amal Shahid, a 16-year-old serving time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. This National Book Award finalist, which is told through poems, is made all the more powerful as Salaam draws upon his own experiences to craft an important message.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Red, White, and Whole // Rajani LaRocca (2021)

'Red, White, and Whole' book cover.
'Red, White, and Whole' / Quill Tree Books / Amazon

Red, White, and Whole takes place in 1983 and focuses on a 13-year-old girl named Reha, who is the only Indian-American girl at her school. While navigating the highs and lows of middle school, she finds herself switching between her Indian upbringing at home and assimilating to American culture with her friends. With the school dance soon approaching, she’s hoping to keep the balance going—but after her mother is diagnosed with leukemia, the act falls apart. Author Rajani LaRocca's coming-of-age tale earned praise from plenty of literary institutions and media outlets, and was named a Newbery Honor Book in 2022.

Buy it: Amazon

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