Free Verse by Sarah Dooley

In this unique YA fiction set in rural West Virginia, poetry becomes young Sasha’s expressive lifeline as well as her means of social belonging. I appreciate an author whose plot turns can keep me guessing, and Dooley keeps surprising me  all the way through. She also does a skillful job of pacing and dramatic tension. For example, Sasha takes baby steps in trust just before a mine accident which sends her running again in mistrust in order to block her pain. In another example, the crafting of Sasha’s blackouts–Dooley’s writing  causes the reader to viscerally experience the Sasha’s disorientation— startling, and most effective for making Sasha real.

But the poems themselves are the beating heart of the story, all of them but especially the final crescendo poem  that surprises even Sasha. The way the poems pour out of her when she’s most lost and most silent makes for razor-sharp contrast. The poems hang there in the silence for the reader, and create an arc of the protagonist’s griefs and desires.  Free Verse by Sarah Dooley (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016)is shelved as a Young Adult title but it is a novel for every age group. With Free Verse, Dooley makes a moving contribution to contemporary YA fiction.




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