In Free Verse, a novel by Sarah Dooley, Sasha has seen more sorrow in her short fourteen years of life than many ever see, and it is through her eyes and voice that the reader experiences the various ways she deals with the overwhelming sadness. This novel is certainly one that will make the reader feel and think about how each of us deals with heartache and sorrow. The novel takes place in a small town, Caboose, West Virginia, whose livelihood revolves around mining. Throughout the novel there are several accounts of mining accidents, which hit a little too close to home for Sasha and her heartache. How she deals with these is the underlying theme for the novel and which allows her growth as a character.
Sasha is placed in foster care at the beginning of the novel, after the death of her brother. Her loving foster mother certainly helps Sasha on the right path to grieving in a healthy way. She helps her see that it is okay, and she deals with her when she is difficult. Eventually, Sasha finds her footing and comes to grips with her grief–with the discovery of poetry, a lost cousin to help, and love found in unexpected places.
Free Verse is anything but a light and carefree novel, but rather a complex novel that deals with tough issues like loss and grief. Dooley does an excellent job developing characters that the reader becomes emotionally invested in and therefore, interested in how things turn out for them. The novel is beautifully written and the poetry that is written by Sasha as part of the novel just adds to that beauty. Poetry is the thing that helped Sasha the most and plays an important part in the novel. In Sasha’s words, “Whatever else poetry may do-make me remember, make me think about things-it gives me back the words that I can’t always find.”
This would be an excellent novel to read with someone that might be grieving in some way or who might wonder why someone is grieving the way they are. It would also be a novel to pick up if you, as a reader, are looking for something that will make you think and feel–and not just escape.
This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Profanity/Language: 9 religious exclamations; 11 mild obscenities.
Violence/Gore: Account of character’s brother having died in a fire, working as a fire fighter; girl accidently punches another girl and causes her to have a bloody nose when she intended to hit a boy; kids joke about zombies wanting to eat them and put their bones in muffins; adult hits child with a dish towel because she is upset with him; child tries to hit an adult with her fists but ends up breaking a window instead, causing her to cut her hand; reports of mining accidents.
Mature Subject Matter:
Death, death of a family member, foster care, tragic accidents, drug/alcohol abuse, grief.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Mention of adults needing to sneak out for a smoke; mention of a certain part of town being where the druggies hang out; reference to an adult smelling and acting drunker than a skunk; account of adult smoking cigarettes (2); account told of an adult being addicted to drugs and alcohol (described as having a sickness).