Free Verse by Sarah Dooley

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Title: Free Verse

Author: Sarah Dooley

Age Range: 10-12 years (5th grade and up)

Pages: 368

Publisher’s Website: Puffin Books; Reprint edition (March 7, 2017)

ISBN: 9780399165030

Genre: Realistic Fiction

In the Classroom: Great book for making inferences, identifying a theme, working with figurative language and close reading/writing of poetry

Part of a Series: no

Rating: * * * * 

Have you ever felt truly alone? This thoughtful book by Sarah Dooley tells the story of Sasha Harless a girl who is has lost her family, her voice, and her way until she discovers poetry.

 Synopsis from the cover:

When her brother Michael dies in a fire, Sasha Harless has no one left and nowhere to turn. He’d been her caretaker since their mother ran off and their father died in the mines. And before his accident, Michael made Sasha promise him that she would leave Caboose, West Virginia for a better life someday. Now, she’s in foster care, feeling more stuck and broken than ever.

Trying to cope with her brother’s death, Sasha returns to school and is introduced to poetry and finds it's a new way to express herself when spoken words just won’t do. She even discovers family she didn’t know she had, including a younger Mikey Harless, who’s just as broken as she is. But just as she’s settling into her new life, tragedy strikes the mine her cousin works in. While fearing the worst, Sasha takes Mikey and finally makes her escape. But will running from Caboose really fix the pain in Sasha’s life, or will she have to discover a new way to heal?

My Review: 

Free Verse has been selected to be a Kenosha / Racine English Festival book for 2018. I chose to read it first because I knew it had a connection to poetry and I’m going to be teaching that as an elective in the fall, so my interest was peaked. After a quick flip through I realized that it was not written in verse, but instead various forms of poetry play an integral role in the story.  I really liked how the the character Sasha finds a way to recover from her deep loss through poetry and the metaphor the author provides of finding one’s voice through poem writing including haiku and other short poems.

Early in the book Sasha has to attend her brother’s funeral. Michael was a firefighter who died in the line of duty. The beginning of the book laid the foundation for Sasha’s loss, but after the funeral scene, when Michael fails to answer the radio call, I was hooked for the rest of the book. I was completely invested in traveling along with Sasha as she recovered from her incredible loss and rebuilt her life.

The book is most appropriate for middle school readers. For the reader, we are gifted with hearing Sasha’s voice in both prose and poem throughout the book, which allows us to see life through Sasha’s lens of the world. The poetry adds to the writing, but also increases the pace of the book, and I think even readers who hesitant to try a book that weaves poetry into the storyline will connect with Sasha’s story telling.

 If you like that rides the rollercoaster of sadness and hope - Free Verse is a great pick.

About the Author

Free Verse was the 2012 winner of the Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship through the PEN American Center.  The West Virginia setting of Free Verse is her home state. She is a former special education teacher and along with writing provides treatment for children with autism.

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Sarah Dooley has written four novels for middle-grade readers. Her newest book Ashes to Asheville came out this spring.

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YA Book: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


On Friday, February 12th Allie, a high school student,  came bursting into my prep time to announce, “Today is the day that Samantha Kingston lived over and over.” She wanted to know if I had read “the book,” and finding that I had not, insisted that I log onto Amazon and buy it immediately.  Her copy, she added, was “lent out.” Let’s face it -- on a normal day I am trying to convince the students to read, so when an enthusiastic recommendation comes from them I want to know what all the hubbub is about. Now I know...

“Before I Fall” was written by Lauren Oliver. It’s a YA book -- one that I would save for my high school students. A few themes in the book are inappropriate for my middle school crowd. That said I would recommend it for a book club or choice book.

The premise is that Samantha, a popular high school girl, keeps living the same day over and over until she gets it right. Oliver does a great job developing Samantha’s voice and by the end of the book I was emotionally wrapped up in her story.

On Oliver’s website there is a discussion guide and a book trailer...

Additionally, it might be fun to compare each of her re-do days to the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day.” I have not done this, but I wonder how Phil’s (Bill Murry) attempts to get it right compare to Samantha’s. Even more exciting, the movie version is supposed to come out this year. According to the internet it is in development and will star Zoey Deutch.