Friday, August 12, 2011

First Novels Club: The Verse Novel Experiment

One of the best things about writing Karma has been the steady stream of mail from readers who say Karma has made them verse-novel lovers!  From the first moment I read "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse, I think I knew that one day I would try my hand at this unique genre. Here's a review below of Karma from First Novels Club.

- Cathy

From First Novels Club:

The verse novel experiment: KARMA (Cathy Ostlere) and IDENTICAL (Ellen Hopkins)

Guys, I've been converted.

Somewhere along the way in my YA readership experience, I decided that I "didn't like" verse novels. To be fair, that may have been in high school, after I was assigned to read a really depressing, slow-moving, and semi-boring verse novel, and I decided that ALL verse novels must be depressing, slow-moving, and semi-boring.

Forgive my ignorance.

Way back in April, the delightful Cathy Ostlere wrote an excellent guest post on writing novels in verse, and I read an excerpt from her novel, KARMA ... and loved it.

The imagery! The lyricism! The emotion! The gorgeous, gorgeous details!

I knew I had to break my verse novel embargo. And when I do something, I do it right. So I doubled up on the verse novel awesomesauce with an audiobook of Ellen Hopkins' IDENTICAL.

I loved them both for very different reasons and highly recommend them. 

Without further ado...

KARMA by Cathy Ostlere

KARMA just didn't let me go. I was unfamiliar with the backstory -- 1984 India, and the riots and political instability after Indira Gandhi's assassination -- but what drew me in were the characters and the writing.

One of my all-time
favorite covers.
Ostlere's words just flow along the page, and free verse was the perfect choice to highlight the urgency of the story. It's by no means a short book, but I flew through the pages, mesmerized by Maya's journey.

I love Maya. She's multicultural -- of Indian heritage, born and raised in Canada, half-Hindu and half-Sikh -- but she's a multidimensional, fully realized 15-year-old girl whose multiculturalism is just a part of who she is. She has crushes on boys, she's betrayed by her best friend, she wrestles with her parents' expectations, and she struggles to discover who she is in a ridiculously confusing and contradictory world. I connected with her immediately.

Her mother commits suicide, and she must bring her ashes to India with her grieving father. And then riots break out, and she's separated from her father in a foreign, dangerous place. Her traumas have only just begun.

Then we meet Sandeep, the other narrator, who speaks when Maya can't. I love Sandeep. He's impulsive and funny, charming, loyal, and desperate to prove himself. His family dynamics leap off the page, and his parts of the dual narration expose another layer of Indian culture and tradition, giving the reader a nuanced view of life in India during such a bloody, complicated, and divided time in its history.

Ostlere paints a vivid portrait of Maya and Sandeep's struggle to reunite Maya with her father and the development of their tentative love for one another in the midst of turmoil. 

Do yourself a favor, and read this gorgeous, epic novel.

To read the review of Ellen Hopkins' IDENTICAL please visit First Novels Club.

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