Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Editor and author Levithan winningly joins the ranks of talented authors exploring the novel-in-verse and kicks it up a notch. Though there is a progression of events in these mostly blank verse poems, it’s less a story than an examination of teenage relationships-with family, friends, self, and lovers-from every angle. Twenty distinct voices chime in with their own poem, series of poems, or cycle of songs; and several relationships and incidents are described by more than one character. No synopsis could do justice to the complexities of the interconnectedness of these characters. If high school is a dim memory for you, you might need a scorecard to keep track of who knows who and how well. However, all teenagers will find themselves, their relationships, and their attitudes toward life, love, and the pursuit of happiness somewhere in these poems. A must for YA collections used by those unafraid of poetry, strongly suggested for all others.
Most readers will find someone they can relate to in this enchanting collection of linked poems that delve deep and go far beyond the original stereotypes. Twenty teenagers–sensitive outsiders, cruel popular girls, body-obsessed jocks, gay teens in the throes of first love–take turns pouring their hearts onto the pages, detailing their loneliness, heartaches, hopes, and joys. All attend the same high school, and as the book progresses their stories slowly weave together to form a larger view of the school community. In the first selection, for instance, Daniel talks about his relationship with Jed; Jed’s view of their romance closes the book. Though friendships and romantic relationships grow and change, character is much more the focus here than plot. Each chapter contains four points of view, and it will take patient readers to determine who’s who and exactly how they are linked. Effort is rewarded, however, in selections such as “The Patron Saint of Stoners,” in which a girl seeks out a drug dealer for reasons few will guess. Another standout is “Experimentation,” in which a boy writes about his sexual experiences with astonishing insight and tenderness. Thoughtful teens will find much to appreciate here.
Through a series of poems, Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) introduces readers to a group of friends and acquaintances, including a gay couple celebrating their one-year anniversary, a girl whose mother is dying and an outsider who fills his notebook with “ink explosions of thought.” His characters represent a diverse range of sexuality, race and social standing, and most struggle with love relationships, from a boy who wants to help his anorexic girlfriend, to a girl with an unrequited crush on a straight friend. The author experiments with different voices and styles (one series unfolds in song lyrics); some of these poems work better than others. An energetic verse, “Gospel,” from a black choir girl who feels bullies “[push her]/ to a kindness they would never/ understand” to help the aforementioned white outsider, reads as authentic and thought-provoking, while an alphabetical poem about a break-up, constrained by its form, grows tedious. Readers may have trouble tracking all of the characters and the various connections between them, but they will find clever lines and inspiring ideas in many of the poems here (“Most of the limits/ are of our own world’s devising”). Ultimately, that is what makes this ambitious project a realm worth exploring.
If you are looking for a great book that tells a story in poetry in the style of Mel Glenn or Sonja Sones, this is it. Focusing on one high school in a contemporary setting and twenty of its students, this book shares the voices of teens agonizing over failed romances, romanticizing the looks that pass between them in hallways, struggling with teacher and parent expectations, enjoying personal successes, coming out of the closet, and struggling to define themselves against so many competing pressures. The poems in this book are the teenage condition, and within them the hope, the angst, the beauty, the insecurities of everything young. One of my favorites follows the male narrator as he despairs over his girlfriend being in love with Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye and her negativity towards him because he does not appreciate Holden. “Holden is a failure with girls, and my girlfriend says that’s because he hasn’t met the right girl, one who’d UNDERSTAND him. She says this the same night we argue for an hour about the fact that I always say “I love you” before she does.” In so many ways, if this does not sum up the teenage experience, I do not know what does. This is a must-have book for any library or classroom.