POETRY BOOK REVIEW: VERSE NOVEL-- A free verse novel for young adults published since 1995
Sones, Sonya. 2006. What my mother doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
__ __ 2007. What my girlfriend doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Teens are attracted to the verse novels, What My Mother Doesn’t Know and What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones, and rightly so. The storyline is engaging; the verse style allows the reading of the novel to flow smoothly from one page to the next, and the first-person insight into the protagonists’ thoughts seal the connection between fiction and reality. How do I know? I once was a teenager, and I now observe them everyday! Granted, the verse novel might not appeal to the science fiction enthusiast, or the fantasy fanatic, but those young people who are seeking identity through their hopes and dreams in realistic fiction will pick up these novels and not want to put them down.
Sones takes a specifically framed time in two teenager’s lives, and strings the day in and day out events together with one thread that travels throughout the books from beginning to end. This is how the smooth flowing read comes into play, and how Sones entices the reader into not putting down the book. The thread does not stop at the first book, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, but continues in the sequel, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. The thread appears in the form of verse, the new rage in poetry for young adults.
How does this thread entwine and enthrall teens? They see themselves in the characters. They understand how it feels to be made fun of; they cringe when Sophie falls for the geek; they cheer when underdog Murphy gets the girl; they suffer when friends turn on friends. Inner thoughts spoken aloud from the pages beguile them: thoughts of sexuality, thoughts of acceptance, thoughts of embarrassment
Recognizable themes draw these young people, some pessimistic, some affirmative. When standard, positive themes are compromised; for example, when “a friend is a friend through thick and thin” changes to “friends are sometimes fickle,” emotions surface. Almost all teens experience the loss of or rejection by a friend; they relate to Sophie when her best friends snub her because she falls for the loser in What My Mother Doesn’t Know. The loser, Robin Murphy, protagonist in What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, maintains the major theme, “Be true to yourself.
Every aspect of plot found in prose: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, is imbedded in the verse. The verse itself is unique. Every page is a poem, and every page is pleasingly poetic. Sometimes the poems rhyme, and most of the time, they don’t. The titles of the poems on each page are an extension of the previous poem’s subject matter. For example, in What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, the verse reads as so:
Sophie Rubs My Back
“You okay?” she asks.
And that’s when I notice
that her face has gone whiter
than the snow,
that her lips
are a thin, straight line,
and her eyes are blinking back tears.
So I pull myself together
and do my best stoner impression:
“Whoa . . . dude,” I say. “That was cold.”
And when Sophie laughs at my pun,
the ache between my shoulders
disappears. (Sones 27).
The title on the next page is “Then We Get on a Roll” (Sones 28). The verse continues smoothly throughout, each poem of verse supplements the previous.
What My Mother Doesn’t Know garnished several awards. The list can be found on Sones’s website, http://www.sonyasones.com/wmmdkawardshonors.htm. Interestingly, it was also cited as one of the most challenged books in 2004 and 2005 by the American Library Association, which is also listed on Sones’s website. Granted, there are mature themes and images of sexuality, enough to fuel the imagination of a young adult, but the episodes are delicately written, and do not cross boundaries into graphic offensiveness. The selections might be best located in junior high or high school, which goes to reason since the protagonists are high school students. Other characters involved are even older and in college.
I recommend both novels; the first, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, should be read first to understand the premise of the second novel, and is the shorter of the two. They both end triumphantly. In What My Mother Doesn’t Know, Sophie chooses to follow her heart. And in What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, in spite of a big dose of teen-aged angst, Murphy morphs from the geek who has been bullied most of his life, into a self-assured young man who gets the girl.
Sones, Sonya. 2006. What my mother doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for
__ __ 2007. What my girlfriend doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for
Young Readers. 27-28.
Sones, Sonya. 2009. Honors for what my mother doesn’t know.
http://www.sonyasones.com/wmmdkawardshonors.htm (accessed March 6,