Poetry has the unique ability to capture our darkest hours and deepest emotions while breaking down the standards of a typical prose novel. One of the great formats that’s quickly gaining popularity is the verse novel, or, a novel told in verse instead of straight prose. Novels in verse combine a compelling story with stark, powerful, and intricately spun poetry that slams readers with emotion. Through poetry, writers can go beyond the limits of prose and introduce writing the breaks the conventional rules of grammar and language. The result is a book that reaches readers who are themselves experiencing dark emotions that defy description.
In these nine dark verse novels told in powerful poems, characters confront a variety of challenges and find a way forward through their challenges. Verse helps them express difficult emotions and tragic events. In a way, verse novels help heal the experience of darkness. In this list of nine great verse novels, you’ll find a range of books in both young adult literature and adult literature. They explore a range of topics, such as trauma, mental health, friendships, coming of age, violence, and trauma. Whether you’re new to the genre or just looking to get started with reading verse novels, there’s one for you in this compilation of nine dark novels in verse.
Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
In this dark YA novel in verse, Anke lives in a house where her brother and sister are victims of their father’s abuse. Somehow, Anke is spared, but the trauma of growing up in an abusive home still weighs her down. When she makes the volleyball team at school, Anke finds a positive outlet for her understandably turbulent emotions. Thalia Chaltas’s novel blends a riveting story with beautiful, hard-hitting verse.
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne
When we’re young, the unstoppable force of our friendships could not hit harder. The friends we have in our youth feel as epic and fated as any relationship with a lover. And it’s those types of bond that Mahogany L. Browne deals with in her YA verse novel Chlorine Sky. Our heroine, Sky, is struggling to hold onto a friendship even as she and her bestie are going in different directions. The loss of a friendship can be as searing and emotional as a romantic breakup, as Sky learns in this dark verse novel.
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
This YA novel in verse is both quirky and dark. Melissa is a young Latinx woman obsessed with writing and reading poetry, an outlet for her loneliness and heartbreak. In a séance, Melissa brings Selena Quintanilla, the iconic and groundbreaking legendary Tejano pop singer, back to life. But the act has serious repercussions for Melissa. Told in Lozada-Oliva’s skilled verse, Dreaming of You stars an unforgettably fierce heroine in a story that literally sends her to hell and back.
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Set in a psychiatric hospital, Impulse is a series starter by Ellen Hopkins, one of the most iconic verse novelists in YA literature. YA novel Impulse follows three young adult patients trying to heal and find hope with varying levels of success. When their stories become tangled up with one another, Vanessa, Tony, and Connor find the complexity of their connection to be electric — in good ways and bad.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Fifteen-year-old Will steps into an elevator with a gun ready to go out and avenge his brother’s murder just as soon as he reaches the ground floor of his apartment building. But his trip is interrupted as ghosts of people he’s known who have been victims of gun violence get on floor after floor. This heartfelt, engaging YA novel in verse by award-winning author Jason Reynolds is as twisty as it is sincere. Will grabs you and won’t let go as you cheer for him to put the gun down and work through his grief in other ways.
Northwood by Maryse Meijer
In Maryse Meijer’s Northwood adult novella in verse, a promising young artist flees to a cabin in the woods so she can better concentrate on her art. During this time, she starts a volatile intimate relationship with a married neighbor. Their intensely emotional, deeply passionate love affair and the aftermath of their split is chronicled in Meijer’s visceral verse in a distinguished voice that cuts raw.
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
This adult horror novel in verse by Toby Barlow is set in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles where rival werewolf gangs are constantly clashing. When dogcatcher Anthony falls for a female werewolf who’s trekking it solo after breaking from her pact, the bounds of their love are tested. Sharp Teeth captures all the inter-pack conflict that surges through the groups of werewolves who are blood thirsty and ready to kill. Violent and at-times funny, Sharp Teeth is a dark verse novel any horror fan will want to add to their TBR.
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Known for lyrical prose, beloved author Laurie Halse Anderson shows off her poetry skills in Shout, a YA memoir in verse. Anderson reflects on how her early trauma, famously chronicled in her groundbreaking novel Speak, has had a ripple effect on her life. With a propulsive storytelling style, bold poetry, unflinching sense of realism, and shatteringly sharp imagery, Shout is a must-read for anyone who loves dark novels in verse and an empowering story for those struggling with trauma and depression.
The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill
In her first novel in verse, celebrated poet Nikita Gill blends myth and legend with the gritty truth of life as a young woman at the intersection of identities. Paro, Gill’s scrappy, sympathetic heroine you’ll root for, navigates her life from childhood into her older years in this adult verse novel with a nod to Hindu mythology. These linked poems, along with Gill’s evocative illustrations, prove why Gill is one of the most daring, provocative, and esteemed poets of her generation.
Want more verse novels? Check out more Book Riot novels in verse coverage below: