I’ve been lucky enough to receive advanced reader copies (ARCs) of two YA novels set to be published in May 2018. It seems, then, that this month is the perfect time for blogging about these two new releases! I’m especially excited to share my thoughts on these books, as they are both debut novels. This week, I’m reviewing Sarah J. Donovan’s verse novel, Alone Together. In two weeks, I’ll be reviewing Joanna Hathaway’s historical fantasy novel, Dark of the West. As a disclaimer, my ARC reviews will be pretty spoiler-free, but of course a few details not found in the blurbs will be included in my reviews. If you’d like to see the other book reviews I’ve done, you can check them out here, here, and here.
SOME BASIC INFORMATION
- Author: Sarah J. Donovan
- Publisher: Seela Books
- Publication Date: May 1, 2018
- Page Length: 248 pages
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 099987683X
- ISBN-13: 978-0999876831
- Buy: Amazon
“Sadie Carter’s life is a mess, as wavy and tangled as her unruly hair. At 15, she is barely surviving the chaos of her large Catholic family. When one sister becomes pregnant and another is thrown out, her unemployed dad hides his depression, and her mom hides a secret. Sadie, the peacekeeper and rule-follower, has had enough. The empty refrigerator, years of hand-me-downs, and all the secrets have to stop. She longs for something more and plans her escape.
However, getting arrested was not her plan. Falling in love was not her plan. With the help of three mysterious strangers–a cop, a teacher, and a cute boy–maybe Sadie will find the strength to defy the rules and do the unexpected.
Told in verse, Sarah J. Donovan’s debut Alone Together has secrets, romance, struggle, sin, and redemption, all before Sadie blows out her 16 candles. It’s a courageously honest look at growing up in a big family.”
A Review in Three Parts
Reader: I should start by saying that I can’t remember the last time I read a verse novel. It’s possible that this one is my first, though I seem to have a vague recollection of reading at least one at some point in my past. Poetry isn’t something I’ve spent a lot of time reading in my free time, so I definitely had to take my time reading this novel. I know I’ll need to read it again, as there’s no way I caught all the small details the first time around. A few structural elements of this novel really appealed to me as a reader. First, I didn’t have to struggle line-by-line to understand the content of the poems, which is something I can’t often say about the poetry I’ve read. Second, as each poem is part of a larger narrative, the flow from one to another is easy to follow. It isn’t a straightforward narrative by any means, but thematic connections are evident when settings change from one poem to the next. Third, rather than chapters, the book is divided into months, which I also appreciated as that helped signal to me how much time is passing in Sadie’s life between poems.
I will say that because Sadie is the sole protagonist, the focalizer, it is hard to keep track of all the other characters. Sadie has ten siblings, multiple adults in her life (in addition to her parents), a few romantic interests, and a couple girl friends. When reading, I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to remember everyone’s name and how they are connected to Sadie. While not necessarily a flaw, as I think it creates in the reader feelings similar to Sadie’s own about her life, it is something that I struggled with throughout the novel. Without the large cast of characters, however, a lot of the interesting plot developments wouldn’t exist. Overall, then, while I’m not sure verse novels are for me when it comes to recreational reading, Alone Together definitely offers a lot of possibilities for the teacher and fan in me.
Teacher: For anyone who is required to teach poetry to their young adult students, or just enjoys doing so, this novel is a good choice for teaching not just the basics about poetry terminology and analysis, but also about how poems can build off one another in a longer piece like this novel. The poems aren’t repetitive, they do not require constant struggle in order to understand their meaning, and they provide a strong sense of how Sadie views the world around her. In addition to lessons on poetry, the novel also allows for important conversations on a range of topics, including but not limited to: family dynamics, socioeconomic status, friendship, religion, sexuality, and identity. While students (and teachers) might need to create a character sheet to keep track of everyone in Sadie’s life, the glimpses the reader gets into the lives of these secondary characters provide many opportunities for practicing close reading. Without lengthy prose descriptions of Sadie’s world and relationships, every word counts for understanding the implications of all that the poems reveal.
Students (and instructors) will need to devote time to this novel in order to truly understand everything that’s going on in it. If there’s no time in your lesson plan to scaffold this text with a slow, close reading of it, I’d suggest looking elsewhere (probably a novel that’s not written in verse). But, with some patience, I think Sadie’s story can provide plenty of material for students to practice their literary analysis skills and their ability to critically engage with the complicated world – and people – around them.
Fan: Sadie has ten siblings, most of whom the reader only learns about in small snippets before the focus turns back to more pressing concerns. As such, there is so much opportunity for creative reader responses (written in verse or otherwise)! Personally, I’d love to read a version of this book from the perspective of Teresa, one of Sadie’s younger sisters. The perspective of Sadie’s mother, who has a lot going on in her life, would also be really interesting to read. An outsider perspective – and by that I mean a character outside Sadie’s family – would also make for a great focalizer. How do the people who interact with this huge, struggling family perceive them? Of course, creative responses by fans don’t need to be so serious. Sadie has multiple love interests, and the ending of this novel suggests a new stage in her life has just begun. Really, the possibilities are endless.
Considering the large amount of characters in this novel, creating fanart for it could also be both fun and challenging. Drawing full casts of characters using different styles is a common approach when creating fanart, so it’d be interesting to see how readers imagine these characters, as detailed physical descriptions aren’t really included in this novel. Whether a writer or an illustrator, this book has plenty of inspiration to draw on (no pun intended).
I’m glad I went outside my comfort zone and read this verse novel about a young girl and her struggles finding her own unique identity while existing in such a huge family. If you’re a poetry lover, have tons of siblings, or wonder what life would be like if you did, definitely check this novel out. As a reminder, Alone Together comes out May 1st, 2018. It’s on pre-sale now, so you don’t have to wait to order your copy.