Teen Books

More Than Friends:
Poems from Him and Her
co-author Allan Wolf

School Library Journal: Grade 7 Up—Through a series of “he” and “she” poems, Holbrook and Wolf detail the range of emotions when a childhood friendship become a teenage romance. The relationship goes from shy uncertainty to blissful togetherness, dark rejection, and, finally, a return to friendship. Most of the poems are complementary and conversational, such as the excellent opening selections: “What to Do When She Looks at You?” and “What to Do When He Looks at You?” These deliciously readable poems, accessible and compact, bring to light recognizable feelings and use a variety of forms, including sonnets, free verse, luc bat, villanelle, tanka, and terza rima. An appendix briefly explains each form and refers to famous poems written in these styles.

Booklist:  In these parallel poems, a boy and a girl describe their progression from friendship to romance. First they are buddies, then they flirt, and the two speakers talk about their attraction, joy, denial, loneliness, and confusion in poems that appear side-by-side on the page. The simple language expresses strong feelings in a variety of poetic forms, including sonnet, villanelle, free verse, and tanka (the forms are explained in notes at the back). The boy and girl kiss and dream on their magic journey together, and there are surprises. They love each other, but they miss their friends, and they grow apart and become stressed, angry, depressed, and lonely. The climax is their angry argument, great for reading aloud. Then, of course, they reflect and apologize. Small black-and-white photos never get in the way of the words, which tell the edgy truth of romance in all its joy and confusion: “It isn’t you; it’s US I sometimes hate.”

I Never Said I Wasn’t Difficult

Michael White (father, teacher): Sara Holbrook’s I Never Said I Wasn’t Difficult is one of those rare books that draws in the younger reader. The poems touch the heart of many a school kid. They talk about the types of circumstances that occur in young people’s lives. For example, “The Storm That Was” is a perfect example of needing a person to vent your frustrations to. “I rolled in like a storm” and vented. But since you listened, “the storm… it blew away.” Of course the “I hate” lines throughout the poem really connect with school kids. “Wrong” touches on the concept that kids hate being wrong during an argument with their parents. “What’s worse than being wrong is… / maybe / you were right.” Again, this collection of poems, from the ones mentioned above to “A Step,” a poem about the possible first kiss (or more), to “Private Property,” a poem about the sanctity of the body, to the touching last four lines of one of my personal favorites, “Scream Bloody Murder,” there is a lesson to be learned that a child/teenager can connect with and understand.

The book is also a wonder for all ages. When parents lose control or just don’t quite understand what their child is going through, maybe don’t remember what it was like to be school students with peer pressure and problems, that’s where this book also shines. If the parents read it, it will bring back memories of the way it was when “they were young,” and not the fabricated idea of perfection that they may have in their minds, but the true memories of a disturbing time in their history. Sara Holbrook’s poetry can do just that, and then maybe parents will understand their children just a little bit more.

In conclusion, this book not only helps children understand the problems they are going through, but it also helps parents remember those same problems. They can help their children survive the most awkward years of life.

Walking on the Boundaries of Change

Kristin Seay:  Great book for middle school students! This book touches on so many thoughts, feelings, and states of mind that teens are experiencing.

Daryl Anderson(teacher): added this and a few others of Sara Holbrook’s works to a 6th grade classroom poetry library. The youngsters gobbled up her works. I was delighted.

But teachers aren’t the only ones looking to help young people connect feelings and writing. I’m also a parent of children in the 8-15 range and I’m alert to ways to provide other channels for my kids’ explorations of inner and outer life. These books are great for that as well.

The 50-odd poems in this slim collection are roughly centered around the wide range of life changes that young people today face, often alone. But there’s nothing like a voice describing what you feel to help you think about it while feeling it. These poems all work at that level.

As a writing teacher, I enjoyed the opportunity to move these younger pre-teens to look at poetry beyond the Shel Silverstein style. Many kids that age have decided that poetry is only fun, silly, “rhymin’ Simon’ stuff, as I called it. I think the best way to connect them to un-rhymed verse is through powerful themes. Holbrook accomplishes this. She sometimes sneaks in subtle rhyme, and even includes a sonnet or two, but mostly her emphasis is on feelings and words to express them… a place you might hope your writer(s) will explore.

Some of the themes are probably more appropriate for 8th-10th graders rather than 5th-7th, and some of them revolve around urban lifestyles that my primarily rural students did not connect with. Like any good collection there will be something for everyone here; and even if issues of sexuality and gangs are not a part of the kids lives, I’d rather have them explore these issues in poetry than on MTV!