Young Adult Books 1: Jason Reynolds.

Looking ahead, the first major assignment of the class is going to be to write the opening five pages of a Young Adult story.
We will be workshopping your stories beginning on Feb 26th.
You will be divided into three groups which I will set up on Blackboard.
Your deadline for posting your stories to Blackboard is going to be midnight on Monday Feb 24th. This will give everyone time to read all of the stories in their group––and everyone else in your group will have time to read yours.
We will come back to how the workshops work nearer the time, but I’m just giving you a heads-up regarding the first important date in the class. I’m happier when I know important deadlines, and I’m sure you are too.

Today we’re going to do the following:
1: We’re going to take a very brief look at the history and conventions of YOUNG ADULT.
2: We’re going to read some excerpts from the young adult novel, LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds.
3: LONG WAY DOWN is a novel told in free verse, so we’re going to look at how to write a young adult novel in free verse.
4: One of the techniques used in LONG WAY DOWN is the ANAGRAM. We’re going to dip in to the subject of anagrams as a means for you to begin writing your own young adult story in free verse.

Award winning, Young adult author, Jason Reynolds.

Jason Reynolds was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in neighboring Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Reynolds found inspiration in rap and began writing poetry at nine years old. His reading and writing focused on poetry for some 20 more years, and he published several poetry collections before publishing his first novel in 2014, When I Was The Greatest.
This novel won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

In the next four years, Reynolds wrote seven more novels, most notably the New York Times best-selling ‘Track’ series—Ghost (2016), PATINA (2017), and SUNNY (2018)—and AS BRAVE AS YOU (2016), winner of the 2016 Kirkus Prize, the 2017 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teen, and the 2017 Schneider Family Book Award. He also wrote the Marvel Comics graphic novel: MILES MORALES: SPIDERMAN (2017).

In 2017, Reynolds returned to poetry with LONG WAY DOWN, a novel in verse that was named a Newbery Honor book, a Printz Honor Book, and best young adult work by the Mystery Writers of America‘s Edgar Awards.

Before we read some of LONG WAY DOWN, let’s glance at the history of the young Adult field.
Young Adult Fiction is category of literature that was established in the 1960s by the publishing industry. The intent was to provide a body of literature specifically targeted to teens.
For publishers this was a business decision––during the economic boom of the 1960s teens were beginning to have more disposable income.
For librarians and educators it was more of a way to keep teens interested in reading books. Teens were becoming increasingly sophisticated, and were too old for the books in the established canon of children’s lit, and yet were too young to have either the interest or the emotional maturity for adult literature.
In other words young adults as a population were thought to be too old for Lewis Carrol’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but not quite yet ready for James Joyce’s ULYSSES.

Of course, is anyone ever really too old for ALICE in WONDERLAND?

And is anyone ever really ready for ULYSSES?

On a more serious note, the issue of identity became very significant for teens during the 1960s. It was essential to listen to the right music, such the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and essential to wear the right clothes, such as mini-skirts and jeans. Could it also become essential to read the right books?

Some of the first Young Adult books were CATCHER IN THE RYE, by J.D. Salinger, THE OUTSIDERS, by S.E. Hinton, and I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou. 

A young adult from 1967 might want to listen to the ROLLING STONES, and dress like the actor, JAMES DEAN, but would the image be complete without a copy of Sylvia Plath’s THE BELL JAR in the pocket of his leather jacket?  

 So, with the above in mind, theses are some of the conventions of Young adult:

1: AGE RANGE 12-18 (High School ages, basically). There’s clearly a great deal of difference between most 12 year-olds and most 18 year-olds, and there are sub-divisions within the Young Adult category to accommodate these differences––although perhaps there are fewer differences than you might think.

2: CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES: You may explore controversial issues, such as rape, drugs, abuse, etc, but if you do decide to write about a controversial issue, don’t focus on the issue at the expense of character and plot. Even if your main character is a victim of bullying she may well have desires and fears that are broader than merely ending the bullying. A heroin addict may be interested in romance. A rape victim may be focussed on doing well in a class at school.

3: IDENTITY: As I mentioned earlier teens become absorbed in exploring who they are as individuals. They aren’t smaller versions of their parents, and they certainly aren’t bigger versions of their younger siblings. What defines them? Who are they? Gay or straight? Partiers or loners? Conformists or rebels? Fighters or lovers? Is race an issue? If so, then what race are they? Or maybe they reject labels altogether.

4: SEX AND VIOLENCE: The mid twentieth century saw sex and sexuality being written about in an increasingly frank manner––and not just in a frank manner, but often in a gratuitous manner, and even in an unrealistic manner.
Avoiding gratuitous sex may have been some of the early inspiration for a separate Young Adult genre, and I think that this still holds true. You should limit the sexual experiences of your characters. If part of what we’re doing is to enshrine early adulthood as an essential period of human experience, then we should honor that, and not encourage readers to jump ahead to the next stage too quickly.
As for violence, the young adult novel, THE HUNGER GAMES is one of the most violent books ever written, and yet it’s still Young Adult.  

Which brings us to LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds.

It’s a Young Adult novel told in free verse. Here’s how it opens: 


believe nothing
these days

which is why I haven’t
told nobody the story
I’m about to tell you.

And truth is,
you probably ain’t
gon’ believe it either
gon’ think I’m lying
or I’m losing it,
but I’m telling you,

this story is true.

It happened to me.
It did.

It so did.


William Holloman.

But to my friends
and people
who know me
know me,

just Will.

So call me Will,
because after I tell you
what I’m about to tell you

you’ll either
want to be my friend
or not
want to be my friend
at all.

Either way,
you’ll know me
know me.


to my mother
and my brother, Shawn,
whenever he was trying
to be funny.

I’m wishing I would’ve
laughed more
at his dumb jokes

because the day
before yesterday,
Shawn was shot

and killed.


don’t know
your last name,
if you got
or sisters
or mothers
or fathers
or cousins
that be like
and sisters
or aunties
or uncles
that be like
and fathers,

but if the blood
inside you is on the inside
of someone else,

you never want to
see it on the outside of


is just so hard
to explain.

Imagine waking up
and someone,
a stranger,

got you strapped down,
got pliers shoved
into your mouth,
gripping a tooth

somewhere in the back,
one of the big
important ones,

and rips it out.

Imagine the knocking
in your head,
the pressure pushing”



So strange to say.
So sad.

But I guess
not surprising,
which I guess is
even stranger,

and even sadder.


me and my friend Tony
were outside talking about
whether or not we’d get any
taller now that we were fifteen.

When Shawn was fifteen
he grew a foot, maybe a foot
and a half. That’s when he gave
me all the clothes he couldn’t fit.

Tony kept saying he hoped he grew
because even though he was
the best ballplayer around here
our age, he was also the shortest.

And everybody knows
you can’t go all the way when
you’re that small unless you can
really jump. Like


themselves tight.

Did what we’ve all
been trained to.

Pressed our lips to the
pavement and prayed
the boom, followed by
the buzz of a bullet,
ain’t meet us.


me and Tony
waited like we always do,
for the rumble to stop,
before picking our heads up
and poking our heads out

to count the bodies.

This time
there was only one.



in an earthquake.
Don’t know if this was
even close to how they
are, but the ground
defi nitely felt like
it o pened up
and ate me.



Not everybody screams.
Usually just


In this case
it was Leticia,

Shawn’s girlfriend,
on her knees kissing
his forehead

between shrieks.
I think she hoped
her voice would
somehow keep him

would clot the blood.

But I think
she knew

deep down in the
deepest part of
her downness

she was kissing
him good-bye.

moaning low,
Not my baby.
Not my baby.
hanging over my
brother’s body
like a dimmed
light post.

There’s more of LONG WAY DOWN on Blackboard, but before we read further, let’s look at how to write a novel in poetic form.
Writing a novel in poetic form means that the author has to take on the formal conventions of a novel, plus the conventions of poetry.

The most important aspect of a novel is that you have to tell a story.

The most important aspect of free verse is that your words evoke an emotional response.

You can see that these two sets of requirements can lead to a conflict of intent, so if you’re going to attempt a novel in verse form then you’re going to have to not only come to terms with this conflict, but actually embrace it.

Let’s begin with a quick look at the separate requirements for stories and for poems.

Stories need the following:
1: A Protagonist. This expression comes from the Greek words proto and agoniste, and means the ‘first one to struggle’. The protagonist is also known as the Main Character (or MC), or the hero, or the viewpoint character. For our purposes––for now–– all these terms mean the same thing. This is how Jason Reynolds introduces the read to the protagonist in LONG WAY DOWN.

William Holloman.

What protagonists come to mind for you?

2: A Plot. The plot is the sequence of events––cause and effect––which when taken together become the action of your story. A good plot springs from the protagonist. The basis of the plot is known as the story-problem. A strong story problem should be both inevitable and inescapable for the main character.

This problem was bound to arise at some point.
What plots can you think of that spring from the main character?

3: An Antagonist. From the Greek for the ‘one who is struggled against.’ Also known as the villain, although this can sometimes be misleading. The antagonist is often literally another character in the story, but can also be something non-human, such as a mountain, a storm, or even fate. In contemporary stories the antagonist can be the same person as the protagonist if your character is struggling against her own worst instincts for example.

This can even happen in picture books for the very young.
The antagonist should seem far stronger than the antagonist. Think of the biblical story of David and Goliath.
In LITTLE RED, the wolf is stronger than Little Red Riding Hood.
Think of some famous literary antagonists.

4: Choices and Complications : In very simplified terms the story is driven by the complications that are placed in the path of the protagonist, and the choices she makes in attempting to overcome these complications. The story is the protagonist”s story, and in order for it to remain her story it’s important that the protagonist makes the key choices. She may be forced into theses choices or even tricked into them,  but they are still her choices.
In LITTLE RED the wolf makes some choices, but the key choices are made by Little Red.
As we shall see in LONG WAY DOWN, the protagonist, Will, makes the key choices that drive the story.

4: A Crisis (or climax). The protagonist and antagonist are locked in a struggle. The back and forth rises to an inevitable crisis, from which only one will prevail. If the antagonist wins, then the protagonist will never recover.

5: Conclusion and Change. Hopefully the protagonist emerges victorious from the crisis, although these days this is not always the case, and the protagonist fails––or the outcome of the crisis is inconclusive. The best endings are hopeful rather than happy. Perhaps the antagonist will rise again, but at least the protagonist has developed some effective strategies for dealing with him.
On the other hand, the protagonist might triumph, but even though this particular antagonist has been overcome, but the protagonist has learnt nothing.

6: Ending. Endings have been described as a courtesy to the reader. You could end abruptly after the crisis. The conflict is over, so what purpose does your last chapter serve? Is your MC going to use it for a victory lap, and dance on the grave of the antagonist? Hopefully not.

More often the protagonist can use this part of the story to reflect on what happened and look ahead to the rest of her life. Strengthened? Emboldened? Encouraged? Or maybe damaged and broken. This will be your story, so you can decide.

So what does free verse need?

1: Evocative language. Rolling, tumbling sequences of words that dance together in the mouth and the mind, and actually trigger a physical response in the reader.
In order to write about a kiss in a way that can trigger the physical response of an actual kiss, you have to become a poet. If someone kisses you, then your nerve endings send signals to your brain, that in turn sends to your lymphatic system, that secretes hormones into your organs, making your heart race a little (or a lot), your skin tingle, and your breathing speed up. IN LONG WAY DOWN, Will is stuck in an elevator with someone smoking a cigarette. We physically feel Will’s disgust and struggle to breathe..

2: Alliteration. Repeated consonant sounds (consonance), or vowel sounds (assonance), that give pace and flow to the poem. These sounds can come at the beginning, middle, or even the end of words. Read these three lines, and see how the repeated ’s’ sounds give rhythm to the words.

Cops flashed lights in our faces and we all turned to stone.

Did anybody see anything?

Or this one with the letter, P

Pressed our lips to the pavement and prayed

3: Analogies, in other words Metaphor and Simile.
Analogies are where you make a comparison between one word (or idea) and another, in order to better express what you’re trying to say with that word.
A simile is a direct comparisons and a metaphor is indirect. Here is an example of a :Simile:
…hanging over my
brother’s body
like a dimmed
light post.

See how this simile evokes the exact posture?


…tiny fists punching the backs of my eyes feet kicking
my throat at the spot where the swallow starts.

See how these metaphors evoke the exact feeling the author wants to convey.

4: Visual cues and juxtaposition of ideas:

Shawn was zipped into a bag
and rolled away, his blood added
to the pavement galaxy of

bubblegum stars. The tape
framed it like it was art. And the next
day, kids would play mummy with it.