Verse novels are novels which are told through poetic structures and styles. If you have never read one, Forget Me Not is the perfect book to start with. Elijah and Ally are wonderfully realized characters whom many teenagers will identify with. Ally is the popularity-hungry social butterfly who is set to inherit the title of "Most Popular Girl". Elijah is the boy who once was friends with her but has watched himself become one of the outcasts. When Ally has a cruel trick played on her, their paths start crossing once again in a whirlwind of emotions. The ghostly abandoned hallway no one goes into becomes the setting of self-examination as well as facing the forgotten ghosts of the past. The climax is unforgettable and will stay with you long after you finish reading.
Forget Me Not is one of the hardest books I've ever read. Not the poetry. The words are simple, haunting and brilliant. The rhythms are elegant and driving. Each line pulls you on to the next. Until suddenly you've just read 374 pages in two hours. No, do not think it's hard to read because of the novel form.
It's the all too painfully common story!
I'm sure the lives described in this story evoke as many different responses as there are different people. Teen girls will empathize with the freshman who will do anything to be someone. To be loved. To be popular. To be the center of an adoring audience. A girl whose greatest fear is disappearing. Teen boys will understand the quiet nerd who's in love with his friend and who is trying to live on when his shining older brother could not and his parents can't forgive him for being the one who lived. There's the couple who could not be parted and the teen mother who would rather die than harm her unborn child. There's the boy who tried to end his life and now lives in a wheelchair, unable to move or talk without assistance. And there are many others, hovering on the edge of life or death, making choices, making mistakes. Breaking themselves, breaking each other. And all seemingly blind until it's too late.
So for me, all these stories triggered the maternal instinct. I wanted to reach into the words and right all the wrongs. Knowing that even if I could enter the story, I wouldn't be able to correct one single thing. Because teens don't learn to be adults when adults merely tell them how to be adults. Because growing is an immersion process that can't be directed from the outside. Because learning doesn't happen without error. Making mistakes and learning how to right them yourself, that's what growing up is. Much to the consternation of those of us who've made the same mistakes and don't want anyone else to suffer the bruises. Hence, a very hard read, indeed!
But it's too mesmerizing to put down. The language, the poetry — each page is a self-contained gem that miraculously fits like a puzzle piece into the plot. And Carolee Dean has included nearly every conceivable poetic form, finding a perfect match for each style in voice and narrative.
I would caution parents of younger teens. This book is harsh. Nearly every character is a suicide, and all are broken in some way. But it is also real. So if you take the time to read it and discuss it with your teen, maybe — just maybe — it can serve as a useful map of things one may want to avoid. So that at least these mistakes will not need to be made by anyone else.