Providing a wonderful warm-up for National Poetry Month, two new young adult novels, both written in free verse, are sure to please readers of all ages. Heartbeat by beloved author and Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech is a wonderfully readable, accessible story. Offering an engaging glimpse into the life of 12-year-old Annie, the book is an honest examination of the ways in which life can surprise, confound, frustrate and embolden us, regardless of the number of candles on our most recent birthday cake.

Creech's skill at creating poems characterized by both an economy of words and a bounty of expression is clear in Heartbeat. The story soars as Annie's feet fly along the asphalt and grass in her hometown, then slows to hesitancy in the face of the persistent gloominess of her best friend Max. The text's beat and rhythm keep the reader attuned to Annie's feelings: her heart thumps mightily as she bounds through town and thinks about how her Grandpa, who was once an excellent runner himself, is slowly losing his mental strength. The reader's heart hammers along with Annie's as she tries to explain to a condescending track coach that, to her, the joy of running is simply in doing it, not in doing it better than someone else. Creech's verse is rife with humor as well as vibrancy. For example, Annie's relief that her new baby brother is not an alien is comical, and cleverly placed footnotes add a bit of sly levity. As the story bounds to a close, Annie gleans knowledge about life from her family, and her art class teaches her literally about perspective. But, like life itself, the wrap-up to the story is not too neat. Annie's friend Max mellows a bit, but he's still the moody boy she's so fond of. Thankfully, some of Annie's confusion has cleared, and she has come to realize that growing up entails dealing with some surprising, strange stuff. Most importantly she learns that if she heeds her inner rhythms, she'll probably do just fine. Heartbeat is a wonderfully original look at a confusing time in the life of a pre-teen.

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