Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy (US 2011)

Why, Pearl, didn’t you know
a poem doesn’t have to rhyme?
It does not have to be written
in a certain way
at a certain time.
No.
A poem comes
when it is needed
and writes itself
in the way it needs
to get its point across (p 63).

This novel struck me as rather unique. First, it is a novel in verse for young readers (I consider it a transitional book). Second, it tackles two delicate subjects, Alzheimer’s disease and death, not often addressed for this audience. And this is done well. Finally, Pearl, party of one, uses poetry to help make sense of the world. I don’t believe I’ve read anything that combines all of those qualities in a single book.

Pearl feels alone at school but at home, she has her mother and her grandmother. The harmony of their lives is disrupted as it becomes clear grandmother, who has taught Pearl so much, including poetry, is dying from Alzheimer’s disease.

When her class begins studying poetry, rhyme and rythm, Pearl finds her assignments difficult. How can she write rhyme and rythm in a world that holds neither for her?

Her humorous attempts to complete writing assignments, often at her teacher’s expense, earn her attention from a handsome boy in class. Reeling from the death of her grandmother and as even Pearl’s teacher comes to understand her poetry, Pearl discovers she is not a group of one. She is not alone.

A well-balanced read with a strong voice, I especially enjoyed the illustrations sprinkled throughout.

This review is based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick, via NetGalley. Read the Kirkus review.

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