Serafina's Promise/Ann E. Burg: Reflections on a Novel in Verse

Friday, December 13, 2013

At NCTE 13, I sat on a panel with remarkable writers who have traveled the world — in their imaginations and quite literally — and returned with extraordinary stories.

One of those writers was Ann E. Burg, whose first novel, All the Broken Pieces, was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, and a Jefferson Cup Award Winner, among other honors. Serafina's Promise, Ann's new book, is a moving middle grade novel in verse exploring the life of a young girl living in Haiti during the flood and then the earthquake that reconfigured the country and brought so much pain to so many people whose names we'll never know.

Some writers market their books as novels in verse, but only because the lines sit short and condensed on the page. Others—Patricia McCormick, Thanhha Lai, Karen Hesse, Marilyn Nelson, Sharon Creech, Caroline Starr Rose, Jeannine Atkins—are, in fact, poets, not just in the way they write, but in the way they see the world.

Ann E. Burg stands (absolutely) among these true verse novelists—her images evocative, her details precisely chosen, her impact huge as we follow this young girl who wants, despite dire circumstances, an education and a chance to be a doctor. Serafina's days are filled with chores, but they are also filled with the hypnotic beauty of pink flowers in fields of dried grass, of the stories a grandmother tells, of the arrival of a baby brother who smiles up at her, of a fat caterpillar and, later, a butterfly winging away from a web.

Burg's evocations of domestic rural life, of big markets, of a murderous flood, of the terrifying earthquake are piercing and precise—poetry both shattering and graceful. I share this one page with you here. I hope you will buy the book for yourself and for someone you love. I have a niece who is about to get this stunning gift.
Where are the fence and path?
Where is the big white church
where we pray on Sundays,
or the supermarket
where Papa sells mangoes,
sweet milk, and rice?

Nothing looks the same.

I keep walking.

In every ash-covered face
I search for someone
who is searching for me.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

What a gorgeous tribute! There are so many things I still have to learn about verse and so many books I still need to read. Adding this to the list.

As for being a poet, that is up for debate, but if you say so, I'll take it. xo

Jeannine Atkins said...

You've made me want to read this. Got chills from what you quoted. Thank you!

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