I hate poetry for the most part. Hate seems like a strong word to use as a fellow writer myself, but I just don’t get it. I like writing to be clear, to tell me a story and paint a clear picture in my head. Reading poetry always just leaves me scratching my head and wondering what the heck the author was trying to say. While there are countless books that have affected me throughout my life, I can count the number of poems I actually like on one hand.
So I don’t know exactly why I picked up When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost up at the library. Thanks to hating the hundreds of poems I had to read throughout high school and college, I’d never even thought about picking up a novel-in-verse before. But I’ve been trying to branch out a little bit of my genre when it comes to reading lately. And this book has a pretty cover and an interesting description. So I borrowed the book from my library and tore through it because of how much I liked it.
This book is a beautiful story about two sisters, Claire and Abigail, during the summer they are ten and thirteen. Claire’s family has been spending summers at their lake house her whole life. Claire’s mother died from a lightning strike on the lake when Claire was a baby, but the summers there have always been a special time she gets to spend with her sister and father. But this year everything is different. Her dad is about to have a baby with his new wife, Pam, and Abigail starts caring more about boys than Claire. Claire finds comfort in kayaking on the lake as she tries to figure out where she fits into this changing family.
Three points of view and four poetic forms make up this beautiful story about family. Claire’s poems make up most of the book, with the majority being rhyming quatrains. When she is kayaking on the lake, her poems take the shape of the kayak moving through the water and the last words of the lines are set in bold, creating a sentence that shows what’s truly going on in Claire’s mind. Abigail’s poems are free-verse and lightening-shaped, reflecting the lightning that killed their mother and left Abigail with a scar. The last point of view and form, and also my favorites, are the acrostic poems in the voice of the lake itself. Frost uses lines from some of her favorite poems as the armatures—or the first letter of each line that spells something out when read down the left side of the page—to represent the current of the lake.
This was my first experience reading a novel-in-verse, and I really enjoyed the beautiful language that Frost employs throughout the book. I think she makes her poems very accessible and easy to understand, yet they still have that beautiful language that seems unique to poetry. I love the different forms and points of view she uses. As I said, the lake’s poems were my favorites. I loved getting the chance to see into each sister’s head, but then getting to read the lake’s narrations of what was going on was fascinating. Claire and Abigail are very connected to the lake with everything that has happened there throughout their lives, so it was important for the lake to have a voice in this novel.
What I love most about this book though was that, at its heart, it was about growing up. Coming-of-age stories are my favorite, which is why I pretty much only read in the young adult genre. This story is about the changing relationship between sisters, the changing family dynamics of a new stepmom and half-brother, and simply about turning eleven. Claire’s story has a beautiful innocence to it, and I loved getting to watch her grow.