Sarah Dooley's newest book Free Verse chronicles the life of young Sasha, who was abandoned by her birth mother and lost her birth father in a mining accident. Her older brother, Michael, assumes parenting responsibilities, but Sasha soon loses him as well. A ward of the state, she is handed over to her kind foster mother, Phyllis, but Sasha frequently runs from Phyllis's care in search of her own roots and her own place in an Appalachian world she's uncertain she wants to remain a part of. Sasha begins to find bright spots in her life by locating extended family, making a friend, and participating in poetry club. However, another tragedy strikes that throws her back into jeopardy.
Dooley so accurately brings to life a traumatized child, a concerned but disappointed foster mother, a burly coal miner who can spend hours doing hard manual labor but is helpless when it comes to dealing with emotions, and modern-day Appalachia where drug abuse, poverty, and mining accidents are every day realities. There is beauty in this grit, and Dooley displays that too.
This book is a beautiful marriage of poetry and prose. The concerned foster mother's "empty hands hang like wilted flowers". "Trailers climb hills like mountain goats." Forms of poetry are described and examples are given, making this a perfect book for tweens and young teens who are learning the writing craft.
As an adoptive mother, social worker, former teacher, and children's therapist I know these characters. I have been several of them. This would be a wonderful book for tweens and teens and should be incorporated into the school setting. Countless children are silently dealing with trauma, blended families, poverty, loss. This book would speak to them, and what it would say is: You are not alone. There is always some place you belong. It's just a matter of finding it.
Thank you, Ms. Dooley, for a fabulous read.