I’ve done quite a bit of research before borrowing (almost literally) a ton of books from the library that are in the format of novels-in-verse. While the books are easy reading, I know that writing the reviews would prove to be more time consuming and would require much greater thought and deliberation. So while I’ve read quite a lot, I know that I’d have to be more selective in terms of which books I shall review and feature here. And Helen Frost’s Hidden is definitely a keeper and one of the titles that I’d have to share a few words about.
Finding family and friendship. The two lovely girls in the book cover: fourteen year olds Wren and Darra – are coming from wildly-different worlds – yet their lives are interwoven by a criminal act that Darra’s father has committed (and paid for in full) when the girls were only eight years old.
Darra comes from a disadvantaged background: father lost his job, mother earns a meager income, father hits both wife and child when upset, father turns to car-stealing – not realizing that an eight year old girl (Wren) is hiding out back – waiting for her mother. This would have been a traumatic incident tucked neatly in the crevices of one’s waking memory – if not for the fact that these two girls meet again at Camp Oakwood somewhere in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula – and they are confronted with each other’s versions of events, their own shades of realities, and their own painful ways of making meaning out of their nightmarish experience.
While Wren was technically the “victim” here – I also felt deeply for Darra – whom I feel is searching for what it means to be loved and truly cared for – without the physical pain and hurt – she needed to ‘steal’ Wren’s family photo album to see and touch for herself how such loud laughter and warm taste of togetherness could be like – these are things that were ‘hidden’ from her.
The novel is very fast-paced, the suspense builds up pretty quickly – and you await in bated breath what happens next. It is one of those rare instances when each verse, each line counts for something. Helen Frost has managed to distill only the barest essential in her writing.
Over and above the main conflict that the two girls need to resolve amongst themselves, we are also taken to the world of teenagers – particularly girls with their cliques, unspoken pacts of exclusivity, and the ultimate challenge of going beyond appearances and ‘coolness’ – to get to the real individual within. Helen Frost has managed to share this without the relationships appearing forced, stereotypical, or contrived in the least. I am able to effectively connect with these young people as they also attempt to piece together something which is way bigger than themselves to arrive at concealed truths and as they struggle to find strength, forgiveness, and redemption in lost scents, old shipwrecks, and tangled memories.
Poetic Forms and Narratives. Helen Frost has written several notes on form at the end of the novel where she noted that there are actually codes and clues embedded into her poetic form. While Wren’s poems are in free verse – one could note that the placement of words on the page is not random – there is artistic beauty to the way that the lines all fit together – and Frost noted that it is akin to musical notation. She also noted that: “Darra’s poems are written in a form invented for this book. The last words of the long lines, when read down the right side of the page, give further insight into her story.” In the review written by School Library Journal, they described this process as something very similar to a treasure hunt – where you can find words within the words revealing deeper insights and unvoiced emotions.
Here is a video clip of Helen Frost sharing her process and the history behind the book Hidden. If you wish to know more about Helen and her other works, click here to be taken to her official website.
Hidden by Helen Frost. Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 2011. Book borrowed from the library.