Books Mentally Yours Poetry Poetry Friday Reading Themes Young Adult (YA) Literature

[Poetry Friday] Dual Disenfranchised Voices Of Troubled Teens in “We Come Apart”

Myra here.

It is a pleasure to be joining the Poetry Friday community once again, hosted this week by the beautiful Irene Latham from Live Your Poem.

I have also been trying to find poetry or novels-in-verse that would fit our current reading theme #MentallyYours:

When I first started reading this novel-in-verse, I was not too sure whether it would be a good fit, then after a few poems in, I realized it’s perfect. We are technically not just looking for stories that portray mental illness, we are also exploring stories that show emotional disturbance, behavioural issues, and those who have difficulties in adjusting well to society.

We Come Apart

Written by: Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2017 ISBN: 1681192756 (ISBN13: 9781681192758)
ARC provided by Pansing Books. Book photos taken by me.

It has been awhile since I’ve read a novel-in-verse that has, quite simply, blown me away. This powerful book threads together two distinct voices. There is the beautiful Jess who comes from a very troubled family background, with a passive mother who is deathly scared of her physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend, and an absent older brother who upped and left, as he starts a family of his own. Nicu is the new boy in town, Romanian, an outsider who tries so hard to fit in, but is already prejudged by the people around him because of his skin colour and a lapse in judgment that necessitated his “rehabilitation” involving community service for young delinquents – where he met Jess.

Jess describes her experience in the rehabilitation group in this manner:

There is a great deal of resentment in Jess’ voice. She feels invisible, hardly seen by the adults around her, as she suffers in silence, forced to video record her mother’s humiliation by her mother’s boyfriend who takes so much pleasure in rendering the people around him powerless. It seemed inevitable for Jess to simply just hang out with the “wrong” crowd who brings out the worst in her. Meanwhile, her teachers, well-meaning as they are, clearly do not understand what is happening to her, as she feels trapped in her own life, with very little way out:

While there is a lot of angst, I still gravitated towards the stark honesty and wounded anger in Jess’ voice.

Then there is Nicu, whose “broken English” makes him an easy target – as he is unable to clearly articulate his thoughts in words that can be understood by these unfamiliar people in a city that seems to be very hostile to “people of his kind.”

The ending was also left hanging as the authors leave it to the readers’ imagination how these teenagers’ lives would eventually turn out. I felt such a strong sense of helplessness reading how these young people felt they have no choice regarding the course of their lives, and who are we, really to say that they are wrong? My last Poetry Friday offering is in Jess’ voice as she describes who they are and how other people see them:

I feel that this is a very timely book that tackles themes such as xenophobia, the escalating downward spiral of “troubled teens” who are perceived as not applying themselves and having way too many behavioural issues, and the sense of despair from feeling that there is no way out.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

9 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Dual Disenfranchised Voices Of Troubled Teens in “We Come Apart”

  1. What powerful words. The verse novel format is so perfectly suited to sharing these powerful, sometimes painful experiences, allowing us to really get inside a character’s heart and mind in such an emotionally sensitive way.


  2. Hi Myra,
    I just saw this book in National and was considering buying it. The verses are interesting. It reminds me of my position as a teacher and the teenagers i deal with who definitely fall under the ‘troubled teens’ category. Thanks for sharing this.-Iphigene


  3. Thank you, Myra, for sharing about this book! I immediately think of Ellen Hopkins. I think some of these words, all by themselves, are so heavy and powerful, that the reader needs the white space to give their feelings room. I particularly appreciate Nicu’s voice. xo


  4. Wow! The verses you shared show the power of poetry in expressing the anguish of the two teens. Like Irene, I also thought of Ellen Hopkins and the characters and themes she shares in her books.


  5. lindabaie

    So sad to read these words, yet many should read the book to learn the voices, try to understand. Thanks for sharing this, Myra. It’s a title new to me.


  6. Again, thank-you for sharing, Myra. What you’ve done (I’m guessing you did it, and they didn’t come like this?) with the text and images is so very powerful in itself. I’ve heard of this book and been intrigued. It obviously won’t be an ‘easy’ read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very touching. It’s valuable to hear the inner thoughts of someone who is externally pushing people away, inaccessible.


  8. Thank you! These are compelling voices with stories to tell.


  9. maryleehahn

    Wow. This is a timely book. I’ll recommend it to our high school language arts coach.


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