At first I was skeptical about Death Coming Up the Hill. A whole verse novel written in haiku?! I struggle with liking verse novels in general. When I do, it is more often an exception than the norm. Why haiku? Why a verse novel? But after reading the author's note, I was a bit more forgiving and appreciative. He shares why he chose to write in haiku. He says he tried writing the story in prose, he tried different things here and there. He liked the characters. He liked the story. But the words, they were stuck. When he tried writing in verse, in haiku, things became unstuck. Furthermore, the number of syllables in Death Coming Up the Hill matches precisely the number of American soldiers killed in Vietnam in 1968. So the author's note did explain the why. That being said, I haven't changed my mind about verse novels.
Death Coming Up the Hill is a coming-of-age love story set in 1968. Ashe is the protagonist. 1968 will bring him joy and sorrow. I'll start with the joy: the new girl in school, Angela Turner, will become his girl; they'll fall madly in love. She will support him. He will support her. Together they have something solid. A further joy, of sorts, is Ashe will get a baby sister, Rosa. Now for the sorrow, Rosa is not his father's child. His mom has had an affair. His parents will split up, and Ashe's family life will go from uncomfortable to unbearable. Plus, there's general angst. Angst about the war in Vietnam. Angst at home in the U.S. His father is at one extreme, his mother at the other. Ashe is growing up and deciding who he is, what he believes, what he wants and needs, what he's willing to do or not do.
As a coming of age novel, it works. As a love story, it works. So in many ways this one works. I personally don't think it's great in terms of poetry and language. But I will be the first to admit that I don't read much poetry, and, that poetry in general is subjective enough to begin with. Do I think that the novel resonates with emotion? Yes. But I don't think it resonates with emotion because of the poetry.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews