Released: March 9th, 2010
Grade rating: B+/A-
Fourteen-year-old Kevin Boland has a passion for playing baseball, a knack for writing poetry — and a cute girlfriend named Mira who’s not much interested in either. But then, Kevin doesn’t exactly share Mira’s newfound fervor for all things green. So when Kevin signs up for open mike night at Bungalow Books and meets Amy, a girl who knows a sonnet from a sestina and can match his emails verse for verse, things start to get sticky. Should he stay with Mira? Or risk spoiling his friendship with Amy by asking her out? Ron Koertge, master of snappy dialogue and a deft poet, offers a fast-paced, sympathetic story that interweaves two narrative voices with humor and warmth.
Ron Koertge's sequel to Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is a thoroughly absorbing novel, written in verse and more types of poetry than I ever knew existed. It focuses more on Kevin's relationship with girlfriend Mira, his budding friendship with poet Amy, and how he deals with his father starting to date again.
Kevin continues his Shakespeare ways, this time with the help of Amy, a girl who loves poetry just as much as he does. Together they write some brilliant poems about vampires, including my personal favourite, 'Transylvanian Limericks'. Seriously, if there was one thing that would get me into poetry, it's poems about Dracula. Kevin and Amy write quite a few in different formats and styles, and I loved them all.
Koertge does a brilliant job of invoking those old teenage feelings and dilemmas, and Kevin's attraction to two girls is played out well. These things happen in high school, and I'm glad Kevin's experience is realistic, rather than reminiscent of an exaggerated teen movie. His aversion to his father's new girlfriend is also very well written, and I can imagine how difficult it must be to welcome someone new into your life. It's all a learning curve, and no-one knows the right way to behave in these situations, not even parents.
I loved this book, and I hope Koertge will write more about Kevin. I need more haikus and sestinas, and more poetry about the undead!
Quick Q&A with Ron Koertge
How long does it usually take you to write one of your YA novels?
Well, interestingly enough, it's about nine months. The pregnancy comparison is pretty on the money, actually. I look forward to the birth but I'm nervous about it. I check in regularly with somebody I trust to make sure everythings's going along as planned, and there's usually a flurry of activity right a the end. The metaphor breaks down then, because there's no revising a baby ("Let's give it a cuter nose!") but lots of revision for a manuscript. Some writers take a bit longer to write their books, and we're all different by degrees. I'm a fast writer and I like to do lots of revisions while a friend of mine wants everything perfect on page one before she goes to page two.
Are you planning to continue Kevin's story, or is Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs the end?
I have a hunch Kevin's story ends here, but a few years ago I said I wasn't interested in sequels and now I've written two: Shakespeare Make the Playoffs and a sequel to Stoner & Spaz. So, clearly I don't know what I'm talking about. Kevin called to me, so I listened. If he calls again, I'll pick up.
Have you ever participated in poetry readings, like Kevin and Amy? Are they as scary as they sound?
I was a poet (and still am) before I started writing fiction for teens. I've given dozens of poetry readings. I like to be on stage and I like to read to people. I'm always a little nervous before a reading but that's natural and it amps me enough to be crisp and entertaining. I've never written "poetry for children" specifically, but there's not one poem in any of my books published for adults that a smart kid couldn't read and enjoy. Fever (Red Hen Press) might be a good place to start.
What is your favourite type of poetry to write and why?
I lean toward free verse. Lots of my poems are like stories, anyway, and strict forms ( the sonnet, for instance) aren't always good for story-telling. I know some poets who always work in forms and I admire the heck out of them, but forms aren't for me. Now that I've said that, I'll say that using all the forms in Kevin's story really was fun. Hard but fun. I'd tried, for instance, to write a sestina for years and couldn't. Now, thanks to Kevin and Amy, I have. So you never know.
Who are some of your favourite poets?
These are almost all poets I know personally and all, last I heard, are alive:
David Kirby, David Clewell, Billy Collins, Richard Garcia, Dorianne Laux, Kate Gale, Jim Daniels and Amy Gerstler.