By Sonya Sones
cover image retrieved from
Sones, Sonya. 2001. WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW. Simon & Schuster. New York. ISBN: 0689841140
Sophie is a typical teenage girl in every way: boy crazy, misunderstood by her family, on an emotional rollercoaster as she navigates her way through school. What My Mother Doesn’t Know is a novel in verse that weaves Sophie through the perils and pitfalls of coming of age. Sophie is, above all, always conscious of the males in a crowd. As the reader makes her way from start to finish, Sophie recounts the boys she’s loved and lost. Lou, who dumped her; Dylan, who seemed to be made for her and who actually cried when she broke up with him; Chaz, a guy she meets online who turns out to be a jerk; Zak, who she decides is much better as a “brother” than as a boyfriend; the Masked Man at the Halloween Dance; and Murphy, the dork from art class who turns out to be much less of a dork than she had ever imagined. In the poem Tomorrow Night Is Over, Sophie accurately states, “…I’ll probably have lots of boyfriends in my life…” Luckily for her, this seems to be true as she steers through the murky waters of crushes and dating.
Sophie certainly spends much of her time consumed with boys, but she always finds time for her “besties” Rachel and Grace. The three have been through thick and thin together since third grade. All have their share of issues to deal with at home, so they lend sympathetic ears to one another. Sophie shares with the reader some of the great hurts in her home life. Her parents seem to have fallen out of love and fight constantly. Her mother simply does not understand the importance of having a certain dress she dreams of wearing to the Halloween Dance, then completely freaks out when Sophie goes behind her back to buy and wear it, anyway. Her family stays home for winter break, while practically every other family jets off to an exotic location. Such are the trials and tribulations to endure, thankfully made easier with her friends along on the journey.
Sophie eventually must make a choice that reveals her true character. She agonizes about whether to go with the “popular” option, or be true to her heart and what she knows is right and pick a different alternative. Sophie manages to stay the course and make the right choice, proving she is much more than a frivolous twit or self-consumed airhead.
A novel written entirely in verse? 259 pages of poems, that somehow connect and tell a story? This concept was difficult for me to imagine. What My Mother Doesn’t Know quickly convinced me that it absolutely is a viable format for a novel.
Sonya Sones handily constructs this tale of an emotional, boy-crazy teenager. Poems of varying length and form interconnect to bring Sophie to life. Written entirely in free verse, this novel accurately conveys the gamut of feelings common to a teenager. The formats and font selection contribute to the range of topics and reactions. A single line set apart from other verses to make a point; free verse couplets to group similar ideas; changing fonts during online conversations or in emails; a concrete poem constructed to resemble an exclamation point in the poem I Wish. The variety of appearances of the poems on the page blends perfectly with the disparity of emotions and topics that run through our heroine’s heart, mind, and soul.
As a collection of free verse poetry, rhyme and rhythm are not factors here. But, rhythm seems to be achieved through the variation of the poems on the page. They do not draw heavily on alliteration or onomatopoeia, but word choice is essential to the effectiveness of the poems. Imagery, such as, “her face turned the color of the ashes dangling from the tip of her cigarette,” “so happy to see me his tail’s practically wagging!” and “I’m dancing with a bunch of girls, bouncing like kernels of popcorn in a hot frying pan,” create powerful visual images. The anxiety and emotional peaks and valleys are evident in the word choice and arrangement, as well.
“man oh man, this is going to be totally Twilight Zone.”
“I feel like a whole new part of me just got born.”
Without a single picture, the reader is able to draw a complete mental image of the scene and feelings Sophie is dealing with throughout the story. Stereotypical teenage vernacular is used fluently, drawing the reader into the story in a torrent of images and memories of difficult teenage years. Ms. Sones brings to life her characters in a format that captures the attention and the imagination. One of the beauties of the novel in verse format is that action can easily shift from event to event with no need for segues. Titles easily signal a continuance of topic or change of course. This use of free verse poetry provides a fresh take on a typical teenage novel.
Drawing on the recognizable cadences of teenage speech, Sones (Stop Pretending) poignantly captures the tingle and heartache of being young and boy-crazy. The author keenly portrays ninth-grader Sophie's trajectory of lusty crushes and disillusionment whether she is gazing at Dylan's "smoldery dark eyes" or dancing with a mystery man to music that "is slow/ and/ saxophony." Best friends Rachel and Grace provide anchoring friendships for Sophie as she navigates her home life as an only child with a distant father and a soap opera-devotee mother whose "shrieking whips around inside me/ like a tornado." With its separate free verse poems woven into a fluid and coherent narrative with a satisfying ending, Sophie's honest and earthy story feels destined to captivate a young female audience, avid and reluctant readers alike. Ages 12-up. Publishers Weekly (Oct. 2001) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Gr 6-8-A story written in poetry form. Sophie is happily dating Dylan, "üntil he's practically glued himself to my side." Then she falls for cyberboy ("if I could marry a font/I'd marry his"). Imagine her surprise when he becomes downright scary. In the satisfying ending, Sophie finds the perfect boyfriend- someone she's known all along. Sones is a bright, perceptive writer who digs deeply into her protagonist's soul. Of course, mothers probably do know these goings-on in their daughters' lives. It's just much easier to believe they don't. Sones's book makes these often-difficult years a little more livable by making them real, normal, and OK.
School Library Journal 47 no10 O 2001 Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Pre-teen and teenage boys might also like: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, You Don’t’ Know Me by David Klass, or Schooled by Gordon Korman
Other novels in verse for teens: One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones, I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder, The Best and Hardest Thing by Pat Brisson, Fallout by Ellen Hopkins
Challenge students to create their own free verse poems about significant events or friendships in their lives.
Make visual connections to one or a series of poems from What My Mother Doesn’t Know by illustrating them. Include the poem(s) that correspond with the illustration.
Challenge students to create a concrete poem from one of poems in What My Mother Doesn’t Know
Other books by Sonya Sones:
What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know
One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies
Contributing author to:
Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet & Bitter Birthday
Love & Sex - Ten Stories of Truth