Book Review: Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill
Hemphill, Stehphanie. Your Own, Sylvia. New York: Knopf, 2007
This book is a picture of the life of famous poet, Sylvia Plath. It is told in poetry through the eyes of people who knew Sylvia, from when she was a young child all the way up until she took her own life in 1963. Although this book is classified as fiction it has a heavy grounding in fact and Hemphill’s footnotes at the end of each poem paint a rich picture of the events surrounding Sylvia and what she was doing and might have been feeling throughout her life.
The story starts with Syvlia’s adoration of her father, whose shadow she might never have stepped out of in her own mine, it chronicles her through her manic highs and dangerous lows in college and her escapades with boys and her disastrous marriage and it’s eventual dissolution. The poetry is beatiful and constructed with such an economy of words as to make each word so carefully chosen and filled with meaning.
The story is so haunting that readers will find themselves so attatched to Sylvia at the end that the tragedy of her suicide is very real as though Sylvia had become a close friend.
This book would be an excellent complement to a poetry curriculum or a study of Sylvia’s writings. It would also be an excellent book to discuss the subject of relationships and suicide in a safe way with students and your children. This is a great way to get someone who might be reluctant to try poetry because the poems weave together to tell a story through many voices.
– Source for choosing this book: Booklist
– Grades 9-12
– Related Book: Rosenberg, Liz. I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness and Joy. Houghton/Graphia. 2005. Both of these books deal with poetry and with the concepts of depression and suicide.
From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—Through a series of skillfully crafted poems, Hemphill has pieced together a collage of the life and work of the American writer. Arranged chronologically from Plath’s birth to the month of her suicide, the poems are written from the points of view of people involved in her life. The voices of Plath’s mother; her poet husband, Ted Hughes; and other intimates are interspersed with those of more fleeting acquaintances, each chosen to underscore a unique aspect of the subject’s fiery life and tumultuous literary career. Hemphill rises to the challenge of capturing the life of a poet through poetry itself; the end result is a collection of verse worthy of the artist whom it portrays. Form is of paramount importance, just as it was to Plath herself. Many of the selections were created “in the style of” specific Plath poems, while others are scattered with Plath’s imagery and language. While the book will prove an apt curriculum companion to Plath’s literary works as touted on the jacket, it will also pull the next generation of readers into the myth of Sylvia Plath.
—Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
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