Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Your Own, Sylvia

Your Own, Sylvia
By Stephanie Hemphill
Published 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

This book was on my radar long before my obsession with verse novels - most likely a result of every teen girl's obsession with Sylvia Plath. So I was delighted to find it on my library shelves and happily brought it home (even though I really should be reading all those books sitting in my living room).

Hemphill presents a portrait of Sylvia Plath in the form of poems, written by those closest to her throughout her life. Hemphill also crafts a few poems with no particular narrator that are written in the style of several of Plath's own poems. I expected to like this book because I am very much into verse novels, as well as non-traditional biographies (though this is certainly not a strict biography, much of it is based on truth). What I didn't expect was how extraordinarily well-written it would be. Hemphill has a beautiful way with words and, often, her poetry in this volume is easily as tremendous as Plath's. I loved the great variety of narrators that Hemphill chose for this story, from the clearly significant (Sylvia's mother, brother, Ted Hughes) to the more casual acquaintance (a number of boyfriends, mothers she nannied for, etc.). It really creates a comprehensive picture of Plath that I think many people are lacking. My main complaint about this novel would have been the biographical notes at the bottom of each page. While they are clearly they to put each poem in context (most usually by explaining who the narrator is and their relationship with Sylvia), for me, they too often broke the flow of the poetry and disrupted my reading of Sylvia's narrative. I would have liked this information better if it came in the form of an appendix at the end of the book and left the main text's focus on the poetry. I think this is a must-read for any Plath fan and I absolutely can't wait to read more of Hemphill's work, as this poetry was exquisite, reminding me why I used to love poetry so much.

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