Review: Your Own, Sylvia – Stephanie Hemphill

your own sylvia

Title: Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath
Author: Stephanie Hemphill
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 13, 2007
Source/Format: Library / Hardcover, 272 pages
Opening Sentence: “Who are you, Sylvia Plath?”
Author Website* | Goodreads | Amazon

On a bleak February day in 1963 a young American poet died by her own hand, and passed into a myth that has since imprinted itself on the hearts and minds of millions. She was and is Sylvia Plath and Your Own, Sylvia is a portrait of her life, told in poems.

With photos and an extensive list of facts and sources to round out the reading experience, Your Own, Sylvia is a great curriculum companion to Plath’s The Bell Jar and Ariel, a welcoming introduction for newcomers, and an unflinching valentine for the devoted.

I’m not the biggest poetry fan in the world. I would go as far to say sometimes I loathe it. I like things that get to the point, and poetry tends to beat around the bush. I love to try and convince myself I like poetry, though. I often get books of poetry from the library, take a couple looks at them, and then turn them in again without reading more than a few poems.
I picked up this book of poetry because it’s about Sylvia Plath and her life. I’m a fan of Plath’s works (to an extent), but I love even more to read about her life, short as it may have been. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this particular collection.

I’ll say right now that this book pleasantly surprised me. It’s made up of a series of poems, in the point of view of various people from Plath’s life, that come together to document her entire life from beginning to bitter end. The poems themselves were nice to read. They weren’t trying too hard to be poetic, yet they were “pretty”, as many poems are… and got down to the nitty-gritties without too much fuss about trying to make things socially acceptable. It’s a challenge to be honest and unbiased when writing about someone’s life (even your own) and I really think Hemphill did it effortlessly.

Most of the poems were accompanied by footnotes with additional information, which I really loved. Also, I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives. I don’t think this book would have worked if it were from the perspective of just one or two people. There’s an array of people such as family, friends, doctors, et cetera. It really gave variety and a large scope of opinions.

While I have many good things to say about this book I do have one rather large bone to pick with the author and publisher. I’m absolutely confused by the genre of the book. Is it Fiction or Non-Fiction? It’s officially published as Non-Fiction because it’s about real events, but the author (in her letter to readers) says it’s Fiction. I’m torn as to what to label it, because while it is about real events, the author stood in as the people in Sylvia’s life. How can something be Non-Fiction when the words were never really said by the people in the story? Anyway, since it’s published as Non-Fiction I’ll label it as such.

Aside from the genre problem I’m very fond of this book. (Honestly, the genre doesn’t make that much of a difference.) It was interesting to read and presented Sylvia Plath’s life in such a way that gave the full story without a bunch of fluff. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes poetry, Sylvia Plath, or the Non-Fiction genre. I really think it’s worth the read no matter what you like, though. I hope to own this one in the future.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

*I wasn’t able to find an author website, so I posted Hemphill’s profile from the HarperTeen website.
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