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Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath

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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.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published March 13, 2007

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About the author

Stephanie Hemphill

9 books114 followers
Stephanie Hemphill's first novel in poems, Things Left Unsaid, was published by Hyperion in 2005 and was awarded the 2006 Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Excellence in Poetry by the Children's Literature Council of Southern California.

Her second novel, a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath, Your Own, Sylvia was published by Knopf in March 2007. A third novel in verse for teens, Wicked Girls, a verse story of the Salem witch trials, will come out from Hyperion in the spring of 2009.

Stephanie received an SCBWI Magazine Merit Award in Poetry and chaired the PEN Award's Children's Literature Committee. She has been writing, studying and presenting poetry for adults and children for many years at UCLA, the University of Illinois (where she received an award from The Academy of American Poets), with Writers at Work and at conferences across the country. Stephanie lives in Los Angeles.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 244 reviews
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.7k followers
October 25, 2010
I don't feel like this book is deserving of Printz Honor. To write about a poet's life in a form of a series of poems from POV's of people around Sylvia is an interesting exercise, but the final product itself is not satisfying. Stephanie Hemphill is just not that great of a poet. Her best poems in this book are those that are direct imitations of Plath's own works. I caught myself wanting to read Sylvia's poetry rather than Hemphill's. Other poems are written in free verse with no rhythm or rhyme and pretty much are the usual fare for reluctant readers with short attention spans rather than actual inspired poetry.

However Your Own, Sylvia is useful as an introduction to Sylvia Plath's life and work. The first part of the book is more powerful. Reading it was like reading Madness: A Bipolar Life, with all the mood swings, promiscuity, manic highs and depressing lows. The second part of the story doesn't capture Sylvia's state of mind in similar way.

My favorite part of the book is when Sylvia's psychotherapist advises her to let loose, stop repressing her sexual urges and finally do the deed - as a means of therapy. Apparently, up to that point, Plath, in spite of dating multiple men simultaneously, never went all the way. I never knew that having sex could cure mental disorders.

Anyway, what I am getting at is that while reading the book I kept thinking that I'd rather read Sylvia Plath actual biographies and poetry an not this "portrait in verse."
Profile Image for Nancy.
Author 32 books1,083 followers
July 12, 2008
This book is extraordinary. I have limited shelf space and even when I love a book, it usually goes right out the door as a gift to someone else when I'm done reading. For example - recently I adored THE HUNGER GAMES, gave it five stars here, raved about it... but as I compare my reaction to that book with my reaction to this one, well, I happily gave HUNGER GAMES away upon completion, but YOUR OWN, SYLVIA, I will keep and reread. And the book is also going to send me right back to Sylvia Plath's work and the biographies, and to Ted Hughes' work, and even to the Gwyneth Paltrow movie. Again: Extraordinary.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
584 reviews30 followers
January 10, 2008
So good. So, so, so good. I thought I would be at a disadvantage because (shame on me BA English, MS Library Science) all I knew about Sylvia Plath was that she wrote poetry, wrote something called The Bell Jar which I was fairly certain (now confirmed) was depressing, and that she killed herself. This book, however, is a great introduction into the world of Sylvia Plath.

The author took true events from Sylvia's life and wrote fictionalized accounts of them in verse (it makes sense when you see the book). There are footnotes at the end of each poem shedding some insight on the incident described or adding a odd anecodte about Plath (like she and her husband used a Ouija board to help them pick lotto numbers).

This book is a must-read for Plath virgins (such as myself) and as a companion to the seasoned Plath students.

As an aside, I find it loathesome that Sylvia's literary estate was controlled by her sister-in-law--a woman who hated Sylvia--after Sylvia's death. What is that all about? And why did it take her (estranged) husband 4 days to claim her body?
Profile Image for Bianca.
10 reviews
May 27, 2013
Being an avid reader of online discussions, articles, and interviews regarding feminism, I stumbled upon the name "Sylvia Plath" several times. Because of this, I picked up The Bell Jar as I wanted to find out more about this ever-important authoress of the 20th century. Unfortunately, I did not get far ahead into the book (I hope to be able to read it next year).
When we were assigned to read a novel written in verse in my Independent Reading Class, I noticed "Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath" , a book in poems detailing Plath's life from birth until her descent into depression and her eventual untimely death. I immediately picked it up as the name on the cover reminded me that I made it a challenge of mine to learn more about Plath.
Perhaps it was foolish of me to think this way, but for almost the entire book I thought that the people close to Sylvia wrote poems about her, and the author's name on the book was just that of a woman who compiled the poems together. As it turns out, this was obviously not the case. Stephanie Hemphill did extensive research on Plath and was able to write various poems from different perspectives (from her mother, to her neighbor, her therapist, and some of her boyfriends), all centering around Plath.
Stephanie Hemphill is definitely a talented poetess, and I find it absolutely astonishing how she was able to enter the minds of so many people who affected Sylvia, some of them who died decades ago. Although I could never fully grasp what went on inside Sylvia Plath's mind, I think that this book makes for the perfect introduction into learning more about her. I now feel more compelled than ever before to begin reading her own works.
Profile Image for Krista.
80 reviews11 followers
April 21, 2008
Written in the style of Plath's most notable work, Hemphill creates a series of original poems influenced by and chronicling the Pulitzer prize-winning poet's childhood until her untimely suicide in 1963.

Thorough research - as illustrated by the use of footnotes - illuminates the various themes and issues which arose in Plath's poetry. Hemphill avoids turning the work into a stale biography by using various individuals' point of view - those who were closest to Sylvia - as the voice for half of the poems in the volume. Similarly, each point of view has an associated, unique form of poetry (with which to identify the point of view), from traditional rhyming couplets to more abstract free verse, enabling this work for great use in the writing/literature classroom.

May be a difficult read for boys. On the other hand, the use of footnotes provide such a clear and detailed account of Sylvia's life that it makes one want to go out and continue reading about Plath's life and work - I know I went and brought The Bell Jar the following weekend! As a young female, I found the writing in the style of Plath's voice to be comforting and relatable.

Profile Image for elissa.
2,112 reviews139 followers
February 9, 2017
Whoo hoo! Today it won a Printz Honor! I just finished this last week, and if I had read this last year (a few days ago at this point) it would have definitely been on my 2007Favorites shelf! It was hard to get ahold of in libraries, though, and my hold was just filled a few days ago. Hopefully it'll win awards later this month and become more widely available (YES! It did!). It's an extremely balanced and wonderfully researched look at Plath's tumultous life. I had only read THE BELL JAR, and seen the movie SYLVIA, so I learned a lot about her life through Hemphill's poems. I've never read any of Plath's poetry, and this biography in poems has definitely convinced me that I need to read some of Plath's actual poetry. I already picked up the 2 books of her poems that were available at the only close by library that's open on Sunday (THE COLOSSUS and WINTER TREES), so Hemphill's thought that this book will be a stepping-stone worked well for me.
Profile Image for Shannon.
482 reviews57 followers
May 6, 2013
This was a very unique book and I absolutely loved it! I thought she did an excellent job with the poems and I really enjoyed learning some new things about Sylvia.

The one thing that irks me, and it has nothing to do with the actual book itself, is that it is listed as young adult. Why the hell is it listed like that? To me a book that is listed YA means that it is more geared towards that age group. As an adult I tend to stay away from YA books, but I see absolutely no reason why this one should be listed as such. I'm all about introducing Sylvia to the younger generations, but I almost missed this book because of the misleading YA label. If this book had been put in its proper place at the library, I never would have found it. A big thank you to the mysterious librarian that got it wrong.
Profile Image for Kristen M. .
318 reviews23 followers
December 4, 2020
This author really adored Sylvia Plath and created this biographical verse novel in homage to Plath's work. I loved that on each page the author used a sort of 'footnote' to delineate who was talking: one of her many friends or boyfriends, her mother, her husband. etc.

The research that went into this must have been gargantuan - as the author consulted all of the known Plath archives at Smith College and other institutions in addition to Plath's journals, personal letters and other unpublished works.

Plath did publicly suffer from known mental health issues as a young college student - but the nature of her breakdown in London at the end of 1962-63 due to the end of her marriage and discovery of her husband's affair - was particularly sad.

Post-partum depression was likely not a confirmed malady in the early 60s. If she just had a break, some sleep, or some help with her very small children, I'd like to think she might have made it. I wish that anyone suffering like that could envision a future that might get better. Sadly, she did not and committed suicide in February 1963.
Profile Image for Kate Stericker.
195 reviews10 followers
September 17, 2017
The element of Your Own, Sylvia which I appreciated the most was its accessibility. Each poem is contextualized with a date and narrator at the beginning and followed by an author's note explaining details of Plath's life relevant to the poem. Particularly after reading Wintering, a prose novel about Sylvia Plath which relies on the reader to interpret complex allusions based on their previous knowledge of her life, it was refreshing to have the author guide me through this collection. It also greatly enriched the experience, since Hemphill's research is thorough and insightful--if you're interested in learning about Sylvia Plath but don't want to read a straight biography, I'd definitely recommend checking out this book.

Another highlight of this book is the poetry itself. I often find that the poetry in verse novels reads like prose with line breaks, but Hemphill's use of imagery and form clearly reveals her background as a poet. Although this book is not something I would normally read, I was very impressed overall.
Profile Image for Jade Malone.
5 reviews
November 24, 2019
“Your own, Sylvia” was a beautifully written book. I really enjoyed each poem for the language was great and it was interesting to learn about her life through different people in her life’s perspectives as it helped craft my own image of her. I hadn’t heard of Sylvia Plath until I saw this book and found the cover page interesting and that’s why I picked it up. But overall, the book could get a little boring as parts of Sylvia’s life seemed to move slowly but the rest was interesting. A couple major themes I noticed were ‘depression’ and ‘love’ throughout the book. My final rating is a four because I enjoyed reading this book a lot!
Profile Image for Beth.
3,295 reviews14 followers
October 5, 2020
This was interesting and a great idea, but here is my deep dark secret: I haven't read much Sylvia Plath. And I feel bad about it. So this book was a constant shaking finger at my English major gaps.

I bet it would be a great book to give the right teenagers though. And I enjoyed learning a lot about the poet, and being glad my college aged kids don't seem to know many women like her, because it would be exhausting.
Profile Image for Sarah.
75 reviews2 followers
August 2, 2014
I found nothing impressive in this collection. I'll admit that I learned stuff about Sylvia Plath and her family, but those things I read in the lengthy footnotes which explain every little thing so that every ounce of ambiguity would be flushed down the toilet. This isn't a poetry collection or even an insightful point of view--it's an essay written by a die-hard fan.

The poems themselves are dull, uncreative, and contrived. They were all one style save for the poems that are "imagining Sylvia Plath in the style of" Plath's masterpieces. The points of view are cliche and, again, utterly contrived. What I learned from reading Hemphill poems I could have also learned from a biography. Actually, I could have gained more insightful information that way--I can't remember why I picked this one up instead of a biography. Must have been the short length that I found attractive. And the (undeserved) "Printz Honor" label.

Generally, Stephanie Hemphill is not a great poet. Some of the poems I liked because they were OK compared to the rest, a couple I really liked as poems alone--however, overall I can see that her point of view/interpretations don't go far below the surface. They aren't strictly shallow, but boy are they shallow--compared to every other award-winning poet out there.

Throughout this collection I noticed some mistakes, or things that just didn't work/make sense structure-wise. For example, in "Crocketteer", Sylvia's high school English teacher quotes himself. In this poem Hemphill uses an actual quote:

Note at the end of the poem: "Mr. Crockett...told his class in October 1947 after reading some of Sylvia's poems aloud that she possessed a "natural, lyrical gift."

The poem itself:

Sylvia possesses
a "natural lyrical gift."

She radiates, uranium strong,
when exposed to philosophy, literature.

It makes sense to quote him in the note because, well, the author didn't say that thing. But in a poem written in that person's p.o.v. why would he need to be quoted if he's the one speaking? I saw a lot of this and, well, it made the poem even less convincing than they already were.

The whole time I imagined their voices being imitated aloud by the author, Ms. Stephanie making her own deeper to read this one, trying to look all serious and cynical like a 50s high school teacher. Or what she thinks he sounded like based on her "extensive research" and such. Honestly, I find Hemphill hard to believe. Anybody could have done better. Okay, not me, not everybody, but SEVERAL PEOPLE COULD HAVE DONE BETTER. I can go on and on, describe every eye roll, every agressive page flip, but now enough anger has resurfaced to make me speechless.
493 reviews16 followers
June 19, 2016
An interesting and engaging exploration of the life of Sylvia Plath. I did not find the Hemphill's verse sparkled as much in this as in some of her other work, but it was readable and interesting. A good example is "Sylvia", spoken by Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes's mistress for the last part of Ted and Sylvia's marriage:
She is poetry,
that mother of language,
and I am a Gypsy,
wandering, thieving what I fancy.

She is cunning
like an old watchdog,
she sees the scene
without being present.
I am experienced.
I have thrown my nightgown
over more than one man's head.
The best poems in the book are probably the "Imagining Sylvia" pieces, each of which is taken after a particular one of Plath's own poems, and placed and dated according to the date on which she wrote the poem that Hemphill is using as inspiration. The book is well-researched, with notes on the sources for each poem at the end of the book, a note of the factual information around each poem immediately following the poem, and a complete bibliography with all of Hemphill's sources, including information on all of Plath's own published work, and suggested further reading for readers who are interested in Sylvia Plath's work and life. This is particularly useful given Hemphill's stated purpose for writing Your Own, Sylvia, which is to provide an interesting look at her life and spur interest in the readers of this book to embark upon or revisit Plath's work and work about her. While not remarkable, Your Own, Sylvia is an engaging and enjoyable novelization of Plath's life and reveals a deep respect and love for Plath and her work in Stephanie Hemphill and this book.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 15 books837 followers
January 14, 2016
I have loved Sylvia Plath since I read Ariel and The Bell Jar in high school. This book of poems illustrates Sylvia's short life from various perspectives - her mother, brother, and husband, as well as various ex-boyfriends, roommates, friends, neighbors, therapists, and more. It gave a totally different image of Sylvia than I had imagined, but I suppose I imagined her in more of a psychoanalytic light and never imagined that others might have viewed her as some kind of beautiful celebrity in her time. I had read some of Sylvia's journal entries and letters (the ones included in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary Excerpts) but because those came from Sylvia's perspective, I never got the outsider's view of her. It made her death even more tragic, because it seems in her time she shone bright but then would hit these bouts of depression. I had no idea that Ted Hughes controlled so much information about her posthumously which is really unfortunate.

The poems echoed Sylvia's style well, and I felt it was a fitting tribute, although I don't know that the poems could have stood alone without the biographical notes on each page.
Profile Image for Cait Lackey.
27 reviews
April 5, 2012
"Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath" was written in a format that I had never really experienced before. Sylvia Plath is an author and writer that I am familiar with and Stephanie Hemphill created a fictional biography through this book that I think describes Plath's life and family in a very interesting way. I have always liked Sylvia Plath's poetry and other works, and I thought that "Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse.." was written in a poetic style that complemented Plath's own writing style that also provided historical information about the author and information on what made her who she was and the writer that she was.

As a future teacher I think that I would try and introduce this book to my class and maybe even teach it. I think the book will introduce a different style to students that maybe they haven’t be exposed to before. Also I think that it is interesting for students to learn more about the authors whose works they may have or are reading. I think this book would best suit students in 9th or 10th grade, because the format and length might appeal to students in this age range.
Profile Image for Dawn.
20 reviews2 followers
May 2, 2012
Dawn States
Sylvia Plath, beloved young adult author, poet, and dreamer is beautifully captured in this book of her life. The book is rendered in an unusual way, which befits Sylvia. Instead of a traditional biography, it is all written in poetry, some of which is designed to resemble poems that Sylvia wrote. The book has footnotes at the bottom of some of the pages to help fill in dates and facts that would not fit in the poems. This book is a great tribute to Sylvia and anyone who enjoyed her genius would appreciate this book.
A detailed account of Sylvia’s life is given, from her childhood years, to her college years, to the struggles with depression she had later. She lost her father whom she greatly admired at age eight. Sylvia was always highly competitive something that her younger brother felt keenly. Sylvia was also demanding of herself, often pushing herself until the point of collapse. The book follows Sylvia throughout all the stages of her life, and deals with delicately her eventual complete collapse. Heart-rending, full of life, love, and loss, Sylvia will always shine on.
Profile Image for Jess.
2,477 reviews69 followers
December 22, 2007
I tend to be skeptical of novels-in-verse, or in this case, biography-in-verse, but I'm not sure why since I always end up enjoying them. Well, saying I enjoyed this would be a bit of a stretch, but it was a fascinating read and easy to get swept up in. I came out the other side feeling incredibly sane and healthy and happy, but thinking a bit about what makes people turn out the way they do and how writing intersects with life. There's a great section at the end on the author's process of writing the poems and researching Plath's life, and throughout the book footnotes give context for each poem and round out the portrait of the poet. This would be a great choice for fans of Plath, for young adults fascinated with darker writing and poetry, and for those of us who are interested in how a story like this can be pieced together.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
49 reviews
April 9, 2012
Gabrielle Bolland


Your Own, Sylvia, is a collection of poetry written by Sylvia Plath and those who knew her. The poems were haunting, and sad. Her life was always one of sadness and great trials. Poems from her parents, teachers, friends, and old boy friends give an insight to what others thought of Sylvia. There are even some poems from her husband. With each poem the reader is shown another layer of Sylvia and stepping one-step closer to her death. There’s a bittersweet feeling about all of the poems, they drag you in and pull you down. Read them on a bright, sunny day, so they don’t bring you too down.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,203 reviews68 followers
May 18, 2009
I listened to the audiobook.

And I think I liked it more this way. It's multivoiced, with different readers reading the in-between and the poems add a texture. Having just read The Bell Jar, it was interesting getting some context.

Poor Sylvia! It would be interesting to know how different her life would be in a different time, but then we didn't save David Foster Wallace either.

I know want to see thaat Gwyneth Paltrow movie.

And maybe read the book to see why it was deemed Printz-worthy. :-)
Profile Image for Richie Partington.
1,102 reviews129 followers
February 25, 2019
25 April 2007 YOUR OWN, SYLVIA: A VERSE PORTRAIT OF SYLVIA PLATH by Stephanie Hemphill, Alfred A. Knopf, March 2007. ISBN: 0-385-83799-9; Lib. ISBN: 0-375-93799-6

"April 24, 2007 NEW YORK -- Julia Stiles is to star in and produce the film version of the semi-autobiographical Sylvia Plath novel 'The Bell Jar'."

All I'd previously known of Sylvia Plath was that she'd been a poet who'd written THE BELL JAR and had committed suicide. All I knew of Ted Hughes is that he wrote poems for adults that I'd never read and THE IRON GIANT which I'd really enjoyed reading. I was not aware of Plath and Hughes having been married.

I know much, much more about them now.

Dr. Ruth Barnhouse Beuscher, Sylvia's therapist
Fall 1953

"Repression cuts off
circulation like a tourniquet,
and Sylvia throbs with desire.

"I advise Sylvia to experiment,
to stop fretting over a white
wedding dress. Does this shock
the patient? Not really.
Sylvia has been slicing at her arm,
waiting for someone
to grant her permission. "A junior in college,
she may be ready for this.
'But what would Mother think?'
Sylvia snickers. She wraps a mink stole
of secrets around her shoulders,
luxuriates in playing foul
behind her mother's back.

"Perhaps when she holds back
her desires, her mind
splinters into madness, into deadwood
that we must burn away by electric shock.
I encourage her to release her idea
of the bad girl, punishable for physical contact.

"I ask her to think about herself, not her mother,
about how Sylvia represses Sylvia.
I want to tell her to do what she wants.
I need to help her to let go of her fears."

"Dr. Ruth met with Sylvia for daily psychotherapy sessions, during which Ruth explained to Sylvia her methods and techniques and why she was using them. Sylvia responded well to this sort of inclusion and respect. Dr. Barnhouse Beuscher employed fairly orthodox Freudianism, which entailed leading analysis and discussion about Sylvia's childhood. At the time of the above poem, Sylvia and Dr. Ruth met at McLean Hospital for inpatient treatment, but later they would have sessions at Dr, Beuscher's private practice. They were in contact via phone, letters, or in person every week until Sylvia's death ten years later."

Through inclusion of a book-long series of artistic images, the creators of a graphic novel provide readers with a second dimension -- a visual dimension -- to a story that is also being told with words. In those cases where the images work harmoniously with the text to create an exceptional graphic novel, the reader experiences a piece of literature that is greater in its impact than the sum of its textual and visual elements.

In crafting YOUR OWN, SYLVIA, a striking portrait of the poet who took her own life at an early age nearly half a century ago, author Stephanie Hemphill has similarly provided a second dimension. That second dimension in this case is not visual but textual.

Some may believe that Hemphill's poems, which are conveying the story on one level, constitute the second dimension that adds depth to the factual information appearing throughout the book. Others would propose that, on the contrary, the factual information is the dimension that supplements the poems which are written with the guidance of primary source materials and from the points of view of an amazingly large cast of family members, friends, colleagues, and mental health professionals who knew this a poet who, like a shooting star, burned brightly and was then gone.

What cannot be argued is that, like a graphic novel done to perfection, the author has intertwined these two integral textual dimensions of the story in a manner that makes this portrait of Sylvia Plath consistently intriguing and compelling with all the power and edge of the best tragic, contemporary verse novel.

In fact, there are events within this tale that are so horrific that it is sometimes necessary to remind oneself that they took place in the real world.

Interspersed with the poems from the various points of view are several which are co-titled "Imagining Sylvia Plath," and are each written in the style of one of Sylvia's better-known poems.

"...She blocks Ted out, the rake, her children's
Unfaithful father, invisible as the man who draws
The stage curtain, who ties up the show.
She doesn't need him
To tell her when to begin, when to end.

"Poetry taps beat after beat
From her typewriter keys.
She studies the page, astonished
At her maniac poems, buzzing real as an ear.
She cannot send them back.

"She cannot remember writing them down.
She can only remember the way
The words felt, honest as a morning moon.
And she is their creator,
Standing alone in her laurel crown.

"She escapes this way.
Her early-morning pen
Breaks the kill hours, cleanses her in blood,
Burns the wrinkles from her face.
She radiates language.

"She will not be shut up, will not be eclipsed."

Sure, at times it is like staring in fascination at a terrible accident happening in slow motion, but there is no question that YOUR OWN, SYLVIA will be responsible for bringing the words of Sylvia Plath to the attention of a new generation. It is a haunting and true story that certainly grabbed and held my attention.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

Profile Image for Erin Emily.
Author 6 books46 followers
August 28, 2015
This book was beautiful. It's one of the best YA books I've ever read, and I think provides a balanced portrayal of Sylvia for readers who find morbid fascination with her life and death. Most of the biographical or scholarly work I've read about Sylvia was written by men, so I found this to be an incredibly empathetic, creative, and honest portrayal of the writer and woman.
Profile Image for Mary.
284 reviews2 followers
February 27, 2008
I'm not a poetry buff, and I haven't read any of Slyvia Plath's poems. This book, however, has encouraged me to read some of it as well as biographies on her and to reread The Bell Jar. Why not depress myself? :)
Profile Image for Kelly A.
50 reviews5 followers
June 12, 2013
I never went through a Plath phase, even though I was the very portrait of someone who should have, with my obsession for dead artists and lifelong struggle with depression. This book makes me feel I was robbed, in a way.
Profile Image for Kelly.
308 reviews1 follower
April 29, 2008
I was drawn to Prozac Nation, Girl, Interrupted, and of course, The Bell Jar -- so this naturally suited me. Hemphill did her research (what little can be done) and wrote some great poetry.
Profile Image for The Loft.
73 reviews5 followers
January 18, 2009
This is beautifully written and offers a more balanced perspective of the poet's life than many other biographies.
967 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2017
Told through verse interpretations of the people who populated her life, the short and tumultuous life of Sylvia Plath unfolds in Stephanie Hemphill's Your Own, Sylvia. From her mother's observations of the birth of her firstborn to the boys she dated in high school, the various doctors she saw over the course of her life and her husband Ted Hughes, famous in his own right, and the observations of those around her in the twilight of her life, it is this variety of fictionalized accounts that allow the reader to meet Sylvia Plath via all the people around her throughout her life. The author also channels Plath herself, writing some poems in the style of Plath's most famous works. The author goes chronologically working from birth to death, filling in as much pertinent and relevant detail as she can create entries for, basing them on people around Plath, but fictionalizing the actual words.
I was surprised by how much the setup of this novel intrigued me. The idea of writing about the life of a poet in verse should not be revolutionary, but I was excited at the prospect of reading a book set up in this format. While much of it is fictionalized, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. I did not know much about Sylvia Plath before reading this novel and I had assumed she had a much darker persona in general based on the few facts I did know. However the author gives a more well-rounded view of Plath than I had expected. Accounts from neighbors and high school flings rounded out those from family, friends, doctors and teachers. Told in verse, there is much more that can be open to interpretation than if the novel had been written and prose and with a subject like Plath, it only seems appropriate.
When I picked up this book from the library, I did notice it was in the 800 section, meaning it was being categorized mainly as literature rather than in the 92 section which usually denotes biography. As it is mostly fictionalized yet based on true events and real people, I know it shouldn't be used as a reference text for biographical purposes such as obtaining facts. However, it would be an interesting piece for someone researching Plath to examine, especially a young adult audience. I feel that this text is more approachable than other biographies about Plath and also is more approachable than Plath's works on their own. While Hemphill's verse sometimes feels jerky and broken, overall I think the interpretation was well-rounded and provided a good introduction to Plath's life and works.
Profile Image for Kelly.
425 reviews
February 27, 2021
This novel in verse for grades 7-12 provides a portrait of the poet Sylvia Plath. The poems are arranged in chronological order, beginning with "Owning Sylvia Plath," in which a contemporary reader who feels connected to the poet (presumably Hemphill herself) asks, "Who are you, Sylvia Plath?" (line 1). Other poems follow to commemorate her birth, her achievements, her milestones and her everyday moments, and are given specific dates. Each poem is written in the imagined voices of those who knew her--family, friends and neighbors, teachers, doctors and nurses, lovers, and more.

Occasionally, the contemporary reader (again, presumably Hemphill) inserts a poem in the style of a specific Plath poem to express her feelings about the Sylvia Plath and her legacy. Four black-and-white candid photos of Sylvia are a hidden gem at the center of the book that help the reader imagine Plath, and the collection also includes footnotes and source material on Plath, demonstrating the author's research, presenting biographical context, and offering critical information about Plath's poetry.

While the book pays proper tribute to one of the most important female voices in American poetry and may pique some students' interest in Plath's life and art or in the Confessional poets, the time spent dissecting mature themes like marriage, motherhood, and male/female power dynamics may not resonate with younger readers. Still, Plath's depth of feeling and desire for success will appeal to teen readers.
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142 reviews4 followers
March 23, 2017
Really enjoyed this book. Sadly, I had no information about Sylvia Plath (other than knowing she was a poet/writer who committed suicide) and had never read any of her work. The poetry format made it accessible and an enjoyable format for a peek into who Sylvia was and what she achieved from the perspective of those who loved her and were a part of her life. The best part, however, were the annotations for each of the poems as Hemphill provided the context for each poem. This is where I really felt I learned about Plath and her experiences. I read some reviews where the reviewers didn't appreciate this component of the book, but I felt that is what made the book make sense to me -- and to the adolescent reader, as this is where the book was shelved in my public library. Immediately after reading a handful of poems, I had to find and read The Bell Jar to experience Plath's writing. If a book about an author/poet can lead me to his or her actual work, I consider that to be a success. I am not sure if an adolescent reader will enjoy this book as much as an adult, especially if the adolescent hasn't read any of Plath's work prior to this book. However, it would be a good book to use for an author study in order to get a wider view of the poet from a variety of perspectives.
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