From the Publisher
Starred review, Kirkus Reviews, February 2007:
"[R]eaders come away with a sense ofreally knowing Plath . . . a must for any young-adult reader of poetry or Plath."
Starred review, Booklist, February 15, 2007:
"[A]n intimate, comprehensive, imaginative view of a life, which also probes the relationships between poetry and creativity, mental fragility, love, marriage, and betrayal."
Starred review, The Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2007:
"Hemphill's verse, like Plath's, is completely compelling: every word, every line, worth reading."
From the Hardcover edition.
Hemphill ambitiously undertakes a fictionalized portrait of Sylvia Plath in poems, many of them inspired by Plath's own works. Hemphill stays true to the basic framework of the poet's life, highlighting her major milestones: her childhood, college years, her hospitalization and first suicide attempt, as well as her first meeting with poet Ted Hughes—whom Plath would marry (in a poem from his viewpoint, he describes her as "Blond and tall as a magazine/ swimsuit model. I nibble/ at the whippet's neck./ Her lips fury-red, she bites/ me—teeth tearing my cheek./ I retreat, imprinted, stunned")—and her suicide ("She could not help burning herself/ From the inside out,/ Consuming herself/ Like the sun./ But the memory of her light blazes/ Our dark ceiling," Hemphill writes, in the style of Plath's poem "Child"). Accompanying each entry, the author includes footnotes with background information about the people and events alluded to in the poems. Plath committed suicide during a prolific time in her life. Her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, had just been published, and she was working furiously on a collection of poems (Ariel) which would be published posthumously. Hemphill's innovative portrait may not shed any new light on this tragic figure, but it could well act as a catalyst to introducing Plath to a new generation. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to fictionally recreate any notable historical person. To attempt to get into the mind and soul of the feminist icon poet, Sylvia Plath, through her own medium of verse, takes more than chutzpah. A grand madness would be more like it. Stephanie Hemphill has taken on the task and succeeded remarkably well. The Michael L. Printz Honor her book received does not begin justify the effort in hand. In the course of relating Plath's life (19321963) from birth to suicide, the poet Hemphill delves into the minds of Plath's parents, brother, boyfriends . . . and ultimately the erring husband himself, British poet Ted Hughes, through villanelles and even an abecedarian. Along the way, footnotes appended to the poems relate each biographical stage of Plath's life. Author's notes and a bibliography complete the approach. The end result is, indeed, amazing. Yet the portrait revealed still gives us the same Sylvia Plath: brilliance under a cloud of depression that leads to the oven, sadly. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
One can only be in awe of an author who decides to write the story of Sylvia Plath's life "based on real events" but fictionalized in poems. As the author makes clear in her first poem, Plath is a towering figure in modern poetry, a moon among lesser stars, perhaps even the sun itself; thus, to imitate Plath's form to tell her story could be bold-hearted courage, the sincerest form of flattery, or foolhardiness; perhaps all three by turns. Writing such a book is certainly a way to explore Plath's journey and the meanings behind her poems. The different poems are written from the points of view of future readers, and people who knew her: relatives, neighbors, teachers, doctors, bosses, friends, and lovers. Each poem is presumably based on some fragment of knowledge at least partially documented. The end result is a portrait of a complex woman misunderstood by most of those around her, beset by the customary requirements of beautiful women in the 1950s; a genius, abandoned by the man she obsessively loved after previously cutting a swath through the hearts of any number of would-be swains. One wonders what Plath's children think of all this mythologizing of their mother. Yet, Hemphill is clearly fascinated by the mysteries of Plath's life and poetry. Her own poetry about Plath is certainly more accessible than Plath's poems about Plath. This may be an excellent book to interest young women in poetry, particularly confessional poetry, and in questions of perception raised by the author's use of many voices to tell Plath's story.
VOYA - Lucy Schall
Distinct, skillfully crafted character voices portray brilliant and beautiful Sylvia Plath, torn apart by her public ambitions, private life, and personal demons. "Drawing on both Plath's writing and nonfiction sources, each poem conveys an experience in the author's life told from the perspective of one of her family members, friends, fellow writers," or acquaintances. Hemphill includes a prose explanation of each poem's factual base. Burdened with guilt over her father's death when she is eight, Plath obsessively strives to prove her worth. She is never too thin, too popular, or too accomplished. Her drive and talent win scholarships to Smith and Cambridge but also require her to seek psychiatric help. Rejecting many suitors, she marries Ted Hughes, a British poet to whom she subordinates her work. After two children, Plath divorces her husband when he finds another woman. His rejection consumes her. Her failure as the perfect wife and mother drives her to suicide at thirty-one. In an absorbing and informative portrait, Hemphill leads readers to Plath's work through specific citations and sometimes uses the form and tone of other Plath poems to create the voices. Hemphill's concluding letter to the reader describes the journaling technique she used to write the text, and her last source note cites http://www.sylviaplathforum.com as an excellent site for research. Hemphill will immerse the mature student and many adults in Plath's life and work and motivate them to learn more about Plath and other poets.
School Library Journal
Gr 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 MazaCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.