Book Review: Your Own, Sylvia

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath

by Stephanie Hemphill


272 pages

Genre: Poetry, Young Adult

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Your Own, Sylvia draws on Plath’s writing and extensive nonfiction sources, chronicling Hemphill’s interpretation of Plath’s life from infancy to her death by suicide at age 30. The poems are arranged chronologically and each conveys an experience in Plath’s life told via the voice and perspective of family members, friends, doctors, fellow writers, etc.—as interpreted by Hemphill. Each poem is accompanied by an addendum that further explains the factual circumstances of that poem’s subject. The book also includes an Author’s Note, some photos, a section describing the source material for each poem, and suggestions for further reading.

My Thoughts:

I found this book in a Little Library Box while at the park not too long ago.  I was only vaguely familiar with Sylvia Plath at the time. I had seen and liked a few of her quotes and poem excerpts on Facebook memes, but I had never bothered to explore any of her work, due in part mostly to laziness.

The poems in this book are not written by Sylvia Plath. They are all written by Stephanie Hemphill, from the perspectives of those who knew Plath.  As stated in the summary above, each poem is followed by a footnote which explains the factual circumstances that inspired it.  These were collected from Sylvia’s poems, journals, and interviews with those who knew her.

The poems themselves are in several different styles, many following the style of Plath herself.  I found that the different styles strengthened the idea that these poems were truly the thoughts of different people, rather than one author; and they came together beautifully to present an intimate look at the life and mind of Sylvia Plath.

Through the eyes of her mother, friends, doctors, mentors, boyfriends, and husband, Slyvia Plath’s story is mesmerizing!  It’s interesting as well in that we get a better picture of what it was like living in her era– how mental health was viewed and treated, and what a woman’s role and expectations in society were at that time.

While it is true that Sylvia Plath had issues with her mental illness well before she married Ted Hughes, it seems to me that it was her marriage that doomed her.  She began to live in her husband’s shadow and she spent more time focusing on boosting his career than her own. She even typed out a full manuscript for him. Then she had children and the role of mom and housewife made it even harder for her to focus on her work.  It was her husband’s affair that pushed her to her breaking point and led to her suicide, which is what I gather upon completing this book. I’d like to read her published journals so that I might gain more insight into that theory.

From the first poem and onward, I could not put this book down.  I felt so close to all the characters narrating each poem and of course, close to Sylvia herself, the poet that I only knew so little about in the beginning.  I found myself both cheering and weeping for Sylvia, and by the end, I felt I had lost a friend.

After reading this book, I have decided to seek out as many of Sylvia Plath’s works as possible so that I may hear from the legend herself.  This book was a great introduction to her!  It’s one that I will keep on my shelf and go back to!

Favorite Lines:

A heavy chain of guilt threatens
to pull her down at any time.

Absent as a
bear in deep winter, her mind
can’t connect, her memory appears
dead.  Her ace brain has been switched off.

She balances night.
She floats on days.
She cannot see the shift—
Her smile of light,
Her frown of haze,
She’s constantly adrift.

She breaks. She’s sick.
Throw a rope, a net.
She falls like a shot-up plane.

I must form my words
carefully. She fugues today,
lowered into a pit I recognize.

When I tell her
the summer fiction class
at Harvard id full,

she sees the transparency
of my words, that she was not

She slumps into her blanket
of inadequacy. The summer air’s
hot and foggy on the windows,

but our car ride home
rattles and freezes my bones.
Sylvia’s backseat tears icicle to her face.

Unimpressed. I say
you’re frightened to feel, create
mice where should be rats

Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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