So Shelly by Ty Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thought this was amazing, ok?
I had been excited for this one for a while, ever since I read this blog post from in which a girl reads that stoked my interest. "So Shelly" is a modernized, fictionalized story based loosely, but respectfully, on the lives of second wave Romantic movement poets, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley. So when my library system finally got a copy, I immediately placed a hold on it. I happened to pick it up coincidentally during the time I was studying the Romantics in my World Lit II class. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
The way Roth managed to stuff Keats, Byron, and Shelley in a time machine and flash them forward two hundred years and plop teen versions of them down in a beautiful little Lake Erie community was absolutely fantastic. (Of course, there is need for a bit of willful suspension of disbelief here, but the book is so expertly done, you'll be happy to oblige.)
The story is narrated by John Keats, an onlooker and rare participant of all the life going on around him. Much of the action is given to charismatic, scene-stealing Gordon, Shelly's next-door neighbor and BFFL. The story jumps backwards and forwards trying to piece together the sordid details of deceased Shelly's life, while trying to carry out her final wish, of which Keats and Gordon each half only part of the puzzle. There's actually little of Shelly here, and even less of our narrator. At one point near the end of the book, Keats laments that so much of Shelly's story is dominated by Gordon. But his character is so compelling, you hate yourself for even minding.
There's loads of magnificent writing, some beautifully poetic turns of phrases. This novel was written by someone whose life is clearly saturated by the literature he teaches, and is madly in love with it. And now, so am I. It's uncanny how well these three literary figures lend characters to a modern high school scene. I found myself retrospectively relating to odd duck Shelly and the quietly observant Keats.
There's quite a number of shocking and scandalous moments here, the kind of stuff that teens lap up. This is definitely a read for more mature teen readers, though not because of the sexual content. This is an intelligent, philosophical novel about death, but even more about life. And not every teen is ready to shed their invincibility delusions and actually start living the way Keats (both the fictionalized one we get here, if not the real one) manages to do.
View all my reviews