From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up–Hemphill's ability to plumb the depths of an author's pain and despair is evident in this examination of the life of Mary Shelley, best known as the author of Frankenstein and wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. This present-tense novel in verse provides an intimate glimpse into Mary's life. In addition to pondering questions of life and death, Hemphill explores morality, fidelity, creation, and pain. Mary's personal life reads like a soap opera. At age 16, she meets Percy and months later they elope, abandoning his pregnant wife, Harriet. The couple lives throughout Europe and, following Harriet's suicide, eventually marry. Mary's life is filled with emotionally scarring events, including the deaths of her mother, sister, and children, which she feels “like a thousand knives/have been thrust upon me.” She also struggles with Percy's flirtations with her stepsister and with her complicated relationship with Lord Byron. Her tempestuous life becomes a catalyst for her writing. “My protagonist, Victor Frankenstein,/builds his creature of graveyard parts/before he sets out to animate it/through science. I construct/my characters beginning with people/I know and then add/or rearrange other aspects of personality/to fit my plot.” Readers will identify the parallels between the creation of a monster and the creation of her famous book.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NYα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Few stories-behind-the-story get retold as much as the writing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but the ever-reliable free-verse poet Hemphill, author of the Printz Honor Book Your Own, Sylvia (2007), manages to plumb from it her own vein of riches. For starters, Hemphill does not obsess upon the novel, instead letting it rest as a distant metaphor. Instead, she tracks Mary’s young life—and a tumultuous life it is, as she suffers multiple dead children, affairs, suicides, and deaths. First and foremost, this is a chronicle of Mary’s stormy long affair with the married poet Percy Shelley as they, often with the infamous Lord Byron and Mary’s jealous stepsister Claire in tow, outrun scandal across Europe. The girlish accessibility of the prose subtly transforms to something darker and more mature, with Hemphill’s restraint her finest quality, whether speaking about art or sex or death: “We both know / that sorrow cannot be measured / by the size of a little one’s shoe.” This is, as intended, an ideal companion piece for teens studying the original classic. Grades 7-12. --Daniel Kraus