Your Own, Sylvia: a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath, by Stephanie Hemphill

Your Own, Sylvia: a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill tells the story of the poet through a series of poems written from the points of view of different people who knew her. These poems, along with the footnotes than explain each, work together to create a compelling portrait as well as a compelling story. The book becomes harder to put down the further you read.

I was reluctant to get into Your Own, Sylvia at first. I am unfamiliar with Plath’s poetry though I am a big fan of The Bell Jar. (It’s my view that it is far better than it’s male cousin The Catcher in the Rye and would be in every high school English class in the land if you could somehow take all of the sex out.) However, I am suspicious of both verse novels and novels with multiple points of view. There are many excellent examples out there, but I’ve never known a young reader to seek them out. Even when I point out that they could read them in an hour because there are so few words in them, my students are very reluctant to pick them up. I am also not a member of the Plath cult. Ms. Hemphill appears to place much of the blame for Plath’s suicide on her husband Ted Hughes, which is a common position. I place it on her mental illness, no where else.

With all of that said, I did enjoy Your Own, Sylvia. What made it work for me was the way the footnotes played off of the poems. The background for each poem is given in footnotes following the poem. This information comments on the poem preceding it and informs the poems that follow building an interesting and complicated portrait of Sylvia Plath. The story told is quite effective.


I first ran this review on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. in 2008.  I’m slowly moving all of my old reviews over to this new blog. It’s going to take some time.

Since publishing this review, I’ve found a book in verse that my students love, Sharkgirl by Kelly Bingham.  Since I added it to my classroom book clubs it’s been making the rounds.  I will say that I had to push it on my students to convince them to read a book written in poems.  They didn’t want to, but once they got started, they’ve all enjoyed the book.  

3 thoughts on “Your Own, Sylvia: a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath, by Stephanie Hemphill

  1. I think I’d enjoy everything about this one but the created point of view–Ted Hughes is such an easy (and at this point almost a routine) target.
    My daughter (who is not a typical reader) loved verse novels when she was middle-school aged. She got started with Out of the Dust, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies (the last mostly for the title; said it wasn’t as good as the first one she read by that author).

  2. I knew someone was reading all those verse books since there are so many of them. Honestly, though, my 7th graders turn their noses up at them every time. Once I make them read one, they sometimes really like them.

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