Your Own, Sylvia

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Your Own, Sylvia Book Poster Image
Fictionalized bio in verse a great intro to Plath's poetry.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages
Violence

Plath commits suicide by putting her head in a gas oven.

Sex

References to sex, including rough sex that causes bleeding; an adulterous affair.

Language

"Bitch," "bastard."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cocaine nasal spray is prescribed for sinusitis; drinking, smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that poet Sylvia Plath is the subject of this fictionalized biography in verse, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature. The book recounts how Plath suffered from depression, possibly bipolar disorder, and committed suicide by putting her head in a gas oven while her young children slept in the next room. This book is highly recommended for high school and even college English and writing classes.

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What's the story?

This fictionalized biography of poet Sylvia Plath is written as a series of poems, some from the point of view of various people in her life and some in the style of Plath's own poems. Many include footnotes of factual information about her life. It includes an author's note, extensive source notes, and a few photos.

Is it any good?

This biography, written in verse, is an excellent introduction to Plath's life and work for English classes and may even hook a few skeptical students. Teens who have discovered Plath on their own will be enthralled and may be inspired to try some of their own poetry in her style.

There are a few frustrations here. The book would have benefited from a lot more photos. Also, at least some quotes, if not the full texts, of some of Plath's poems would have been welcome, though they certainly are easy enough to find elsewhere. Nonetheless, this lyrical introduction to the dramatic, all-too-brief life of a great and influential poet rewards rereading; the author uses many verse forms, layers of metaphor and voices, and subtle references to Plath's own way with language. Plath's life raises many topics worth discussing, including mental illness and its relationship to art and gender roles in the '50s and '60s. Highly recommended for high school and even college English and writing classes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Sylvia Plath's life and work. What do you think of her poetry?

  • Why has Sylvia Plath remained so famous after such a brief career? Could she have written this poetry if she had been more stable?

  • What is a fictionalized biography? What do you think of the form?

Book details

For kids who love biography and coming-of-age stories

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