School Library Journal (03/01/2007):
Gr 8 UpThrough a series of skillfully crafted poems, Hemphill has pieced together a collage of the life and work of the American writer. Arranged chronologically from Plath's birth to the month of her suicide, the poems are written from the points of view of people involved in her life. The voices of Plath's mother; her poet husband, Ted Hughes; and other intimates are interspersed with those of more fleeting acquaintances, each chosen to underscore a unique aspect of the subject's fiery life and tumultuous literary career. Hemphill rises to the challenge of capturing the life of a poet through poetry itself; the end result is a collection of verse worthy of the artist whom it portrays. Form is of paramount importance, just as it was to Plath herself. Many of the selections were created "in the style of" specific Plath poems, while others are scattered with Plath's imagery and language. While the book will prove an apt curriculum companion to Plath's literary works as touted on the jacket, it will also pull the next generation of readers into the myth of Sylvia Plath."Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT" Copyright 2007 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Publishers Weekly (03/19/2007):
Hemphill ambitiously undertakes a fictionalized portrait of Sylvia Plath in poems, many of them inspired by Plath's own works. Hemphill stays true to the basic framework of the poet's life, highlighting her major milestones: her childhood, college years, her hospitalization and first suicide attempt, as well as her first meeting with poet Ted Hugheswhom Plath would marry (in a poem from his viewpoint, he describes her as "Blond and tall as a magazine/ swimsuit model. I nibble/ at the whippet's neck./ Her lips fury-red, she bites/ meteeth tearing my cheek./ I retreat, imprinted, stunned")and her suicide ("She could not help burning herself/ From the inside out, / Consuming herself/ Like the sun./ But the memory of her light blazes/ Our dark ceiling," Hemphill writes, in the style of Plath's poem "Child"). Accompanying each entry, the author includes footnotes with background information about the people and events alluded to in the poems. Plath committed suicide during a prolific time in her life. Her autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar", had just been published, and she was working furiously on a collection of poems ("Ariel") which would be published posthumously. Hemphill's innovative portrait may not shed any new light on this tragic figure, but it could well act as a catalyst to introducing Plath to a new generation. Ages 12-up. "(Mar.)" Copyright 2007 Publishers Weekly Used with permission.
As in Margarita Engle's " The Poet Slave of Cuba" (2006), this ambitious portrait uses poetry to illuminate the facts of a famous life, in this case, Sylvia Plath's. Although classified as fiction, the book draws from numerous nonfiction sources, including biographies and Plath's journals and letters, and each poem is accompanied by footnotes grounding Hemphill's imagined scenes within the facts. Rather than write in Plath's voice, Hemphill channels the voices of those who knew the poet in chronologically arranged poems, written from the perspective of family members, friends, colleagus, even Plath's doctor. Plath's own voice is evident in the poetic forms, though, with many of the poems written "in the style of" specific works. The result is an intimate, comprehensive, imaginative view of a life that also probes the relationships between poetry and creativity, mental fragility, love, marriage, and betrayal. Some readers may be slowed by the many poems that chronicle the bitter dissolution of Plath's marriage, and readers who know the Plath poems Hemphill references will have an advantage. But Plath's dramatic genius and personal struggles, particularly the difficulties of reconciling the writing life with the roles of wife and mother, have long attracted teen interest, and this accomplished, creative story may ignite new interest in Plath's original works. A bibliography of sources is appended.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2007, American Library Association.)
Horn Book Magazine (03/01/2007):
Like legions of teenage girls, author Hemphill identified with the brilliant, beautiful, vulnerable, incandescent Sylvia Plath. In this fictionalized biography in verse, Hemphill channels that Sylvia, the romantic version teenage girls want: the one who gets both her art and the "big, dark, hunky boy" (as Plath described poet Ted Hughes in her diary). Things don't work out that way, as everyone knows, and the story ends tragically, with Plath gassing herself in her oven with her children asleep in the next room. Hemphill's verse possesses the same crystalline clarity as Plath's, the same relentless attempt to get to the heart of the matter-with all the words exactly right. The majority of the poems here (about one hundred and fifty) are putatively composed by the people who knew Plath: her mother, her brother, her friends, her many boyfriends, her teachers and professors, her editors, her psychiatrists, her doctors, her husband, her neighbors, the nannies who worked for her, her literary friends. The remainder of the poems are identified as Hemphill herself "Imagining Sylvia Plath." Overall, the effect is palimpsestic, a layering of voices: Hemphill writing Plath writing the characters. Almost surprisingly, the whole thing works. Like Plath, she is metrically adept and able to handle, elegantly, a range of verse forms, including the villanelle and sonnet. She also possesses Plath's eye for figurative language, transforming homely, domestic images into startling metaphors and similes, as in a poem by "Aurelia" (Plath's mother), who writes that "without poetry she [Sylvia] would crumble / like a dried-out lemon cake, / stale and inedible." This poem prefigures a later one in which a lemon cake cooling on the counter ominously suggests the crumbling Hughes-Plath household. At the end of each poem, a prose footnote identifies the incident or source or person-but there is no sense that Hemphill's version is any "truer" than others. Factual truth isn't the point anyway. Hemphill's verse, like Plath's, is completely compelling: every word, every line, worth reading.(Copyright 2007 by The Horn Book, Incorporated, Boston. All rights reserved.)
Stephanie Hemphill lives in Los Angeles, California.
Starred review, Kirkus Reviews, February 2007:
"[R]eaders come away with a sense ofreally knowing Plath . . . a must for any young-adult reader of poetry or Plath."
Starred review, Booklist, February 15, 2007:
"[A]n intimate, comprehensive, imaginative view of a life, which also probes the relationships between poetry and creativity, mental fragility, love, marriage, and betrayal."
Starred review, The Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2007