Your Own, Sylvia
Hemphill, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia: a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
Grade Level: 10-12
Your Own, Sylvia is an intriguing weave of poetry and biography. The poetry itself was largely based on the form of some of Sylvia Plath’s poems, adding another dynamic to the story of Sylvia Plath’s life. However, the poems are Hemphill’s poems. The one major problem with the book is that if you do not know much about Sylvia Plath or are unfamiliar with her poems, some things can be truly lost in the reading. The book itself does, however, make you want to know more about the woman. The story of Sylvia Plath is not necessarily a happy one, and the outcome of a life that might have been saved by just one person taking more notice cannot be lost on readers of this particular book. This particular aspect of the book can help teenagers to perhaps question what they could do or not do to help one another. One does never know what that weird girl in the back of the classroom could do with her life, if only one person would smile at her. The sense that just one person could have perhaps saved the life of a troubled person is strong in Your Own, Sylvia.
To introduce this particular biography of Sylvia Plath, one would first have to introduce Sylvia Plath. What about her poetry can speak to you? It may even be of benefit to choose the poems in Hemphill’s book that are specifically mirroring certain Plath poems, reading them side by side to a class, to get a sense of both person and poetry. This type of book is highly conducive to teaching teens about poetry and specifically about Sylvia Plath poetry in a high school English class. Although Plath’s life ended in suicide, which can be a difficult topic in High School, the book isn’t about her death, but really about her real life—what in her life really drove her, and that allows another level of insight into the woman’s poetry.