So Shelly - Review


So Shelly by Ty Roth
Publication date: 8 February, 2011 from Delacorte Books for Young Readers
ISBN 10/13: 0385739583 / 9780385739580

Category: Young Adult Realistic
Format: Hardcover
Keywords: Contemporary, historical fiction, sex, death



Until now, high school junior John Keats has only tiptoed near the edges of the vortex that is schoolmate and literary prodigy, Gordon Byron. That is, until their mutual friend, Shelly, drowns in a sailing accident.

After stealing Shelly's ashes from her wake at Trinity Catholic High School, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie island where Shelly's body had washed ashore and to where she wished to be returned. It would be one last "so Shelly" romantic quest. At least that's what they think.

As they navigate around the obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly's and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her tragic and premature end.

How I found out about this book: Alethea picked up the ARC at ALA Midwinter in San Diego, having lusted after the cover.

Alethea's review: I don't know what I was expecting from a novel that's essentially a present-day retelling of the lives of three (or rather, four--Shelly is a composite of two Shelleys--Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe) of the most talented but messed-up people to ever grace the pages of literature. There are a ton of things in the novel that most mainstream YA readers won't like. It's chock-full of sex (specifically incest, rape, and molestation), obsession, and grief. There is, at one point, a murder in which one of the three main characters figures prominently, yet doesn't seem to undergo any emotional change, other than to remove himself from the situation. The thing is, they're in the book because they reportedly happened to their real-life counterparts, not just to titillate.

I'm not saying the novel is without merit. The characters are engaging, though they skew more towards cautionary-tale rather than model-citizen. Keats is a sympathetic narrator and the most relatable of the three. Shelly and Gordon have the tendency to go off the deep end--in massive ways, especially since they are spectacularly privileged (Shelly having been born rich; Gordon having the pedigree but restoring family fortune by writing an Eragon-type novel at a very young age). Never before has the lack of parental supervision been so blatantly exploited as in the love-polygon of Shelly chasing Gordon, and Gordon chasing every other woman who isn't her, including various of his relatives, caretakers, and best-friend's-stepsisters.

While the novel does a great job of capturing the spirit of Romanticism and retelling, piece by sordid piece, the lives of three great writers, So Shelly would best be enjoyed by those who can appreciate--or maybe tolerate--erotica and shameless depravity. Ultimately the themes of friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness provide some redemption to this tale, though not much. I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to--it was overpoweringly depressing--and I'd much rather give Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita a re-read than poke my nose between these pages again.

So Shelly is Ty Roth's debut YA novel. Visit the author at and follow @tyrothauthor on Twitter.

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