Why did I get it: I was curious because I like all three of the poets that the main characters get their names from. Then I learned that Roth also was pulling heavily from their lives and that notion fascinated me. And the cover is gorgeous.
How I would rate it: 3 out of 5 stars.
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.
Review: The strength of the book was also sort of its weakness. I was never quite being able to just look at the book without thinking about all of the real people that were being very heavily borrowed from. I suspect part of this is because I have read biographies about all of the characters’ namesakes as well as watched and/or read fictional accounts of their interactions, particularly those of Byron and Shelley. However, the three main teen characters were defined almost entirely by their own issues, which made them hard for me to connect to emotionally unless I thought of them as being related in some way to the real poets.
Throughout the book, I found myself wishing I cared more about the teens in of themselves. Watching their lives spiral down the drain was not very pleasant or enjoyable. I didn’t really feel like much about them ever changed or that any of them really benefitted from their friendships in any way. Keats was all but a non-character always on the outside looking in and spending most of the book stating facts about other people’s lives. Byron behaved just as badly as his namesake and constantly beat people up emotionally. Shelly was this sad girl no one looked after properly or loved the right way. I did end up liking Shelly the most out of the three, but since she was dead from the beginning, that didn’t give me anything to really look forward to as a reader.
I also did not particularly like that this is yet another book with adults turned into teens because no one thinks teens can possibly stand to read about adults. Yet the most annoying aspect of So Shelly is that it features a love triangle that isn’t really a love triangle. In order to create said pointless love triangle, Mary and Percy Shelley were lumped together into one girl instead of given their own teen characters. Shelly may be like both of them in some ways, but most aspects of her life –and some of her death– reminded me more of Percy than Mary. Over all, making Shelly a girl just seemed like such an easy way out of dealing with certain issues in a book full of other difficult choices, issues, and adult themes.
In conclusion, this book was a well-written, depressing series of unfortunate events. But the events were ones that I feel would be more interesting to read about in a historical fiction setting featuring adult characters than a modern high school setting with teen protagonists.