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.
Warning: Contains mild spoilers.
Are you on the fence about reading young adult (YA)? ‘So Shelly’ by Ty Roth may be the perfect introduction to the YA genre for you. On Good Reads this YA novel has a mixed bag of reviews. Some readers thought that taking three poets from the early 1800’s—George Byron, John Keats, Percy and Mary Shelly and throwing them into a modern–day setting was an epic failure. I thought it was a creative concept. I appreciate Roth’s clever turn-of-phrase and the literary devices and detail that Roth incorporated into ‘So Shelly’.
(That’s a big but)
After reading ‘So Shelly’ I had to wonder how this novel could classify as YA. There are some deeply disturbing scenarios that the three teens encounter in their lives: Rape, incest, pregnancy, abortion, death, child molestation, just to name a few. I decided to look up the definition of YA literature and this is the best description I found on The Guardian:
Writers across the board at YALC agreed that the sine qua non of YA is an adolescent protagonist, who will probably face significant difficulties and crises, and grow and develop to some degree – Patrick Ness described it as “finding boundaries and crossing them and figuring out when you end, who you are and what shape you are.” According to Matt Haig, YA is also remarkable for “blurring the boundaries” of genre and refusing to adhere to the rules of more rigidly defined literary fiction. There are YA “books that end on a hopeful note, books that end on a happy note and books that don’t”, Malorie Blackman has said, arguing for the necessity of both. And in a time when slut-shaming and body dysmorphia are endemic, and it’s especially difficult to navigate adolescence for girls, YA, according to Sarra Manning, is particularly rich in heroines, resonating with readers who feel isolated, freakish and”not good enough”.
So Shelly has:
- significant difficulties.
- blurred boundaries
- a sad ending and (kind of happy?)
So Shelly does not have:
- character growth.
- a strong female protagonist.
- admirable characters.
‘SO Shelly’ was not inspiring for young women. Shelly (the female protagonist) was a victim and was hopelessly weak because of her infatuation with the womanizer Gordon Byron. Shelly didn’t even tell her own story, ‘SO Shelly’ was narrated by her friend John Keats. The two boys, literally carried her body around throughout the entire story and only in flashbacks did Shelly retain her body and voice. Shelly had zero autonomy, she was sexualized and powerless. The only time Shelly made her voice heard was when she had an abortion and committed suicide. But her voice was drowned (no pun intended) by the two egocentric boys that dominated her life. Even in her most decisive moments she whispered rather than roared.
I appreciated Roth’s creative story plot and writing style, but I didn’t find any of the character admirable. I sympathized for them and their individual struggles, but I wouldn’t want my son to emulate any of their decisions or behaviors.
I am not a prude when it comes to reading material, but I don’t see how this book encourages teens to handle their problems in a healthy way. John Keats obsessed over death due to his family’s early demise. George Byron was molested and abused as a child and he becomes a cold-hearted misogynist. Shelly was also molested, had an abortion, and decided to kill herself. Teens that have endured these tragedies need and DESERVE better role models.’So Shelly’ demonstrated the absolute worst-case outcomes.
After reading ‘So Shelly’ I have to wonder why we even have the category YA? What makes this controversial novel any different from an “adult” novel? Is it simply because of the age of the characters?
If you have read or decide to read “So Shelly” please comment on this post. I’m very interested to hear your opinions. Even if you haven’t read the novel ‘So Shelly’ what does YA mean to you?