Romanticism for Teenagers: So Shelly by Ty Roth

Romantic poets have regaled readers with their enchanting words for ages. But I think that some of their most intriguing stories are the ones they don’t tell- the ones about the lives that these poets led outside of their poetry.

Ty Roth’s novel, So Shelly, takes the lives of the Shelley, Byron and Keats and recreates them as modern day teenagers living on the shores of Lake Erie.

Narrated by one John Keats, a quietly talented writer preoccupied with his inevitable and looming death, So Shelly follows the romantic adventure that Keats finds himself amidst, along side George Gordon Byron, or more simply, Gordon. Held up on the highest pedestal that I’ve ever heard of is Gordon Byron, a young, fit, talented and too-beautiful-for-his-own-good teenaged writing prodigy. Keats has never come anywhere close to understanding the tsunami that is Gordon. That is, until the death of their mutual friend Michelle “Shelly” Shelley, who suddenly dies on a mysterious boating accident.

In an effort to grant Shelly’s last wishes, Keats and Gordon steal her ashes and begin their journey to the island on Lake Erie where she passed away. All at once, Keats dives head first into secrets of Shelley’s uncommon and sometimes scary past. He learns things about Shelley that only Gordon knows, while Gordon learns things that only Keats knows.  Together, they attempt to piece together the broken fragments of Shelly’s short life, all the while trying to make sense of it.

If I were to see this book sitting on a shelf at a bookstore, I almost certainly would not have picked it up. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (which I try very hard not to do) but, alas, my subconscious is unaware of this bookish rule. Anyways, I probably would not have chosen it, but thank God for Amazon because I am oh so glad I did.

So Shelly is one of those keen reads that makes you think a lot about what you are reading and its implications. It is not exactly easy to read, like many Young Adult novels. Rather, it challenges you to think about family and life, and how nothing is always easy. It opened up my mind to beautiful things, and to awful things. But that’s what life is made up of, right? The Beautiful and the Awful and everything in between. So it wasn’t always fun to read, but it was important and essential. Sometimes you can read a book and absorb it without thinking too much. It’s simple, in that way. This is not that book. You have to think, and contemplate, and remember, and figure things out. So much thinking.

And that is why I love it! It forces you outside of your thinking comfort zone, making you confront aggressive topics that the average teenager shouldn’t have to face, but sometimes must.

The characters are both attractive and upsetting, and it’s hard to decide whether or not you like them. The story is constant and always developing and full of surprises and twists. So Shelly lacks the lightheartedness of some Young Adult novels, but it more than makes up for it due to the precise and beautiful storytelling and the intriguing journey of its characters. While Keats and Gordon strive to discover more about Shelley and themselves, you learn about yourself.

And I think that’s what reading a book should be about. It should be about discovering who you are.

7 out of 10 stars.