So Shelly by Ty Roth
Loosely based on the lives of George Gordon, Lord Byron, John Keats, Mary Shelly, and Percy Shelly, this re-imagining is set in a small town in Ohio, with the main characters in high school. Narrated by Keats, who is both the observer and the minimal participant in the lives of Byron and Shelly, this novel is told in alternating chapters between the present and the past.
In the present, Byron and Keats reminisce about the life of Shelly as they fulfill her last wishes, a "romantic adventure" that is So Shelly. As they both navigate their own memories of Shelly and piece together the reasons for Shelly's tragic death, a tentative friendship is formed.
In the chapters about the past, we discover that both Byron and Shelly have very dysfunctional families. Byron grows into a pathological, egocentric, and sex-obsessed teen. Shelly (an amalgamation of Mary Shelly and her husband Percy) is more than Byron's best friend with no limitations. As they both dabble in combined and separate endeavors, their relationship never turns romantic (despite Shelly wanting otherwise). Keats observes their mutually destructive friendship from the sidelines.
Keats has his own set of problems. He's obsessed with death. As he narrates, he throws out statistics about death. His father and mother are dead, and his older brother Tom is also on his way to death's door. Keats himself will also die young, this he knows.
I picked this book up initially because of the cover, but once I started reading I was both shocked and awed by the contemporary lives of these great writers. Once you pick this book up, it will be hard to put it down. All three characters are flawed, but their flaws are what make them great. I've only read about Percy Shelly, but it's well worth reading about them all.
My favorite passage is the last in the book from Keats: "So, what I said at the beginning, I'll repeat at the end: learn to deal with the truth of dying, and you'll experience the awesomeness of living. Death and love are real. That's all I know on earth, and all I need to know."
Ages 15+ (mature content)
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (February 8, 2011)
Also available as an eBook.