Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

320p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Oct. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-185331-9.
Gr 8 Up—Hemphill's ability to plumb the depths of an author's pain and despair is evident in this examination of the life of Mary Shelley, best known as the author of Frankenstein and wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. This present-tense novel in verse provides an intimate glimpse into Mary's life. In addition to pondering questions of life and death, Hemphill explores morality, fidelity, creation, and pain. Mary's personal life reads like a soap opera. At age 16, she meets Percy and months later they elope, abandoning his pregnant wife, Harriet. The couple lives throughout Europe and, following Harriet's suicide, eventually marry. Mary's life is filled with emotionally scarring events, including the deaths of her mother, sister, and children, which she feels "like a thousand knives/have been thrust upon me." She also struggles with Percy's flirtations with her stepsister and with her complicated relationship with Lord Byron. Her tempestuous life becomes a catalyst for her writing. "My protagonist, Victor Frankenstein,/builds his creature of graveyard parts/before he sets out to animate it/through science. I construct/my characters beginning with people/I know and then add/or rearrange other aspects of personality/to fit my plot." Readers will identify the parallels between the creation of a monster and the creation of her famous book.—Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
The years of Mary Godwin Shelley's relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley were full of drama, not least of which involved the writing of Mary's most famous story, Frankenstein. In this first-person, present-tense verse novel, Hemphill tracks young Mary's moves and emotions from the time she becomes infatuated with Shelley through their scandalous elopement, penury, European travels, and the births and deaths of their several children -- up to Shelley's drowning on an ill-conceived sailing trip. There's plenty of interesting material in Mary's world: radical politics, philosophy, poetics, and, as a side issue, Lord Byron and his lovers. Although she tries to affect Mary's voice, Hemphill meets the reader closer to the twenty-first century than the early nineteenth, with verse that reads like short journal entries and incorporates modern-day turns of phrase ("staying on task," "[this] might not be the greatest plan," and the like). Hemphill's own style doesn't have notable poetic verve, but even so she succeeds in producing an informative, mildly impressionistic introduction to Mary's life. This is richer as history than character study, but it's a good beginning for readers curious about the author of Frankenstein. deirdre f. baker

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