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‘So Shelly’ brings classic lit characters to 21st Century

March 30, 2011
By Amy Phelps, letters@graffitiwv.com
The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred in this reimagining of classic literary writers as modern day characters in “So Shelly” by Ty Roth.

Famed Romantic writers Lord Byron, John Keats and Mary Shelley (and her husband Percy Shelley) are transformed into “Gossip Girl” teenagers who live a decadent life in a prep school in Northern Ohio.

Byron and Keats, one a wealthy boy and one from the wrong side of the tracks, are brought together after the death of their friend, Shelly, in order to fulfill her last wish of how to dispose of her ashes. Told from Keats’ point-of-view, he recounts the story of Shelly and Byron’s friendship and how he fits into it, in a tale of seduction, obsession, and oh, yeah, high school.

Gordon Byron is the swaggering man about campus, already brimming with talent and an author of a teen vampire angst book, who seduces students and teachers alike and leaves a trail of devastated hearts in his wake. One of those is his neighbor, Michelle “Shelly” Shelley, an intelligent girl who is largely ignored by her father and forms an intense friendship with Byron and his half-sister, one that is torn apart when Byron’s relationship with his sister worries his mother and he is sent away to an all-male prep school.

Byron goes off to school, where he seduces a young waitress, a secretary and possibly even his roommate. He is eventually kicked out and returns to the exclusive school that Shelly attends, where his literary fame and good looks gives him the pick of any young woman there. Shelly still harbors feelings for Byron that he never returned, and in order to boost the popularity of the school newspaper, convinces him to join. There, Byron meets John Keats, a quiet but intelligent boy, who is also Shelly’s friend and sees far more than anyone realizes.

As Byron makes his seductive way through the newspaper staff, including the teacher and Shelly’s best friend, and eventually to Shelly’s stepsister, Shelly is making a scene on campus for standing up for local causes, and falling for a young Native American man, a relationship that seems as doomed as hers with Byron.

When Shelly goes sailing and her boat crashes, Byron and Keats look back and wonder, was it suicide?

Twisting actual events from Byron’s life and melding a bit of Mary and Percy Shelley’s pasts together into one character, Roth creates a modern story of the Romantic time period, one that is just as at home now as it was then. This is a story full of angst, tragedy and love affairs that seems it could easily be part of a plot from “Gossip Girl” and is based on actual people and events. This story will make high school and college students look at Byron, Keats and the Shelleys completely differently and will likely spark interest into their works. Byron makes a great anti-hero, completely charismatic and yet completely awful and Keats is the boy-next-door observer.
 
 

 

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