By Ty Roth
Delecorte Press, $17.99, 336 pages
Ty Roth delves into the minds of three teenagers with insight and empathy. High school student John Keats tells the story of two childhood friends that struggle with dysfunction, desire, and death. So Shelly is brilliantly engineered and meticulously written. Roth uses the real poets of Byron, Shelly, and Keats as character springboards for his modern drama set around Lake Erie. Gordon Byron is the good-looking, confident athlete; Michelle Shelley, the girl-next-door crusader; and narrator John Keats, the nerd from the wrong side of the tracks who is obsessed with death statistics. Keats struggles to tell the couple’s story honestly and completely, while Roth creatively maintains the integrity of the poets’ lives that his characters represent.
“As he showered in the guest bathroom, Gordon imagined several scenarios, in anticipation of what the Macri females had in store for the evening. The fantasy he settled on was that Mrs. Macri was a cougar who fed on the flesh and fluids of young men, in an ever-increasingly difficult quest to maintain her own youth and to forestall her inevitable march into the living-death of middle age.”
The book is charming and full of twists and turns, much like the lives of the actual poets. Roth makes the synthesis work – for the most part. However, the reader might think they are wandering far afield when Byron goes on a book signing tour in Greece at age seventeen to promote his bestseller and joins a group of political revolutionaries. Roth wisely brings the trio back together and weaves together a sincere scenario. Anyone who loves the period of Romantic literature will praise Roth for his ingenuity, and anyone who enjoys a good character-driven novel will respect the complexities.