By Veronica Bennett
Candlewick Press, $15.99
240 pages, ISBN 0763629944
Review by Amy Andrews
Mary Shelley, the vivacious and headstrong daughter of William Godwin and the late Mary Wollstonecraft, both socially progressive thinkers and writers ahead of their time, dreams of finding her true love, a man she's secretly sure must be a poet. When a chance meeting with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in her father's store allows the two to begin a conversation, young Mary's only too eager to accept Shelley's attention.
But the couple soon attracts scandal, as Mary learns that Shelley is already married, estranged from his wife and two children. Blinded by her love for him, Mary is willing to pay any price for the freedom and happiness she so strongly desires and the two defy her father and stepmother's demands to break off the friendship, which has by now become quite romantic in nature.
Mary and Shelley run off to Europe with her stepsister in tow. At first the threesome lead an idyllic life as Mary is dazzled by her poet, her angel. Only too late does she realize the darker nature of her beloved: his nights spent ruminating about his work, his reliance on laudanum, his reckless and narcissistic ways, his developing fixation with her stepsister.
Colored by jealousy and struggling with loss and grief, including the loss of loved ones to estrangement and death, Mary turns to writing and channels her thoughts on life, death, and creation into the now-classic novel Frankenstein, while her love and devotion to Shelley, her "angelmonster," faces challenges the likes of which she could never have imagined in the wildest days of her youth.
Veronica Bennett's Angelmonster is a historical fiction novel, but it isn't so rooted in the minute details of daily life and historical context that readers will find her prose dry or dull. The attraction of the book is Bennett's character-driven plot development. The universal (and seemingly timeless) theme of young love clashing with parental disapproval will resonate with young adult readers who are themselves in the midst of seeking to establish their own independence.
Bennett is very skilled in character development; Mary Shelley's voice is quite contemporary while still retaining a 19th century flavor. She's headstrong and clever, the perfect foil to the manipulative Shelley. While the audience of Angelmonster is likely to be female, this is far from a "chick" book. The dark side of Mary and Shelley's relationship, with its hint of obsession and madness, should appeal to a broad spectrum of teen readers.
The dialogue is true and engaging, pulling the reader into the story; it keeps the setting in sharp focus and reveals a great deal about society's expectations-- especially of young women-- without lecturing or preaching, and simultaneously elicits empathy for Mary's situation. The philosophical avenues Bennett pursues through Mary's attempts to cope with the death of loved ones, including the genesis and meaning of life, add weight and depth to the gothic narrative.
With only slight bending of the historical facts (in the book, Mary doesn't complete the manuscript for Frankenstein until after Percy Bysshe Shelley's death), Angelmonster is a wildly engaging story sure to find its strongest audience with young adult women (and maybe their moms, if you can snag your kid's copy).ngelmonster is likely to be female, this is far from a "chick" book. The dark side of Mary and Shelley's relationship, with its hint of obsession and madness, should appeal to a broad spectrum of teen readers.
The dialogue is true and engaging, pulling the reader into the story; it keeps the setting in sharp focus and reveals a great deal about society's expectations -- especially of young women -- without lecturing or preaching, and simultaneously elicits empathy for Mary's situation. The philosophical avenues Bennett pursues through Mary's attempts to cope with the death of loved ones, including the genesis and meaning of life, add weight and depth to the gothic narrative.
With only slight bending of the historical facts (in the book, Mary doesn't complete the manuscript for Frankenstein until after Percy Bysshe Shelley's death), Angelmonster is a wildly engaging story sure to find its strongest audience with young adult women (and maybe their moms, if you can snag your kid's copy).
Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives
Edited by Lori Leibovich
288 pages, ISBN 0060737816
Review by Kim Schmidt
Here’s the truth of it: it’s ugly, exhausting, and can alternately fill your heart with unspeakable joy or leave you wondering what you were thinking. Some of us choose not to even bother. Others leap without looking back. Still others sit on the fence a while, waiting for a sign. No matter what the choice, for most of us, the choice of whether or not to have children is a difficult one.
With my first child, I had the luxury of stupidity. I didn’t really make a decision. Newlyweds, we thought, “Oh, let’s just see what happens.” Six weeks later, I peed on a stick and burst into tears. They were tears of joy, but they were also tears of fear, anxiety, and disbelief. I’m what?
Nine months later, I still could barely believe I was pregnant. I could only wear two pairs of shoes, but I was still me, just a little fatter. I was not prepared for the 36 hours of labor, or the two hours of pushing. After my daughter was (finally!) born, it all became Technicolor-clear. I thought, “God! Why didn’t they tell me how much it was going to hurt?” and when I stood up for the first time, I thought “God! Why didn’t they tell me I’d have no control over my bladder?”
Childless friends came to visit me in the hospital, and I felt it my moral responsibility to tell them the TRUTH. I had uncovered it, and I was going to save them from being surprised later. I was oblivious to their heads turning in disgust when I told them, loudly and clearly, what it was REALLY like to have a baby. Maybe they blamed it on hormones, but even today, I firmly stand my ground. We, as parents, have to tell the truth. It is essential.
I swore I’d never have another child. “Oh sure you will,” they’d say. “You’ll forget the pain sooner than you think.”
No. You don’t. There’s some truth for you.
If for nothing else, I love each of the contributors in Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth about Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives edited by Lori Leibovich, for telling the truth. Sometimes that truth was something I could identify with and sometimes that truth made me uncomfortable, but the relief in reading a book about having children that wasn’t rife with cliché or safe phrases was priceless.
Leibovich, a senior editor at Salon, conceived of the collection after she received a letter to the editor “begging us to publish more stories about people who had chosen not to have children.” The letter writer went on to say that she was conflicted about having children and that it was, in part, because she didn’t want to give up her breadwinner salary, even temporarily, to have a child. This sparked a debate among Salon staffers about whether or not this woman was selfish and cold, or a woman who was brave enough to be honest, in public no less, about her feelings.
So in May 2003, Salon launched a new series to discuss the issue: “To Breed or Not to Breed.” The series explored all sides of the debate: those who were childless by choice, those who were struggling with the decision, and those who were passionate about parenting. Maybe Baby is a sampling of essays taken from the most provocative of that series. The book is divided into three sections, “No Thanks, Not for Me;” “On the Fence;” and “Taking the Leap.”
All the essays in the book were absorbing, but I found the essays by the men and women who decided against having children the most provocative. Some were gentle and non-judgmental of us “breeders” like Luisita Lopez Torregrosa who states: “…I understand the need, the desire, to give birth to flesh and blood; I understand that creation.” While others were a bit more blunt in their assessments, like Michelle Goldberg’s view that “The daily grind of motherhood seems like a prison sentence to me. Though I have nothing but respect for the work of raising children, I don’t like being around them.”
The last section of the book contains essays written by those who have become parents, sometimes by accident, sometimes after undergoing long fertility treatments. Here we find comforting themes, such as when Asha Bandele writes that her daughter connects her to a larger sense of family: “My tribe, my history, the one I chose begins with Nisa. She is my giggling, demanding, fearless four-year-old. She is my family tree, branches, leaves, and all.” There are also some jarring moments as well, like when Amy Richards discusses her experience with selective reduction, or Neal Pollack admits that his marriage took a direct hit after the birth of their son, leaving his sex life to “whatever [he] could find on the Internet at one a.m.”
Maybe Baby is captivating. Each essay spotlights a different fear or joy or confusing moment in the process. While I haven’t forgotten the TRUTH—the pain or the new mother delirium—I am now finding myself inching closer to having a second child. Without doubt, this decision has been the hardest of my life. Getting married? No problem. Getting pregnant six months later? No sweat. But now, my daughter is four, and for nearly half her life I have struggled over the decision to get pregnant again. As my husband and I contemplate life with two, I appreciate the honest perspectives of the essayists. They’re right: it isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone. And though it may seem like everyone has an opinion, coming to that decision is the most personal of all.
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