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Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator

Review

Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a name we all know. She is not just the mother of FRANKENSTEIN, but of science fiction as we know it. Outside of her name and her famous book, she is somewhat of a mystery. Through MARY SHELLEY: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator, Catherine Reef helps to lift the veil on this incredible and strong woman’s life, 200 years after the original publication of the book that catapulted Mary Shelley into all our lives. From the meeting of Mary’s parents to her voyage as a young girl to Scotland, the meeting of her lover, her exile, her fame, Reef tells all. In just under 200 pages Reef has written of every move, every heartbreak and every high that Mary experienced in her lifetime with conviction, concision, and passion. MARY SHELLEY is for fans of Mary Shelley, newcomers to Mary and students grudgingly searching for information.

I am someone who considers myself a huge fan of Mary Shelley --- yet I still know very little about her. I’ve heard both the rumors and the supposed facts that are in contradiction to other supposed facts --- that makes it a bit hard to know what to trust. So, when I heard there’d be a published biography on the iconic author --- even better, a YA marketed biography --- I jolted alive and devoured said book with fervor in the hopes of learning something new; or at the very least, seeing confirmation towards other things I’ve heard about Wollstonecraft Shelley. Catherine Reef’s account of Mary’s life is composed of factual, indisputable events and features a lengthy section of notes, resources and further reading regarding her text.

"MARY SHELLEY is a wonderful resource book to have in the classroom and library. It is the type of book that students will find exceptionally helpful for essays and further understanding of Mary’s life."

Catherine Reef’s MARY SHELLEY is not just border-to-border text; featured are many pictures. From portraits of the people written about to drawings of the landscapes mentioned, all the photos accompanying Reef’s research helps make the book even more immersive. It was an aspect I found myself fond of as it is both just an overall fascinating thing to see, but also helps break up all the information we are consuming so it doesn’t just all jam together and readers find themselves actually retaining what they just read. The photos are thoughtfully placed, as well as expertly introduced into relevance within the text by Reef.

To effectively learn about Mary, we must learn about the people she interacted with. Notable people in her life include: husband and poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley; poet and friend, Lord Byron; step-sister Claire Clairmont; and her father, William Godwin. Reef makes us well acquainted with each of the aforementioned people, as well as the many other people in Mary’s life. It’s important to not just know their names, but truly who they were both as people and in relation to Mary. Reef makes us aware of those things, but unfortunately, it sometimes made it seem that the book was more focused on these characters rather than Mary…especially in regards to Percy and Lord Byron. Unfortunate as that is, it’s not an entirely uncommon thing to see in articles about Mary Shelley. Fortunately, Reef continues to cover Mary’s life long after the death of Percy, something that I have often seen skipped over until her own death, as though Mary simply stopped existing after her husband. Seeing this part of her life featured excited me greatly and helped secure MARY SHELLEY as a book I would highly recommend to educators and librarians for their collections.

The only thing I found myself not enjoying was how emotionally distant the book felt. If you’ve picked this book up purely for research, it’s great; straightforward and doesn’t confuse anything with speculative feelings or events. If you’re reading with the hopes of feeling a deeper emotional connection or knowledge of Mary Shelley, you may find yourself a bit disappointed.

As someone who has read other biographical accounts of Mary Shelley’s life, a lot of what I read wasn’t entirely new information. However, I did still find myself learning new things. That’s really all I can ask from a biography. Up until reading MARY SHELLEY, I surprisingly hadn’t heard of most of Mary’s other published writings. In introducing me to these previously unknown titles, Reef has added another flame in the fire that is my love for Shelley, and I am excitedly keeping an eye out for not just Mary’s books, but Catherine Reef’s other biographical works as well.

MARY SHELLEY is a wonderful resource book to have in the classroom and library. It is the type of book that students will find exceptionally helpful for essays and further understanding of Mary’s life. Reef’s writing is comprehensive and to the point. She doesn’t leave the reader going around in circles, reading the same exact information on multiple pages; nor does she complicate her writing in an attempt to appear “more scholarly”, as is often seen in non-fiction. Reef’s MARY SHELLEY: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator is a book that readers of every age can read and understand.

Reviewed by Olivia W., Teen Board Member on September 20, 2018

Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator
by Catherine Reef

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • ISBN-10: 1328740056
  • ISBN-13: 978-1328740052