I Just Hope it’s Lethal collected by Liz Rosenberg and Deena November ISBN: 9780618564521
Plot Summary: This collection of poetry compiles poems from famous and up and coming poets on the subject of depression. This book has five sections, for the mental places one can find themselves during the teen years or when suffering from depression. The first is moods, which can encompass sadness without reason, feeling alienated, rebellious, restless, or unreasonable joy. The next section explores being crazy in love, and the next how the world can sometimes be just as crazy. One section collects poems by poets who identify a period of madness, while the last shows the hope and relief when things get better. You’ll find poems by Emily Dickinson about madness, and William Blake on sadness, Elizabeth Bishop on love, and Naomi Shihab Nye on appreciating kindness. I came out on the other side, feeling a new understanding and appreciation of those authors, and a curiosity about those I had not read before.
Critical Evaluation: How do you evaluate a collection of poetry, with poems spanning centuries and formats, topics and levels of obscurity? Since this collection hopes to provide a look at depression and what accompanies it, I will try to evaluate the cohesiveness of the collection. I liked the division into smaller categories; it is helpful to remind those less educated about depression (i.e. me!) that there are different emotions that come along with it besides sadness. And, having read the introductions and knowing the theme, I felt like I better understood the poems on my own. I had a frame of reference with which to interpret them. Poems are not organized by time period, or by how famous the author is, which means that you can read William Shakespeare and follow it up with the poem of a high school student with autism. Personally, if I was to edit a collection of poetry, I would not have included my own poetry, as this book does, but I’ll try not to pass too much judgment about that. I don’t know if I think the poems flow one into the next, and some transitions are sort of jarring, but I do see the shared elements in each, and enjoy how the book as a whole travels towards a hopeful end.
I’d also like to look at the intended audience of this book. It was written with teens in mind to help them find solace and comfort in other people who have felt what they felt. But it walks a delicate line by including poets that many teens read in school. On the one hand, a teen who loves all poetry shouldn’t have a problem with that. On the other hand, some teens I can think of might be averse to reading anything for pleasure that reminds them too much of homework. There is a decent chance that these same poems will not be taught in class, and that if a teen took a chance on the collection, they would end up appreciating the classic poets more. It could end up being a teen’s favorite book that they carry around with them everywhere, or seem like another attempt for adults to preach to teens.
Reader’s Annotation: You might feel like you’re alone, but people have felt what you feel for centuries. Discover poems from famous and obscure poets, all writing on the ups and downs of depression and being a teenager.
Information about the editors: Liz Rosenberg was born on Long Island. She attended Bennington College and John Hopkins University. She now teaches English and Creative Writing at the State University of New York at Birmingham. She has published three books of poetry, two novels, and more than twenty books for young readers.
Deena November was a graduate student in Liz Rosenberg’s class when they decided to create this poetry collection. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She has written poetry since she was a teen. Both editors have suffered from depression, giving them unique insight into how best to represent it.
Curriculum ties, if any: This could be a way to interest students in more classic poetry, while also exploring contemporary poets. The thematic sections also provide clues for students as to what the poem could really be about.
Booktalking Ideas: I think books that contain teen’s own words can be very powerful for other teens. When I read books published by teens as a teen, it reminded me that such a thing was possible. I’d consider it quite an honor to share the pages of a book with any other great authors, and I think teens will appreciate this fact as well. I also think poetry can be popular for teens because it is a way they are accustomed to expressing themselves. I think I would skirt away from talking too much about the topic of depression, so as not to make anyone uncomfortable, but would instead focus on the idea of poetry that allows people to express all of their emotions.
Reading Level/Interest Age: I think that some of the poetry here will be more understandable for older teens. I also think older teens might be slightly more likely to get into the classic poetry. At the same time, if a younger teen was interested in reading it, I wouldn’t see much of an issue with that. Booklist and School Library Journal both recommend this book for grades 9 and up.
- Discussion of suicide
- Maybe radical ideas (I do not recall specific instances, but could imagine that someone might take offense to a notion put forth in one of the poems that seemed unpatriotic or something of the sort)
- First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
- Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
- Bibliographic Citation of the book.
- A description of who the book is best suited for.
- A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
- My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
- Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
- ALA Library Bill of Rights
- Good and bad reviews of the book
- Alternative works a student could read
- Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
- When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
- If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.
As the authors state in their introductions, each has struggled with depression during their teenage years and onward. Deena November writes that hearing about other people’s struggles helped her to get through her own struggles. So having this collection of poets classic and new should help these teens to not feel so alone.
Why did you include this book? : I liked the idea of a collection of poems about depression, something that I think is not uncommon among teens, and that it combined newer poems from established poets and teens, as well as poems from household names.
Rosenberg, L. , November, D. (2005). I just hope it’s lethal: Poems of sadness, madness, and joy. Boston: Graphia.