Book Talk: *Dangerous Neighbors,* by Beth Kephart

Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart
Dangerous Neighbors
Beth Kephart
EgmontUSA (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 1606840800 / 9781606840801)
Fiction (YA, historical), 192 pages
Source: ARC from publisher, via Winsome Media Communications – pub date August 2010
Reason for reading: review, a favorite author

Opening Lines: “From up here, everything seems to spill from itself. Everything is shadowed. The cool at the base of the trees. The swollen lip of river. The dark beneath the cliff stones at Rockland, where Katherine had gone last week – taken the steamer, hiked to the summit, and stayed until almost too late.”

Book Description: It is 1876, the year of the Centennial in Philadelphia. Katherine has lost her twin sister Anna in a tragic skating accident.  One wickedly hot September day, Katherine sets out for the exhibition grounds to cut short the haunted life she no longer wants to live.

Filled with vivid detail that artfully brings the past to life, National Book Award nominee Beth Kepart’s DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS is a timeless and finely crafted novel about betrayal and guilt, hope and despair, love, loss, and new beginnings.

Comments: This has been my year of Beth Kephart. Thanks in part to my Blogging Authors Reading Project, and in part to the endless encouragement of Amy, I have read four of her books in 2010. I also read Beth’s blog faithfully, and so I knew that her most recent novel, Dangerous Neighbors, was both a bit of a departure for her and a long-brewing labor of love. She says in the book’s Endnotes:

“During the course of my research for Flow: the Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River I began to dream, novelistically, of this Centennial year (1876). About twin sisters and a boy who rescued animals. About a mother so preoccupied with the future that she could not see, or protect, the present. About a river with a mind of her own.”

Dangerous Neighbors includes all of the elements from Kephart’s dream. Having made an impression with several beautifully-written, deeply-felt novels about contemporary teens for the YA market, this is the author’s first work of historical fiction. However, even with the change in time period and the use of third-person narration (also a first in Kephart’s fiction), this is clearly a Beth Kephart work – beautifully written and deeply felt. I only wish there were more of it.

The preoccupied mother is there – but barely, and by definition, that makes absolute sense. The boy who rescues animals is there, but the brevity of this novel means we don’t really get to know him as well as we’d like. The focus of the story here is the twin sisters, Katherine and Anna, whose relationship was becoming ever more complicated before it was rocked by tragedy not long before the summer of the Centennial.

I have a close relationship with my sister, but we are not twins. I’ve read some fascinating things about the twin bond, though, and Kephart’s depiction of the sisters in Dangerous Neighbors seems to reflect them. It’s one thing when your best friend seems to be blowing off your company for a guy. But when your best friend is your twin – who has always felt like a part of you – and the guy is someone wholly unsuitable to your family’s place in society, it cuts deep. And when she expects you to be her ally in conducting this relationship out of view of your parents, and can’t grasp why you aren’t as happy as she is…it’s not all that hard to understand why Katherine and Anna’s relationship has become frayed. Katherine feels lost, and fears she’s losing Anna. And when she truly does lose her sister, she can only see one way to find her – and herself – again. I felt for Katherine, and longed to see her find another way.

Dangerous Neighbors is a story of grief, guilt, and growth that goes by all too quickly, and that’s my only real complaint about it. I like spending time in the worlds that Beth Kephart creates in her fiction; I didn’t get enough of it here. Having said that, though, this short novel has no shortage of emotional impact.

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