I rarely do blog tours these days, and I’m not sure I’ve ever done an author interview in seven years of blogging here, but when I was invited to participate in Chronicle Books’ blog tour for Beth Kephart’s newest YA novel, Going Over, I wasn’t about to say no. And because Beth and I have grown to be friends over the last few years, I felt pretty comfortable about engaging in a little Q&A with her. (Question number 4 is something I was especially curious about, since the reference in question is to one of my all-time favorite songs.)
- You’ve referred to Going Over as “the Berlin novel” for years. How is the city significant to you? Which came first–the desire to set a story there, or a story that couldn’t be told in any other setting?
Well, first, may I say that I just love all your questions. You know me so well, dear Florinda, my honorary publicist.
I have always called this the Berlin novel. I still do. I think I’ve begun to refer to my overseas stories by their geographies—Seville, Berlin, Florence—because, when writing or speaking of them, I return to those places in my mind.
But Going Over is a story that could be told in many places, even today. There are walls everywhere. A wall between Palestine and Israel. A wall between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. New trenches and anti-tank barriers between east Ukraine and Russia. A wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Walls have an impact, they create tension, drama, story, shadow worlds. I chose to write about Berlin because I fell in love with that city, because the graffiti spoke to me, and because this year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s fall. Proof that sometimes divisions can be knocked down.
- The target readership for Going Over was born years after the Berlin Wall came down. How do you think they’ll connect with the novel, and what do you hope they’ll learn from it?
How many of us have been separated from the thing we love, the people we need to see, our own dreams and ambitions? All of us, in some way or another. Going Over takes place in a particular time, a particular city. But its themes transcend. Its themes are right now and always. The questions are: What risks will we take to move closer to our dreams, our hopes? And what are the consequences of desire?
- What elements does Going Over share with some of your previous YA fiction? What does it do differently? And do those similarities and differences correspond at all to the experience of writing it?
I really try to approach each book as a brand-new something. To not repeat myself. To try something new. This can get me into trouble. This isn’t always the smartest move commercially. But I don’t want to bore myself, don’t want to bore my readers. So Going Over is written by me, and I write in my funny Beth way, and there’s no getting around that. It celebrates a foreign place, which I tend to do. It is written in two voices, like You Are My Only, but one of those voices is second person, which I’ve never done before. Place is a character here (place is always character for me). And I have, as I always do, written not just of teens but of families and communities.
- Going Over had a different title earlier in its life, one that referenced David Bowie’s song “Heroes.” Coincidence or connection? On a related note, what do you think of the Going Over playlist that Chronicle Books has compiled (and which includes that song), and did you contribute to it?
Yup. Going Over was going to be called We Could Be Heroes, and the book began with the Bowie lyrics (“Heroes” had been written while Bowie was in Kreuzberg, a few years before my story begins). Then I began, shall we call it, a legal process with David Bowie’s folks. The first several people I talked to were really nice and very open and said that it would be no problem at all to use that title. Then I talked with another individual who said, emphatically, that using the words would be a problem. Now the book has a new title. I actually like this one much more. It’s mine. It hasn’t been used before (indeed, later I learned that the “Heroes” lyrics were being used all over the place for various things) And it has two meanings—the graffiti meaning and the literary one.
The very fine Chronicle folks did put together that playlist, but I added some songs to it and I’ve actually written about the music of that time in a blog post for Chronicle—the music that affected me as I wrote.
- What is the one thing you most want people to know about Going Over?
I want people to know that this is more than a simple love/adventure story. It is also a story about a very important group of Turkish people who were deeply affected by the building of the Wall. It is, in other words, also about a frightening reality that permeated Kreuzberg, which is to say that an important character here is named Savas.
“It is February 1983, and Berlin is a divided city with a miles-long barricade separating east from west. But the city isn’t the only thing that is divided. Ada lives among the rebels, punkers, and immigrants of Kreuzberg in West Berlin. Stefan lives in East Berlin, in a faceless apartment bunker of Friedrichshain. Bound by love and separated by circumstance, their only chance for a life together lies in a high-risk escape. But will Stefan find the courage to leap? Or will forces beyond his control stand in his way? National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart presents a story of daring and sacrifice, and love that will not wait.”
Thanks to Beth for taking my questions, and to Chronicle for arranging this tour to support Going Over! You can read an excerpt on Scribd, find the playlist on Rdio, and check out the official teachers’ discussion guide (which would be just as useful for discussions in book groups as in classrooms).
(This is my official stop on the blog tour, but I have a special related Wordless Wednesday post going up tomorrow and a review to post later this week, so please check back for those!)