Book Talk: GOING OVER, by Beth Kephart

GOING OVER Beth Kephart
Going Over
Beth Kephart (Twitter)
Chronicle Books (Aoril 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 1452124574 / 9781452124575)
Fiction (YA), 264 pages
Source: ARC from publisher, for blog tour tied to launch

Someday, I may stop saying that each new Beth Kephart book I read is the best yet, but in order for that to happen, she’ll have to stop outdoing herself. She hasn’t reached that point yet. Going Over, Kephart’s latest work of young-adult fiction, is as ambitious and daring as the young characters, Ada and Stefan, she has placed at the center of it.

The Berlin Wall is vague history for most of Going Over’s target readership, but it’s only been gone for 25 years, which is less than the amount of time it divided a city politically, culturally, and personally. On the west side of the Wall, Ada lives among squatters with her mother and grandmother, caring for immigrant children by day and depicting daring escapes from the other side in graffiti, on the Wall itself, by night. Her art is her message and effort to inspire Stefan, stuck in the East: come across and be with me, like they did. But Stefan has already lost half of his family to escape attempts, and he knows the potential price of failure.

This is the primary plot thread of Going Over, and I have to admit that it made me a little nervous–young love thwarted by feuding, with opposing political systems standing in for families? But I trust Beth Kephart as a storyteller; she hasn’t let me down yet, and she gives readers much more than that. The threats to Ada and Stefan’s future together are real, and really dangerous, and that’s never less than clear. What’s also clear is that their relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Stefan delays his response to Ada out of his sense of responsibility to the grandmother he would be leaving behind; while she waits (with decreasing patience) for him, Ada becomes entangled with another endangered family on her own side of the Wall.

Kephart succeeds in creating two narrative voices, switching chapters between Ada and Stefan, without losing the distinctive flow and effective, evocative word choice that are trademarks of her writing. However, this time she’s applied those gifts to a story that is more than engaging–it’s genuinely gripping, and the last chapters had me racing along too fast to savor the writing as much as it deserves savoring. Building your novel up to an attempt to an escape from East Berlin makes it inherently suspenseful, I suppose, but it’s not just the plot that’s gripping–it’s the emotional stakes for the characters that Kephart’s language brings to life.

Going Over is young-adult literature for adults of all ages from an author who keeps setting the bar for herself ever higher. If you haven’t read Beth Kephart yet, start here, and start now.

Rating: 4.25 / 5
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Book description, from the publisher’s website:

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.

Opening Lines:

“We live with ghosts. We live with thugs, dodgers, punkers, needle ladies, pork knuckle. We live where there’s no place else to go. We live with birds—a pair of magpies in the old hospi-tal turrets, a fat yellow-beaked grebe in the thick sticks of the plane trees. A man named Sebastien has moved into the Kiez from France. My mother’s got an eye on him. 

“’You’ve had enough trouble, Jana,’ Omi warns her. Mutti shakes her head, mutters under her breath. Calls her own mother Ilse, like they are sisters, or friends. Like two decades and a war don’t divide them. Like sleeping, dreaming, waking, breathing so close has quieted the one to the other. 

“We live in a forest of box gardens and a city of tile. We live with brick and bullet holes.”

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