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Archive for the ‘Beth Kephart’ Category

The forecasters told everyone not to worry, that the storm would blow out to sea. But, as we so often see, they were wrong and the small island of Haven (one ‘e’ short of Heaven), off the coast of New Jersey, got battered by Hurricane Sandy. To make matters worse, Mira Banul’s mother, Mickey, and younger brother, Jasper Lee, were at a mainland hospital for Jasper Lee’s weekly treatment.

Mira went to sleep listening to the rain and a strong wind. She woke up with the downstairs of her house flooded, dead fish floating in her kitchen, her second story deck alist and no way for her and Sterling, her recently adopted cat, to get their feet/paws on solid ground.

However, for some reason unknown to Mira, Old Carmen who lived on the beach during the ‘off-season’ and disappeared during tourist season, chose to rescue Mira. She threw Mira a life line that she could shimmy down. It was Old Carmen who took in the strays–pets and people–kept the fire going, caught fish to cook and kept vigil.

I realized after finishing This Is the Story of You that Beth Kephart creates wonderful main characters but extraordinary secondary characters: Old Carmen in This Is the Story of You and Estela in Small Damages (which you must read) come immediately to mind.

This Is the Story of You is a testament to people’s ability to survive and band together (especially in this current era of hate, fear and devisiveness) . It is about three best friends who care so much about each other. It is about a girl who is ‘medium’ at everything but stands strong in the face of adversity.

Although foreign to most of us, readers will picture living on the beach, seeing detritus floating on the ocean water, yearning to hear about news of neighbors and friends. They’ll feel the pangs of pain at not knowing, the uncertainty.

This Is the Story of You is a story about unity and trust and family and is a welcome addition to my Beth Kephart library.

 

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In 1966, the River Arno  overflowed its banks and flooded the OneThingStolencity of Florence. The resulting 600,000 tons of mud, rubble and sewage that flowed through the city’s streets damaged or destroyed millions of masterpieces of art and rare books, as well as displacing 5,000 families. This despair was overshadowed by Mud Angels, people from around the world, who also flooded into Florence to help remove the mud and sludge and help restore both the city and the antiquities.

In One Thing Stolen, Beth Kephart (my favorite author) contrasts the despair and hope described above with the despair and hope of Nadia Caras, a seventeen year old girl in Florence for her professor father’s sabbatical, who suddenly has trouble verbalizing. It is her best friend, her family and a doctor, who provide the hope that she will regain her communication skills.

Although Nadia is supposed to be her father’s right hand during his research of the 1966 flood, she is losing herself in Florence. She is barely sleeping. She, inexplicably, has the urge to steal things, many of which end up in the intricate nests she weaves and hides under her bed. As she wanders the city alone, against her parents’ wishes, she runs into Benedetto, a young boy who steals flowers. He shows up in the oddest places, often giving Nadia a flower. The problem is that no one other than Nadia has seen him.

As Nadia begins to lose herself and think herself crazy, her link to sanity is finding Benedetto. However as much as she searches, he does not want to be found.

Beth Kephart has layered her stories here. There are the constant flashbacks of Nadia and her best friend, Maggie, in Philadelphia, when Nadia was in full control, when she was the one with all the ideas, the leader of the two person pack, in contrast to Nadia’s struggles now. There is the story of Nadia’s father’s empty notebook, his story of the flood more resembling a drought. There is the story of Nadia’s brother Jack and his budding love affair with the beautiful Perdita. And there is Katherine, a Mud Angel, a doctor and her father’s friend who devotes herself to helping Nadia.

While the story is an unusual one (I can’t think of any comparable plot), it is the descriptive use of language that makes any Beth Kephart book special. It is through this language that we get the feel of Florence, its alleyways, its cobblestone streets, its cathedrals, its myriad of markets blanketing the bridges over the Arno. It is through language that we understand Nadia’s frustration with herself, her fear that she might be going crazy. It’s through language that we understand all the different types of nests that birds construct (who knew?).

If you want a literary treat, read a Beth Kephart book (adult or young adult), my favorites being: One Thing Stolen, Nothing But Ghosts, Small Damages and You Are My Only….heck I love them all.

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I was lying awake thinking the other night (I don’t know why) that if I had to pick six books to show someone who grew up on Lois Duncan, the width and breadth of YA literature today, which books would I choose? Everyone has their favorites and there are obviously multiple combinations of six books to illustrate my point, but here are mine.

SmallDamagesLiterary YA FictionSmall Damages by Beth Kephart (or any Beth Kephart book). Beth takes pains to get the words right and the result are wonderful, sometimes ethereal prose narrating engrossing stories.

WintergirlsIssue Driven FictionWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (or any of her books). Speak, about rape, is obviously the most well known, with the movie starring a young Kristen Stewart, but all of Anderson’s books deal with real issues faced by teens.

KeepingYouASecretLGBTQKeeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters.  Keeping You a Secret is one of Peters’ earlier books portraying lesbian relationships and remains one of my favorites to this day. However she deals with all sorts of gender issues, from Luna (transgender) to gender neutral proms.

 

 

RevolutionHistorical FictionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Donnelly, whose earlier work, A Northern Light won the Carnegie Medal, goes back and forth between current day and the French Revolution.

EonScience Fiction/FantasyEon: Dragoneye Reborn and Eona: The Return of the Dragoneye by Alison Goodman. Goodman combines action with signs of the zodiac in a spine tingling fantasy.

FaultInOurStarsIllnessThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green discusses the relationship between two teens having debilitating and potentially fatal diseases.

 

 

 

 

As we who read YA literature know, it has come a long way from the Lois Duncan days. And while Lois Duncan’s books play a significant role in the reading lives of teens, even today, there is a whole big wide world of YA literature out there begging to be read. I know I’ve left out great YA authors such as Lauren Oliver, Jordan Sonnenblick, Jennifer Brown. The list is endless.

I’m sure your List of Six is different than mine, so feel free to send me yours. I’d be interested.

 

 

 

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AllegiantI truly don’t know what to say about Allegiant.  Let it be understood that I’m not a dystopian novel lover, so I’m clearly more biased than if I was reading some other genre. Given that, I did like Hunger Games, for the most part. So, here’s my stream of consciousness regarding this book:

Starting with the negatives:

(i) It was overly long (the series and this final book-average pages 550 for Divergent vs. 400 for Hunger Games). I’ve come to appreciate those authors that agonize over words and use them sparingly.

(ii) If you hadn’t the first two books in the series you’d be totally lost (considering my long term memory is shot, it took ages to vaguely remember what went on).

(iii) The flipping back and forth between Tris and Tobias I found confusing at times, although I don’t normally find the two narrator style all that confusing.

(iv) I found it hard to visualize the city, the fringe and the compound. I find that is the hardest thing for me with many books I read…trying to visualize in my head what the geography looks like.

Switching to the positives:

(i) There’s a good story in there somewhere…pure genes vs. damaged (if you want to go so far as the Master Race, you can), the pure bloods vs. everyone else, government coverups, spying on people (especially in light of today’s NSA), genetic engineering, both successful and unsuccessful. As I write this, there’s a heck of lot of good stuff in there.

(ii) It’s a fast read—at 550 pages, it should be.

(iii) The ancillary characters are likeable (Cara, Christina, Uriah), probably more so than the main characters (Tris and Tobias).

(iv) There’s a lot of action.

So, where does this leave us? I like all kinds of YA fiction, from the ‘literary’ fiction of Beth Kephart to the realistic fiction of John Green and Jordan Sonnenblick to the chick lit of Sarah Dessen. I just can’t get excited about this one, though.

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GoingOverBeth Kephart’s Young Adult books are certainly not defined geographically. Dangerous Neighbors takes place in her beloved Philadelphia and draws us into the 1876 Centennial Exposition. From there we move to The Heart is Not a Size and an impoverished town in Juarez, Mexico. Then Small Damages, where a young girl finds herself, both geographically and spiritually, on the outskirts of Seville, Spain. Even her ‘adult’ books can’t stay in one place. Still Love in Strange Places, A Memoir recounts her visit to her husband’s family in El Salvador. Any and all of these books are wonderful reading, literary treats.

So, is it no wonder that her latest YA book, Going Over, takes us to Berlin and life during the era of the Berlin Wall? Ada, her mother and Grandmother (Omi) live in a cramped apartment in West Berlin while the love of Ada’s life, Stefan and his grandmother (and Omi’s best friend) live in East Berlin, separated by the impenetrable Wall. Although not spelled out (but this book inspired me to find out more), West Berlin imported many transient workers in the 1950s and later, to help create the booming economy of a victorious, democratic nation. Many of these workers were from Turkey and their Moslem culture and upbringing were completely foreign (no pun intended) to Germans, thus they never fit in. However they make a sizable community in Germany.

So, in addition to the virtually overnight, arbitrary separation of family and friends caused by the Berlin Wall, the West Germans were dealing with an ethnic group it didn’t understand. Ada is caught up in this as she teaches in a church school attended by some Turkish children, one of whom, Savas has run away. She finds him hiding in the classroom in the wee hours of the morning because he is afraid–afraid of what his father might do to his mother, who is secretly planning on returning to Turkey.

Kephart contrasts the freedom of Ada and her fervent desire that Stefan escape and join her in the West with the fear of living in East Berlin, the Stasi always listening, never knowing who to trust. Ada can visit Stefan, cross the border, only several times a year. Successful escapes are few we learn (5,000 escapes, with 100 unsuccessful tries) and Ada graffs the spectacular successes on a wall facing East Berlin, hoping to inspire Stefan.

What’s Going Over about? It’s about love and freedom and equality. It’s about hardship and struggle and overcoming the odds. It’s about diversity and fitting into a new culture. The writing is true Beth Kephart, literary, descriptive, lyrical. The characters become your friends. You are there! The story grabs your heartstrings on so many levels, Stefan and Ada, Savas, Omi.

Going Over is about a time period that most of us have probably forgotten about. But we really shouldn’t forget. There are real and virtual walls in existence today. Going Over is a great way to remember.DangerousNeighbors

SmallDamagesHeartIsNotASize

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As 2013 meandered into 2014, there were four books I was looking forward to reading:

ImpossibleKnifeOfMemory1. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – published in January. I’ll review that shortly, but suffice it to say, it lived up to my expectations.

2. Panic by Lauren Oliver – to be published in MarchPanic

GoingOver

3. Going Over by Beth Kephart – to be published in April. I’m so excited because I have an advanced reader’s copy in hand. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait.

4. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters – to be published in June. My wonderful daughter got me an advanced readers copy of it at ALA Midwinter Conference.LiesMyGirlfriendToldMe

So, going into February, I will have read three out of the four books I’ve been looking forward to. What can be better than that? Four out of four? Hey, I’m OK with waiting until March for Panic.

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Kirkus recently had an article entitled “How to Read Young Adult Novels and Still Hang Out with Adults” (the link is shown below) which, of course, prompted me to make my own list, because YA books are my passion and there are so many that are ‘suitable’ for adult readers. My only criteria for my short and not all inclusive list are (i) that the books are a few years old so that they might have slipped our minds, (ii) they aren’t the well known books, such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which is a great book, by the way) which has been used in adult book discussion groups and (iii) they are well written.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/lists/how-read-young-adult-novel-still-hang-out-adults/

So, here’s the Goldberg List (I’ve tried to satisfy varying tastes):

DisreputableHistoryDisreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart: For those looking for cerebral stimulation, follow Frankie Landau-Banks, as she tries to infiltrate the school’s decades old secret all-male society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a society her father belonged to, back in the day.

EonDragoneyeRebornEon: Dragoneye Reborn (and its sequel Eona: The Last Dragoneye) by Alison Goodman: A flawless combination of Asian astrology, mythology, action and fantasy, these books are perfect for science fiction/fantasy fans and those readers who just want to get drawn into a magic world.

FreakShowFreak Show by James St. James:  Follow Billy Bloom, a teenage drag queen as he makes his way through his new conservative high school, Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy, and forges a relationship with the quarterback of the football team, in this hilariously funny as well as serious comedy/romance.

MarceloInTheRealWorldMarcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork: A realistic view of a high functioning Asperger’s teenager and his father’s push to have him acclimate to the ‘real world’. Absorbing and well written.

NothingButGhostsNothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart: Ms. Kephart is known for agonizing over every word, making some of her books have an ethereal aura to them. Nothing But Ghosts is a literary treat. As described in Kirkus, “A long-buried mystery weaves its way through this delicately layered portrait of a grief-stricken daughter and father that meditates on the nature of loss. A coming of age story with a mystery.”

RevolutionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Historical fiction (also A Northern Light by Ms. Donnelly) combined with some time travel transports Andi Alpers from her 21st century Brooklyn home to the middle of the French Revolution. Wonderfully written and totally engrossing.

TamarTamar by Mal Peet: A story of passion, love and resistance fighters during World War II, this absorbing story rotates between two Tamars, one current day Tamar following clues to find out about her 1940s namesake.

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: A haunting look at teenagers and eating disorders.

I could go on, but I won’t. I truly hope you’ll give these books a try.

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