Archive for the ‘Dangerous Neighbors’ Category

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


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DrRadwayBeth Kephart has billed Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent as a prequel to her earlier book Dangerous Neighbors. I’d bill it as more a study in contrasts.

DangerousNeighborsSo, where do I begin? Dr. Radway describes the energy of Philadelphia in the early 1870s, the energy of factories surrounding you wherever you are, pouring out its dirt and smoke, spewing its noise, the streets full of stray animals and unsavory people and the language of this book matches this sooty energy (a different feeling than I’m used to from Beth). It is about William and his family, a product of this industrial society, which wears you down and spits you out; where it’s a struggle to make ends meet.

Dangerous Neighbors, on the other hand, has a more refined energy (and language)–that of Philadelphia in the midst of its tumultuous 1876 Centennial which drew millions of visitors, which seemed to take away the dirt and smoke and replace it with music and blue skies and prancing horses and soaring birds, although ever present Shantytown abuts the fairgrounds. The language of Dangerous Neighbors is the more refined, descriptive language that I’m used to in a Beth Kephart book and it totally matches the aura of the book.

The former book describes William’s relationship with his older brother, Francis, who would mysteriously provide for his family (the father being in prison) and then with his mother after Francis’ murder at the hands of the police. How William feels helpless in trying to avenge his brother’s death. It describes William’s mother’s descent into depression at the loss of a favored son and her subsequent ascent when there is someone else to care for.

The latter, describes the relationship between twins Anna (the older) and Katherine (the younger) who, in a seeming reversal of roles, looks after her older, more free spirited sister. It describes Katherine’s helplessness at the loss of her sister and her descent into depression and her subsequent rise. It describes their mother, immersed in her worldly causes, to the neglect of her children.

Dr. Radway contrasts William’s life, scrounging for food, while living in the working class section of Philadelphia with Katherine’s upper class upbringing, having a maid (surrogate mother) in Jennie  Bea, going on shopping sprees or to the opera.

What both books do so well is describe one city, Philadelphia of the 1870s, although two different worlds. Both books delve into their main characters, William and Katherine, making them come alive. And both books use language as only Beth Kephart uses language.

It was a luxury reading the books one after the other, because it highlights the contrasts that otherwise would have been hidden. So, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent and then Dangerous Neighbors. The one-two punch in books.

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I have been a fan of Beth Kephart and her writing ever since I read House of Dance several years ago. I don’t even remember what prompted me to read it. However, since then I own and have read all of her young adult fiction and most of her adult non-fiction. As I said, I’m a big fan.

This virtual world of ours allows us to become “friends” with people without ever having met them in person or spoken one word to them. And so it has been with Beth and me for several years now. We have let each other into our lives a bit, gotten to know each other through “status updates” and emails and especially through Beth’s blog posts. I’ve come to admire Beth because of her marvelous books, tales of her teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, her ability to balance a crowded business life, writing life, dance life and family life and most of all for her obvious caring about family, friends and fans. All of this through online activity.BethKephart

Well, today I had the pleasure of meeting Beth in person and it truly was a pleasure. Many of us have had the opportunity of meeting someone we’ve admired from afar and that person has not lived up to the high expectations we’ve set for them. Not so with Beth. I found her to be charming and warm and it felt like we were old friends right from the beginning. Along with being a talented author, Beth nurtures other authors and seeing her banter today with A.S. King makes one understand why writers, both established and novice, seek out her guidance.

I don’t lavish praise often, Beth, but meeting you, finally, has been a highlight. You have made my life brighter through your writing and your friendship. Thank you! I hope our friendship lasts for many years and we meet often.

And for those of you who are uninitiated, while I love all of Beth’s books, I’ll admit that I have certain favorites. In the Young Adult arena, they are (in alphabetical order) Dangerous Neighbors, Nothing But Ghosts and Small Damages and in the adult arena Flow, Ghosts in the Garden and Still Love in Strange Places. Susan’s favorites are Undercover and You Are My Only.

Today was a very special day for me for many reasons, meeting Beth being just one of them. I hope everyone had something special happen to them today. More coming soon.

Goodnight to all.

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