Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Going Over by Beth Kephart

Do you remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? In November of 1989 I was at college, majoring in Government, and that was the first time I felt a part of history. It was a day to be remembered, the turning point in decades of icy hostility between democratic and communist nations. By the close of 1990 Germany was reunified. The whole world was changing.

The following year in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, dissolving the Soviet Union into a commonwealth of independent states. My children were born in this new era, one not overshadowed by nightmares of nuclear holocaust. I thought the Cold War was over, and then last month Russia made a grab for Crimea. How will today's youth understand the significance?

Going Over makes Cold War history relevant to twenty-first century teens. Beth Kephart's new young adult novel (released yesterday) transports readers back to 1983 Berlin. In free West Berlin fifteen-year-old Ada has dropped out of school to work at a daycare center. At night the pink-haired girl sprays graffiti art on the concrete wall that separates her from the young man she loves. Armed soldiers and dogs keep guard on the other side.

In communist East Berlin eighteen-year-old Stefan worries that the Stasi secret police are watching him. His grandfather died while trying to escape to freedom, although his body was never recovered. Stefan is training to be a plumber to support his grandmother, all the family that he has left. He aims his grandfather's telescope at the stars, but Ada refocuses it on West Berlin. The young lovers meet only four times a year, when Ada's grandmother visits Stefan's grandmother in East Berlin. Ada tells Stefan that she is tired of waiting for him. If he really loves her, he would risk his life to cross over to the west.

Going Over is much more than a star-crossed love story. It tells the history of a war-severed city, of a turbulent period lost to time. The book is educational without sounding so. The gripping story reads more like a dystopian novel than historical fiction. Kephart drops the reader into Berlin without explanation. (I think the book could benefit from a short historical preface for teens.) The author writes from the perspective of that period in a fresh and immediate teenaged voice. Ada's first person narrative alternates with Stefan's told in the second person, to remind us that this is her story.

Like many teens, Ada is self-centered but she is also capable of great empathy. The most moving part of the book was her fight to save a young Turkish immigrant boy and his battered mother. That part of history was new to me. I also loved Ada's and Stefan's relationships with their grandmothers, who had teamed up to survive the brutalities of the Russian occupation, following World War II, only to be separated by a wall.

Kephart takes the time to develop all her characters, including the secondary ones, and to set the scene. The writing is gorgeous, sensuous and nearly surreal at times:
"The courtyard is blue with the late-night TVs. The air is eggplant and sausage."
"Seeing is silent and it doesn't leave a trace. Seeing is waiting for the sky to lose its turbulence so that you can scope the distance. Seeing brings the far close in and the dark to light."
"There's cold in my eyes and winter in my lungs, and when I call for Savras his name scorches through me. Near the Landwehrkanal the vendor trucks are rutting the snow with their wide wheels, leaving grooves shellacked by the morning sun."
"And I stand with the wind in my bones."
I'd strongly recommend Going Over to readers aged twelve and up who enjoy literary fiction. The 1980's setting and the lyrical style would cross over well to adults too. Beth Kephart is one of my favorite young adult authors and this is one of her best books. The critics agree. The book has earned starred reviews from School Library Review and Booklist. It's a Junior Library Guild selection. I expect it to win awards. The eye-catching cover is a winner too. Going Over made me cry and it made me cheer. I finished the last chapter longing for more.

My reviews of more YA novels by Beth Kephart:

Undercover (includes an author interview)
You Are My Only
Dangerous Neighbors & Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent
Small Damages

Disclosure: author Beth Kephart is a blog buddy. Upon my request, her publisher Chronicle Books sent me a free ARC but did not pay me for this review.

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@Barrie Summy


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Sarah:

How well indeed do we remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, something we never thought to happen within our lifetimes. We also recall those times travelling when the way was stopped by 'the border' dividing west from east.

This novel clearly captures the times of the Iron Curtain and how life was lived on both sides. It is, we believe, so important that young people growing up today in a relatively 'free' world have some idea of what is, after all, very recent history.

Stacy Nyikos said...

I was back in the U.S. after a year living in Innsbruck and suffering severe reverse culture shock when the wall came down. How I longed to be close enough to jump on a train and dance on that wall! Can't wait to read this book.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I've been thinking about that time quite a lot in light of recent events. Sounds good, Sarah!

Gloria Baker said...

Sarah I remember well berlin Wall and was amazing! I think me and my mom would enjoy this book, she loves this type of book! thanks!

Unknown said...

I was a junior in high school, and not as completely in tune with everything going on in the world as I probably should have been, but I remember. :)

Your review puts me in mind of Code Name Verity, which I LOVED.

Love the cover!


Beth Kephart said...

Sarah — wow. Your enthusiasm for this book, and your beautifully written assessment of its relevance right now, means so very much to me. Thank you so much.

Ellen Booraem said...

I remember being fascinated by the whole idea of a divided city--families and friends split from one another, a familiar yet totally foreign world just yards away and invisible. This book sounds engrossing, and I love the examples of the writing style. Great review, as always, Sarah!

Linda McLaughlin said...

This sounds like a special and timely book. Great review, Sarah.

tina said...

Oh it brings back so many memories. I cried the night the Berlin wall fell. I was lucky enough to visit East Berlin back prior to the fall and have a bit of barbed wire that was on the wall. Faceless apartments on the East Side is a perfect description. Wow, how time flies and how we forget the small details. Especially that our kids don't ever remember those days. Sounds like a very good book especially the history part as well as the character development.

Liviania said...

I am reading this one currently and truly enjoying it. Beth is a wonder.

Donna said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm going to add this one to my to-read list.

☆sapphire said...

I remember very well the collapse of the Berlin wall. This book sounds like a good, timely and interesting book. The wall fall and what just happened in Ukraine and in Crimea remind me of ""Everything changes, nothing remains without change.”oh how is the world going to be?

troutbirder said...

Timely and sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review!

Elizabeth said...

You are right, Sarah!
This sounds right up my street. A really fascinating review of history in our time.
Will spring ever come?

Rose said...

This sounds like a great book to put on reading lists in history and English classes. A great way to bring this period to life for young people. I have some vivid memories of the Cold War, including drills for nuclear disasters--pretty scary for a 12-year-old.

Jenn Jilks said...

Well-written. I always liked using this type of book in my teaching practice. Sadly, I am gainfully retired!
(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!

Barrie said...

This sounds fantastic! And what a great book for me to read with child #4, my daughter from a divided country. Thank you for reviewing!

A Cuban In London said...

How interesting! That's also a part of my life I remember very well. Thanks for the review.

Greetings from London.