Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: Undercover by Beth Kephart

Elisa feels like an undercover agent. She’s not pretty like her mother and sister and her usual confidant, her father, is away for long stretches on business. She goes pretty much unnoticed at school, only getting brief attention from her “clients” – high school boys that buy metaphors from her in order to win over girls. But through her talent for writing and her newfound love of ice skating, Elisa slowly begins coming into her own.

Beth was afraid I wouldn’t like her style, what with my usual focus on high-concept, plot driven novels. But she needn’t have worried. I also enjoy quiet, literary novels, especially when they are as well written, captivating and inspiring as this one.

Elisa is a character I think many of us “bookish” types can relate to. I wasn’t as invisible or friendless in high school as Elisa, but I recognize that feeling of not quite belonging to the high school social scene. What I found refreshing was that Elisa didn’t take the typical teen journey towards acceptance which so often involves sucking up to the popular kids, acting out, or getting a radical makeover. She doesn’t look for external justification for her existence, but instead looks inwardly for it.

There is one scene that stands out especially in my mind for its insightful beauty; one in which Elisa’s emotions are especially fragile because her father is again far away and sort-of-love-interest Theo’s actions are confusing her. She races to an ice covered pond, a place which has become her refuge, a place she feels she belongs. And she thinks about West Side Story and about the song “Somewhere” which is about peace and quiet and open air:

“There’s a place for us,” it starts, the first word becoming the next word, slowly. “There’s a time for us.” Each note as pure as promise.

And she skates under the moon:

That was me, the girl above the pond. Me with my arms thrown out and the night behind me, the night holding me up, for that’s how it’s done. I was the beginning and the end, the poem I had yet to write, transcendent, which is not the same thing, not the same thing in the least, as being invisible. I was what the moon was shining its spotlight on.

“Somewhere” is a song. It is a pond, at night.

I first heard the song “Somewhere” in 8th grade, and I too clung to it, believing the promise that someday I too would find my place. And you know what? I did.

If I could go back in time and give this novel to my 8th grade self, I would. My adult self is certainly in love with it.

Undercover is now available in hardcover and will be released in paperback at the end of May.

30 comments:

Erika Lynn said...

great review! I have read a few books lately that I wish I could go back and read to my 8th grade self.

NotNessie said...

The sad thing is that I don't think my 8th grade self would have been able to appreciate the wisdom.. oh well.

bermudaonion said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could go back in time and teach our 8th grade self a thing or two. The book sounds wonderful.

Mari said...

I plan on reading Undercover very soon. I read House of Dance last year and fell in love with Beth's writing. Wonderful review. :)

Insert Book Title Here said...

Excellent review. This book sounds great and I certainly could of used it in high school.

Amee said...

I loved House of Dance by Beth so I can't wait to read this one too! Just waiting for paperback. ;)

Beth Kephart said...

Whoa and whew, and I'm serious.

I have worried since I walked on a sunny, brisk day to the post office with an UNDERCOVER addressed to you under my arm, Lenore. What would you think? What might you say?

I am breathing now, and I am so grateful. A link back to you on my blog.

Much gratitude and love,

b

Ladytink_534 said...

Aw how sweet! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Emily Ruth said...

Wasn't it just beautiful? I love the review. I know I'm lucky to be able to read it in 10th grade :) It's definitely the type of book I'd buy and share with everybody

Sherry said...

I copied so many passages from this book into my commonplace book. A record number, I think. I'm so excited for the new paperback addition that includes extra poetry.

Steph Su said...

Yeah, this is a great review, Lenore! I have this checked out from the library and really want to pick it up after reading your thoughts on it now. :)

Amy said...

I loved this book, too, and got goosebumps just reading the passage again. Beth is so incredibly gifted with words. :)

Staci said...

I love your gift with words!! This is a wonderful review and I'm seriously going to hunt this book down!! I must read it! Thank you Lenore...thank you!

Staci said...

Lenore,
I knew this author's name was familiar to me for some reason and after I posted your link to my goodreads list I realized that I had read her outstanding memoir about her son back in 2006. I totally recommend this book to you. A Slant of Sun: One Child's Courage.

Lisa said...

What a great review! I love it when a book gives me something I can touch on in my own life - a song or an event or a movie, something that a character and I both experienced.

Alea said...

Aww yay! I definitely have my eyes on the paperback when it's released!

Jen said...

Sounds lovely ^_^ I love book people!

Great review <3

the epic rat said...

Wow, what a review! I especially like the quotes that you included, and Somewhere is a beautiful song!

There are many books that I wish I had when I was in high school!

H said...

Wow, I have to get this book. Em's given it a great recommendation too so really I have no excuse!

Melissa Walker said...

I LOVE this book too, Lenore! Beth is a poet.

Lenore said...

I remember my 8th grade self quite well, and I would have appreciated the wisdom, I'm (pretty) sure.

Staci - Thanks for letting me know about A Slant of Sun: One Child's Courage. My best friend is going through a similar thing with her daughter. I will recommend it to her.

Tessa said...

Selling metaphors - an absolutely perfect way to earn pocket money! And the image of the young girl skating in the spotlight of the moon is beyond beautiful. I'm a long way from the 8th grade now, but I just know I will love this book for the sheer poetry of Beth's words. Thank you for the excellent review, Lenore.

Sadako said...

Read about this on Beth Kephart's blog, and I can't wait to read it. Elisa sounds like a character I can really relate to.

Alexa said...

Oh this book sounds wonderful, just my kind of thing. I love the passage you quoted.

S. Krishna said...

This book sounds really sweet. Thanks for the review.

Mrs. Magoo said...

Oh, I'm in 8th grade right now!! I'll have to check this out :)

writemeg said...

Awesome! This one sounds great. I love the quotes you included, so I'm definitely going to grab it soon!

Em said...

"If I could go back in time and give this novel to my 8th grade self, I would."

Me, too. Me, too. :-)

Em said...

"If I could go back in time and give this novel to my 8th grade self, I would."

Me, too. Me, too. :-)

avisannschild said...

I really want to read this book now!