Monday, March 3, 2014

ARC Book Review: Going Over by Beth Kephart

Title: Going Over
Author: Beth Kephart
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: April 1st, 2014
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
The cover is cute and, having read the synopsis, most of the elements make sense.  However, I don't particularly feel this would jump off the shelf at anyone.  To be honest, the reason I stopped to take a second look was because of the National Book Award Finalist tag from an author that I had not yet encountered. 


I will admit, I got sucked in by the award nominated author tag.  I had never heard of Beth Kephart before and certainly not read any of her books, but the National Book Award is a big, prestigious silver sticker - and she was a finalist!  Perhaps, there is a reason the committee passed her over and I probably should have as well.

Going over is the story of two teenagers stuck on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall.  Full disclosure: that is not a part of history with which I am entirely familiar.  I started the book, hoping for some sort of explanation or perhaps a story that started when the wall first went up (incidentally I would love to read a book about waking up on that morning, suddenly cut off from family and friends whom you had embraced just the night before - get on that authors) but instead, I got thrown right into the midst of the story and actually had to go do a little online research before I felt qualified to read this novel.  Ada lives in the East with her mother and grandmother.  At night she sneaks to the wall to capture the images of famous escapees with her paint cans.  By day she works at a daycare and dreams of the day when her boyfriend, Stefan will make the leap of faith to join her.

I did find this novel rather difficult to follow.  There were no explanations of certain unfamiliar words or customs and I did not understand the mechanics of the wall.  Were people actually allowed to visit from the East?  Weren't they afraid that they wouldn't be allowed to return?  I realize that the West was meant to be a place of suffering and anguish, but the author didn't make this particularly clear.  Stefan never spoke about his hardships, other than have had a job chosen for him, while Ada constantly mentioned hers.  Speaking of which, it seemed particularly selfish that while the family lived in very poor conditions, Ada was spending money of spraypaint to cover the wall.  Perhaps I am reading all of this wrong and it might be different for a reader that is more versed in the time frame and circumstances in which the book takes place.  

Part of the narrative is written in the third person, which takes some getting used to and I am still not entirely sure that I liked it.  Neither of the characters is particularly moving and I did not relate to either of them.  This had a serious impact on my enjoyment of the novel because I simply did not care what happened to Ada and Stefan.  Ada was loud, impetuous and pushy.  She constantly talked to Stefan of escape and would not listen to his concerns about leaving his grandmother behind, not to mention the serious chance that he would be killed in the attempt.  As a result, Stefan did not make many arguments and seemed like a complete pushover.  He was flat and boring with nothing to define his character other than an interest in astronomy.  I was actually far more interested in the story of the little boy who ran away than I was with the two teenagers. 

This most interesting part of the novel, for me, was the snippets of stories of people who either made it over the wall successfully, or died trying.  A particular heartbreaker was

"Giuseppe Savoca, six years old, who wasn't even trying to escape.  Giuseppe was a kid playing with a friend.  They were looking for fish along the riverbank and he fell.  The guards did nothing; they let him drown.  He was six."

These stories were moving and painful and made me even more angry at Ada for pressuring Stefan into something with such real danger behind it.  

The novel itself was pretty slow paced.  I didn't see any real excitement until the very end.  By this point however, I was not emotionally invested enough in the characters for it to have any real impact.  I think this novel had great potential but, for me, it simply was not realized.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Gunplay, Knifeplay, Murder, Rape
Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Shit, Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse:


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