Kephart (A Slant of Sun) makes a smooth transition from adult nonfiction to YA fiction with this intelligent, multilayered love story. Instead of inheriting her mother's beauty like her older sister, highschool sophomore Elisa shares her father's wild hair and talent for observation ("Dad likes to say, about both of us, that we're undercover operatives who see the world better than the world sees us," says Elisa). At school, she ghostwrites poems and romantic metaphors for smitten boys to give to girls ("Dear Lori, Last night I left my window open and a firefly flew through. So much light and all I could think of was you. Love Matt"). Although she's lonely, all goes well enough until Elisa becomes attracted to Theo, who has drafted her to write love notes for a pretty but manipulative girl with a pronounced cruel streak. Elisa's poetic, unself-conscious descriptions of nature (especially what occurs at a pond, her favorite place for reflection) gracefully evoke her loneliness for her father, away on business (or is his absence prolonged by marital distress?); her frustrations with herself for always staying in the shadows; and her anger at Theo for going along with his girlfriend's mistreatment of her. Neatly balancing action and contemplation, Kephart offers a plethora of images, ideas about literature and even some well-known poems along with a plot that will speak to many teens. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Sharon Oliver
In this stunningly lyrical novel, Elisa is trapped in a world of her own making with a life that's not really her own. Elisa ghost writes love notes for the boys at school to give to their crushes, but refuses to participate in anything as mundane as love herself. Until she falls for classmate Theo, who asks her to write notes that will enable him to court the stunning Lila, who is everything Elisa is not and knows it. Elisa is also missing her father, who has left on an extended business trip. As her sadness creeps in and her parents' marriage begins to falter under the strain, Elisa takes refuge in nature, sending her father detailed letters describing the changing seasons. While on a hike, she stumbles across a long-forgotten pond, where she spends the winter teaching herself to ice skate, and where she bonds with fellow woods-walker Theo, who is surprised to find her skating alone. This book is full of teen cliches, including the nasty rich girl, the concerned teacher and the miraculous show-up-at-the-last-minute parent. And just in case the reader does not get the connection, Elisa's class is studying Cyrano de Bergerac. What not only saves this book but elevates it above others of its kind is the writing and beautiful language that seems to float you through the novel and imbues the main characters with a ring of believability. Reviewer: Sharon Oliver
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
I have reviewed novels in poetry format that don't necessarily sound like poetry; this is a prose novel dense with poetic language. Somehow that seems ironic to me. Kephart's narrator is Elisa, an awkward girl whose only social skill is in acting the part of Cyrano, dreaming up love notes for boys to use with their girlfriends. Her mother and sister are not like her. It's Elisa who is close to her dad, but when the father is estranged, quarrelling with their mother, Elisa and her sister are united in their fear that the family is destroyed. Elisa escapes into the woods that winter, learning to skate at a hidden pond where she sometimes meets Theo, a boy who appreciates her intelligence and sensitivity. A skating competition, an unusual one, seems to be the only way Elisa can persuade her father to come home, and her determination to be lovely at least this one time appeals to her mother and sister, who know how to help her emerge as a confident, graceful girl. An unusual story, told beautifully.
Booklist (starred review)
“Readers will fall easily into the compelling premise and Elisa’s memorable, graceful voice, and have no trouble recognizing the teen’s quiet courage as she leaves her comfortable isolation, claims her own talents, and embraces the people who matter most.”
"Readers will fall easily into the compelling premise and Elisa’s memorable, graceful voice, and have no trouble recognizing the teen’s quiet courage as she leaves her comfortable isolation, claims her own talents, and embraces the people who matter most."
Read an Excerpt
Undercover - EPB
Once I saw a vixen and a dog fox dancing. It was on the other side of the cul-de-sac, past the Gunns' place, through the trees, where the stream draws a wet line in spring. There was old snow on the ground that day, soft and slushy, and the trees were naked; I had my woolen mittens on. I was following the stream, and above and between the sound of the stream was the sound of birds, and also nested baby squirrels. The foxes, when I found them, were down by the catacombs, doing a slow-dance shuffle. Standing upright, I swear, palm to palm, with black socks on, red coats.
At school I didn't tell Margie about the fox dance, or David, or Karl. I didn't even tell Mr. Sheepals, in science, because it was what he'd call a non sequitur. My fox-dance story was an animal-kingdom story, and this was two years ago, second semester, eighth grade, when we were stuck on photosynthesis.
I have a sister, but she reads fashion magazines all day. My mother doesn't care for the woods. I kept my fox-dance story to myself, and I won't share it with others even now. It is my secret.
It's the other stuff I give awaythe way I read the sky, the way I watch the sun, the forty-two flavors of breeze. It's everything people don't look for until it's too late, until they need a metaphor or simile to help promote their love. They don't have to come to me, but they almost always do. They know I've got it covered.
Dear Sandy, I'll write, pretending I'm Jon. I came to the track meet to see you run, and it was like watching the lead bird in a migrating V. You were something else. Again. Then I fold the paper and Islip in a feather from my Stash O' Nature box. The next day Jon will rewrite it all in his own way and sail the thing through the vents of Sandy's locker, and a week later, I'll see themSandy and Jon, so all-in-love togethergoing down the hall. He'll keep his eyes down, as conspirators do. "Hey," I'll say. "Hey," he'll mumble.
It's interesting to me, what others cannot see. For example: The precursors of leaves on trees, which can be seen only just in front of dusk, in March, when the setting sun turns the branches pink or some primary shade of green. Then there's the neon glow of the eyes on bees, and also the way a gerbera daisy starts out thinking it's yellow before it turns pink. Nature, you see, has a mind of her own. She's mysterious, and mystery is romantic.
Dear Lori, I write. Last night I left my window open and a firefly flew through. So much light and all I could think of was you. Love Matt. Undercover - EPB. Copyright © by Beth Kephart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.