Undercover by Beth Kephart

Elisa, a adolescent Cyrano de Bergerac, uses her love of words, nature and skating to navigate not only school and peer pressure, but also her family’s problems.  As a spy in Undercover by Beth Kephart, Elisa creates lines of verse to help her fellow male students make their girlfriends and soon-to-be girlfriends swoon.  She does so with stealth and folded scraps of paper without much thought, until Theo comes along.

“Dad likes to say, about both of us, that we’re undercover operatives who see the world better than the world sees us, and this, I swear, has its benefits.”  (page 8 )

Elisa takes much of her dad’s advice to heart, and much of that is probably because he’s away on business a lot of the time.  She spends quite a lot of time observing and creating verse until in Honors English she comes upon the tragedy of Cyrano, which effectively turns her philosophy upside down.  Beyond spending her days writing poems, she’s discovered a pond to provide her inspiration.  When it freezes over, she decides to skate . . . something she has never done before.

Undercover is a story about a girl who digs deep for courage, a courage she needs to write, to deal with fellow classmates, and to hold her family together.  Readers will connect with Elisa as they would reconnect with themselves, particularly if they were the student with few friends, felt that they were on the outside in many situations, or who wrote in their dark room at night alone.  Elisa is that girl in all of us.  She’s the young woman unsure of herself, her surroundings, and her abilities, but who is pushed beyond her self-imposed limits to reach higher, strive for more and dream big.  She does not want to be Cyrano.

Undercover will resonate with readers, push them to feel lonely when Elisa is alone, cheer up when she triumphs, and cry with happiness when all is right with the world.  The only drawback is that readers will not want to leave; they’ll want to know what happens with Theo, her rivals, and her family.  Kephart deftly uses language to paint each scene and elicit emotion, connecting the reader to Elisa through her casual narrative.  In many ways, readers will love this as much or more than Kephart’s Nothing But Ghosts.

I borrowed my copy of Undercover by Beth Kephart from the public library.

***Also, I forgot to mention that I took this book out upon Jill at Rhapsody in Books‘ recommendation.***


  1. I have read only one book by this author which I thought was okay. But I loved her writing, so I’m willing to give this book a try. Glad you liked it.

  2. I definitely liked this one more than Nothing But Ghosts. But I think part of the problem I had with NBG was all the intense hype. It was good though! I think she’s a very talented author!

    • I think at heart I liked the drama of NBG because I’m a poet at heart and we tend toward the dramatic sometimes. LOL But I really did love this one. It spoke to me in a way that NBG did not.

  3. You are on a Beth Kephart roll (and what better roll could you have?). I don’t think she has a mediocre book in the bunch, does she? I think you will really enjoy Dangerous Neighbors as well, even though it seemed very different for her.

    • I do seem to be on a roll. I like when authors branch out successfully. I’m really enjoying Dangerous Neighbors so far.

  4. Sounds like this is a book, and possibly author, I need to look for.

  5. I love characters that you can cheer for and get all wrapped up in, so this book sounds really good to me. Also, I was the type of teenager who always found myself hiding in my room to write, so the book interests me from that angle as well. Great review! I will be looking for it!

  6. Beth Hoffman says

    Loved your review, Serena! I just added this to my TBR list.

  7. I loved this book, too! Elisa’s life was very different from mine, but boy, could I relate to her. Wonderful review!

  8. Serena, I am touched and grateful. A note of thanks to you on my blog….

  9. I can tell you really loved this book. I’m going to have to give this author a try.

  10. This one sounds great, I do think it’s an author I should have a closer look at

  11. I loved this one, too – it was my first Kephart!