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You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart tackles the tough topic of child abduction from two perspectives — that of the young victim, Sophie, and that of a mother, Emmy, whose child is stolen.  In this powerful, yet quiet novel, Kephart explores how one unexpected event can devastate entire worlds.

While the topic is ripped from the headlines, there is no sensationalism here.  Through carefully selected words in her poetic prose, Kephart builds tension and suspense, like the quiet vibration growing louder on the railroad tracks as the train approaches.  It also provides a quiet space — like the air between the branches of a tall tree — for readers to contemplate what each voice is saying, what each voice is struggling to address, what pain is closed inside of them and just clawing to get out.

“My feet are two pale fish inside the tight ponds of my Keds.  I leave the street for the train station.  I leave the station and cross onto the tracks, slick-backed and shiny as snail glisten.  The black gauze of the clouds flap at the moon, and from the tracks I can see into the backs of people’s houses, the private places where the lamps have not gone off.  It’s like looking through snow globes, worlds behind glass.”  (page 21)

Kephart’s prose is very lyrical and imagistic, and readers need to pay careful attention to her lines.  For instance, the above passage perfectly demonstrates Emmy’s frame of mind after losing her child.  She is lost, drowning, unmoored.  She has become separate from those who have “normal” lives because that’s what she believed she had with her child and husband, no matter how imperfect the marriage.

Emmy and Sophie have strong voices, both with stories to tell, and having one without the other here would have left too much unsaid.  Kephart is a masterful storyteller, building characters from the inside out, ensuring readers receive well-rounded men and women with strengths and weaknesses.  But there is always a mystical element to her novels, something in the background that is left unexplained.  She trusts the reader to uncover the truth of these relationships she’s building and the mysteries of what motivates them to keep moving forward even when things are at their most dark and uncertain.

“But my voice skids away, rides the slippery tracks.  Far away, at the bend in the rails, the night is lamped.  It is yellow and growing brighter, and now I understand:  the train has big yellow eyes.  Lovely ocher liquid eyes.  They put the shimmer down on the tracks and splatter the dark.”  (Page 22)

Beyond the main story, there are Helen and Cloris a devoted couple of aunts to a young boy, Joey, who is as normal as can be to Sophie.  Like Joey who supports Sophie, quirky Arlen and fantastical Autumn support Emmy in ways that are unexpected.  Although Emmy’s scenes, which are told from her point of view, limit readers’ knowledge of how she becomes institutionalized, it is not how she got there that is important to the story.  What is important is what happens there and how it transforms her.  Some of the hospital scenes are reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — minus the booze, floozies,and Nurse Ratched — in that she is there against her will and wants to escape, but for a while she merely is.  The relationship Emmy builds with Autumn helps her repair her broken psyche, and in this way, Kephart’s hospital is the antithesis of what happens in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

You Are My Only is an emotional powerhouse drawing redemption out of the shattered pieces of lives rendered asunder by a single event.  Through faith and love these characters can begin the heal, rebuild, and flourish.  What more could readers ask for?  Stunning, precious, and captivating from beginning to end.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. Kephart teaches the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania. You can visit her blog.  Also check out this chat.

My other Beth Kephart reviews:

Please come back this afternoon for my interview with Beth Kephart about You Are My Only and for a giveaway.

Mailbox Monday #151

First, I would like to congratulate (Ryan) on winning My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due (my review) from the last Mailbox Monday giveaway.

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Mailbox Monday tour blog.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  You Are My Only by Beth Kephart; finally my 5 pre-ordered books arrived (so the two of you readers who have won a copy should receive them soon from me) and 1 autographed copy from Beth after I won her Treasure Hunt, which I will treasure forever.

2.  Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly for review in January from Sourcebooks.

3.  Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers for review in December from Ulysses Press.

4.  Henry Tilney's Diary by Amanda Grange for review in December from Berkley/Penguin.

5.  The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath for review in December from Berkley/Penguin.

6. Ivan and Misha by Michael Alenyikov, which I won from Unabridged Chick!

7. All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson from Library Thing Early Reviewers.

What did you get in your mailbox?

Some Lucky Winners….

Today, I want to congratulate some winners of some spectacular books.

The two winners of You Are My Only by Beth Kephart:

Jill of Rhapsody in Books
Janel of Janel’s Jumble

The winner of The Taker by Alma Katsu:

Johannah from A Book and a Bite

Congrats ladies!

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart Treasure Hunt & Giveaway

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart, which will be released this month and is also available for Kindle, is a book I have been anticipating for months.  I’m not a big reader of young adult fiction, but I am a big advocate for authors I adore for their consistently excellent story-telling capabilities — Tim O’Brien, Yusef Komunyakaa (yes, even poets tell stories), Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Anita Shreve, Karen White, Christopher Moore, and others — and Beth Kephart is fast becoming one of those favorites.

I met her last year when she released Dangerous Neighbors (my review) at BEA, and we’ve since bonded over poetry, especially since much of her writing is very poetic — attracting my undivided attention.  I’ve read Nothing But Ghosts (my review), which I loved, and Undercover (my review), which is my favorite of her books so far.  So you can imagine that waiting for my pre-ordered copy of You Are My Only (plus giveaway copies) is killing me.

Recently, Beth came up with a delightful idea that has kept me occupied over the last month — a Scavenger Hunt.  All I had to do was hunt down a series of guest posts throughout the blogosphere about the behind-the-scenes of novel writing and title selection, which as any writer will tell you is gold.  Since I’ve read all of the posts, I wanted to provide the links for you to enjoy as well, so you can get a glimpse into the writer’s process.

1.  The (furious) metamorphosis of Sophie

2.  Opening the Doors to Clois and Helen by Beth Kephart

3.  When Emmy called I listened

4.  I was obsessed with an asylum

5.  What name should we give this book?

I hope that you will take the time to check out the scavenger hunt posts, learn more about Beth and her writing, and consider not only entering my giveaways later on but also buying a copy of You Are My Only for yourself or a friend.  Thanks Beth for making my Internet time more fun.

If you would like to win 1 of 2 copies (two winners) of You Are My Only by Beth Kephart from me:

1.  Please leave a comment about which of Beth’s books is your favorite or if you haven’t read any of her books, why you want to read You Are My Only.

2.  If you spread the word about the giveaway, tell me how and leave a link for additional entries up to 3.

3.  For 5 more entries, leave a comment on Beth’s guest posts and let me know you did.

Deadline is Oct. 31, 2011, at the witching hour!  This giveaway is international.

Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart‘s Dangerous Neighbors, which hits stores on August 24, is set in 1876 in Philadelphia on the verge of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the United States as two sisters, twins, struggle with changes in their relationship and find the ability to fly on their own.

Katherine and Anna may be twins, but they are very different with Anna considered the beauty and adventurous one and Katherine as the dependable protector.  As adolescence hits and Anna falls in love with the baker’s son, Bennett, the relationship between the girls changes, forcing Katherine to make tough choices and keep secrets.  Anna is like the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia in that she winds her way through a society on the cusp of change and modernity.  She takes the plunge even though her love for the Bennett would be frowned upon by her family given his status in the city compared to that of her father, a banker.

“Nothing in this world is safe.  Clouds form.  Trees split.  Horses rear.  Ice breaks.  Fire rages.  Maybe the bird in that girl’s cage is better off, but then again, Katherine thinks, the cage could crack, the prison could itself perish, along with its prisoner.”  (Page 32 of ARC)

Dangerous Neighbors is told from Katherine’s point of view, which limits what the reader sees and hears from Anna’s perspective, but in this way, readers know the story is Katherine’s and not Anna’s.  Katherine must protect her wayward sister, or at least that’s the pressure she feels from her parents, particularly her father.  Their mother barely plays a role in their lives as she focuses all of her energy on the Centennial celebration and women’s rights.

While references are made to dangerous neighbors by her father and others in the book, readers will find that the true dangers lie in the decisions one makes about his or her own life and how those decisions can sometimes lead to unexpected tragedy.  Dangerous Neighbors is a young adult novel dealing with very adult themes of family, growing up, and moving past grief. Kephart’s attention to historical and descriptive detail will transport readers back in time, while tugging them along emotionally and with some suspense as Katherine unravels her tragic story.  Another delightful novel from Kephart, though readers may wish to see more of the mysterious William, who rescues Katherine from herself.

***I received my signed ARC of Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart from Book Expo America.***

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.***

Examiner Interviews & Poetry Gift Ideas

It seems that I’m behind in alerting you to my latest interviews and articles at D.C. Literature Examiner.  Better late than never, I say.

First for all you last minute shoppers, I have a list of poetry books that will meet the needs of a variety of family members and friends in your social circles.  I cannot recommend these titles enough.

Here’s the latest interviews:

I’ve interviewed Karen White about her latest novel in the gothic, Southern, mystery series The Girl on Legare Street.  Check it out here and here.

We talk about her book and her reading and writing habits.

Beth Kephart, which I’m sure many of you have heard about from Amy at My Friend Amy and other blogs, graciously submitted to my questions.  We talk about Nothing But Ghosts, her writing, reading, and young adult fiction.  Check out the interview here and here.

I hope you’ll be checking them out in your down time.  Have a great holiday everyone!

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart’s Nothing But Ghosts follows Katie D’Amore’s struggle to recover enough to live after the death of her mother, but her mother’s ghost is not the only spirit present in this novel.  Lost loves, mysterious socialites locked inside their estates, and other specters haunt these pages.  Kephart’s narration from the point of view of Katie is limiting, but an excellent choice as readers unravel the mystery of her town’s hermetic socialite alongside Katie.

“My dad has this knack for lighting the darkness, for uncracking all the cracks that break images apart, for returning the disappeared to the land of the living.”  (Page 5)

Katie must face her loss, her future, and the past, and she does it in the basement of a library and in a garden of Miss Martine’s estate as she and other kids work through the summer digging a hole for a gazebo foundation.  What Katie doesn’t expect is to find life in the past and the present, nor does she expect to see her father emerge from his own opaque painting to whisk broad, vivid paint across a new canvas.

“If you were looking down on me and my bike from a cloud above, you’d think we were a zipper.  That’s how fast we go, how straight down, all the way to Miss Martine’s.”  (Page 9)

“What if the glass breaks and the bird flies in? What if the whole upstairs shatters and crumbles? I imagine the finch making a nest inside my lamp shade — dropping the feathers into my shoes, over my breadspread, over my pillow, over me.  I imagine everything giving way to the finch.”  (Page 22)

Nothing but Ghosts is not simply a coming of age story, but a tale of how each of us deals with loss.  Kephart is a master of description, making each image vivid, each plot line significant, and she does it all in concise, poetic language.  In a way, readers may find that parts of this novel are simply a large narrative poem.  Very enjoyable, quick read, with deeper meaning and an even deeper sense of understanding.

Check out this book trailer too:

About the Author: (from author’s Website)

Beth Kephart is the author of five memoirs, an autobiography of a river, a young adult novel, and a newly released corporate fable called ZENOBIA: THE CURIOUS BOOK OF BUSINESS (co-authored with Matthew Emmens); four new books are forthcoming. A SLANT OF SUN was a 1998 National Book Award finalist, a Salon.com Best Book of the Year, and the winner of other honors. INTO THE TANGLE OF FRIENDSHIP was written with the support of an NEA grant; GHOSTS IN THE GARDEN was a Book Sense pick; FLOW: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PHILADELPHIA’S SCHUYLKILL RIVER was supported by a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant; and UNDERCOVER, released in September of 2007, was named a best young adult book of the year by School Library Journal, Kirkus, Amazon, and others. The winner of the 2005 Speakeasy Poetry Prize, a contributor to many anthologies, an occasional teacher and frequent reviewer, Kephart has written for publications ranging from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post, to Family Circle, Philadelphia magazine, Salon.com, Real Simple, and Parenting. Kephart is the strategic writing partner in an award-winning, boutique marketing communications firm called Fusion.

FTC Disclosure:  All title links and images will bring you to an Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase required.  Additionally, my copy of Nothing But Ghosts was borrowed from my local library and recommended by Amy of My Friend Amy and Beth Fish Reads.  

It may take me a while to get to books recommended by bloggers, but I do get to them.  Thanks everyone.