Book Review: Undercover by Beth Kephart

Title: Undercover
Author: Beth Kephart
Genre: YA contemporary fiction
Publisher: Harper Teen
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my own library
First line: Once I saw a vixen and a dog fox dancing.

I have been hearing how amazing Beth Kephart’s writing is from other bloggers for a while now – she’s even inspired her own reading challenge! It was because of these rave reviews that I purchased Undercover last year – and ROOB gave me the perfect excuse to pick it up sooner rather than later. And, as usually happens, my fellow book bloggers were right. Kephart’s writing is amazing – even though this book is a novel, it reads like poetry.

Elisa considers herself an undercover agent. She goes through life on the edges, seeing the beauty and wonder in the world that other people miss. Writing these thoughts down – her metaphors, she calls them – gives her a creative outlet. She is a Cyrano to the teenage boys in her high school, penning little bits of poetry for them to give to the girls they are trying to woo.

This system works for Elisa, until she becomes friends with one of the boys she has helped. Theo is now with Lila, the most popular girl in school, and when she senses that Theo and Elisa are becoming close she vows revenge.

Elisa is also dealing with trouble at home; her father is a consultant who works travels on assignments – but never for as long as he’s been gone on his current trip. Her father gets her in a way that her mother and older sister don’t, and Elisa feels his absence strongly. She finds comfort in her writing and in teaching herself to ice skate on a pond behind their home – but her new talent is the target of Lila’s vengeful plans.

That plot synopsis does no justice whatsoever to this beautiful book. Elisa’s voice is poetic and lyrical – there were so many sentences I underlined to remember. She is a refreshing character – different than what we see in a lot of YA novels. She’s not being pursued by a paranormal paramour. She hasn’t discovered that she’s destined to be a faerie queen or a member of the undead. She is simply trying to get by, to live her life, in spite of the fact that she isn’t completely beautiful or popular and that she’s worried that her parents’ marriage is falling apart. She keeps her worries inside, letting them come out in her writing. Elisa is a character that, as a teen, I would have related to in so many ways.

This book is brilliant because of Elisa. It is her story, her words, and they will stick with you for a long time.

Some examples:

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.

It used to be in winter that I dreamed of summer, when I could go out and hunt all day on behalf of Stash O’ Nature. Drinkable skies, I’d think of, and amber sun. Kitschy color in the garden. A little stir through an open door. The yakking of frogs. I liked darkness bowing out to light. I liked glisten on the grass, the pinkest morning. Sometimes the closest we get to being where we want to be is imagining we’re already there. I used to dream of summer in winter, of hitching all my thinking to the sun.

This book is full of word pictures like those, and there are so many I could share with you, but my fingers are tired of typing, and you really should read it all for yourself.

This book counts for the Bad Bloggers category of the TwentyTen Challenge; I read it because of Amy’s review.

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20 Responses to Book Review: Undercover by Beth Kephart

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    The blogosphere certainly is in love with Kephart, and shamefully, I have yet to read her. Just about everyone says she has the most beautiful prose. I just accepted an invitation to a blog tour of her latest book, so I am anxious to give her a try!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..24 Hour Read-a-thon: Hour 4 and Mini Challenge =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandy – I just signed on for a tour of Heart is Not a Size, too – we’ll be able to compare notes. 🙂

  2. Andreea says:

    Wow, this sounds so great. I loved those passages. I am off to check out this book. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention!

  3. Ash says:

    I’ve never heard of this author but I will definitely have to put her on my list to check out. Thanks for your review!
    .-= Ash´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesday (April 13) =-.

  4. yay! Once again I’m thrilled that you loved it. I find her writing so touching….I think you’ll love Heart and Ghost when you read it. 😉
    .-= Amy @ My Friend Amy´s last blog ..And Then These Are Some Books I Want to Read =-.

  5. Kailana says:

    I put this on hold at the library because they finally got a copy and I have heard good things about her. I am glad you liked it too!
    .-= Kailana´s last blog ..The Read-a-thon is here! =-.

  6. I agree with you – Beth Kephart’s writing is lyrical. I’m really looking forward to this book.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathy – I gave my copy to my 13yo daughter – said, “You must read this!” 🙂

  7. Florinda
    Twitter: florinda_3rs

    I just reviewed this (and Nothing But Ghosts) last week. I pretty much felt the same way you did about it – Elisa was very real to me, and the writing was wonderful. I’m very glad that book bloggers have introduced me to Beth Kephart.
    .-= Florinda´s last blog ..Book Talk: *Why Is My Mother Getting A Tattoo?*, by Jancee Dunn =-.

  8. Alita says:

    Hm, I may have to check this one out. Those passages are great – plus, I love the cover 🙂
    .-= Alita´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesday (04.13.10) =-.

  9. Kim
    Twitter: BookstoreK

    My daughter read Nothing But Ghosts and she enjoyed it, I’ll keep an eye out for this one.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Teen Operation Book Drop is Tomorrow! =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kim – I’ll be reading The Heart is Not a Size next month for a tour – looking forward to reading more from this author!

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