Title: Going Over
Author: Beth Kephart
Genre: YA historical fiction
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
Number of pages: 264
First line: We live with ghosts.
Goodreads blurb: In the early 1980s Ada and Stefan are young, would-be lovers living on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall–Ada lives with her mother and grandmother and paints graffiti on the Wall, and Stefan lives with his grandmother in the East and dreams of escaping to the West.
I grew up in a movie-loving house. In fact, my dad is the biggest movie buff I’ve ever met, and his DVD collection is in the hundreds – at least. I’ve never actually counted. Though I could easily find out, as my tech-hating dad bought an iPod specifically because he could download an app to catalog his DVD collection. (He has since found out that it is also a wonderful way to listen to audiobooks, but that is another story.) When I was growing up, we were the first family I knew to own a VCR, and we would head to our local VHS rental store and rent the same videos over and over again, because the selection was so small. One of the videos we watched several times growing up, and which I particularly loved, was the movie Night Crossing, about two families who attempt to escape East Germany in a hot air balloon. I’ve been fascinated with stories of people escaping over the wall ever since.
That fascination was enough to get me very excited about reading a book about wall-separated teenage sweethearts. Combine the premise with author Beth Kephart’s beautiful word artistry, and you have a book that is pure gold. I am not exaggerating, as I gobbled it up, and my mother is now reading it as voraciously as I did.
Beth’s writing is poetic – I’m sure you’ve heard that before – but it is also completely unique to her. The style is so different from most other things I read that I am immediately drawn into the world of her books. The wordcraft makes the reading experience much more immediate, as if I could see and taste and touch and hear the things that the characters experience. When I read, I felt I was living in Berlin with Ada and Stefan.
One thing I truly appreciated as I read is that Beth avoided the stereotype that everything in the East is horrible and everything in West Berlin is wonderful. Ada, who lives on the western side of the wall, has a hard life. She lives in a squatters’ apartment with a mother who is continually looking for love from the wrong men, and a grandmother who is stuck in her memories of the war. Stefan, and the hope that one day he will escape over the wall and they will be together, is what keeps her going.
Stefan is also living with his grandmother, and with his guilt. When he was a child, his grandfather disappeared during an escape attempt, and Stefan’s much younger mind was convinced it was his fault. This guilt, and the fear brought on by the knowledge of past escapees’ fates, are what makes the decision so gut-wrenching. To cross over, and maybe be killed in the attempt? To leave his aging grandmother alone in her grief? To be with Ada? Or to stay, knowing that the quarterly visits from Ada will soon no longer be enough for either of them?
Stefan and Ada’s stories are propelled by their love for each other, but this book is so much more than a teenage romance. Each of them has reason to test their courage, to test their resolve, to test their determination to go on living and fighting and hoping when things are looking their most desperate. I absolutely loved this book. I wish I could press a copy into each of your hands, that is how much I believe you will love it, too.