a wall, a telescope, + spray paint // going over by beth kephart #bookreview
People who hide don't want to be found, Omi says. But Savas is just a little boy, and maybe hiding is not what Savas wants, and maybe what happens next will be my fault: I shouldn't have let him vanish. And maybe, also, I should confess to this: Mailing a word like now across the border wasn't exactly Stasi smart. - Going Over by Beth Kephart
My first thought when I bought Going Over: So it's like Romeo and Juliet in 1980s Berlin. I expected the romance to be tacky and hoped for the beautiful writing style I'd loved in another of Beth Kephart's novels, One Thing Stolen, to save the story. I didn't expect the setting and mood to be so authentically German/Russian and I clearly didn't expect the love story to be both a whisper in the background and an important piece of the backbone of a novel about courage and trust and vibrantly clashing worlds within a history that's only really barely a generation old.
Ada (sixteen, reckless graffiti-painting child-care worker) and Stefan (eighteen, telescope-gazing apprentice) have always known of each other. Their grandmothers are friends who lived through World War II together, became unexpectedly, horribly separated by the Berlin Wall, yet visit each other a few times each year. On these visits Ada and her Omi cross from West to East and over the years Ada and Stefan fall in love. It's a somewhat insecure, desperate first love that I personally couldn't see being long-term but it's the kind of love that fuels Ada's recklessness, that pushes Stefan to contemplate an impossible escape.
Mostly we see things through Ada's eyes. She tells her part of the story in a haphazard, hopeful voice that suits the passion of her character. I could definitely see the children's centre where she works, feel her anguish at the injustices of her world: her mother's failed, complicated relationships, the abuse and fear a young Turkish boy experiences, the anger at Stefan's hesitance to escape, and her best friend's love of an American soldier threatening to fall apart.
Stefan's part of the narrative is told in second person, which I liked because of its uniqueness but I'm not quite sure why the author chose that style. His character growth, compared to Ada's, is huge and exciting and I wish he told more of the story. All of Stefan's relationships with other characters are slow to deepen and you get the feeling his world could crumble at any moment. I felt his fear and pain and cheered so hard for his ending.
It did take me a while to feel comfortable with both writing styles; Beth Kephart doesn't often stop to explain the details or background of situation so you can end up feeling a little lost or as if you're just floating through the story. Definitely not something I sped through. I learnt a lot about failed escapes from East to West and about Turkish immigrants in Berlin; seriously, the historical background of Going Over is amazing. (It blows my mind a bit to think this was happening when my parents were my age.) What I loved the most was how she captured both characters and their worlds and subplots; it could have been easily been 500 pages long. So yes, parts were a little unexplored and the ending was little abrupt.
Not perfection, but important and worth the read, I'm giving it 4 out of 5 stars. This is a novel about lots of different kinds of love (family love, friendship love, protecting love, and young love) and there is so much going on for a short novel, but if you're looking for a bit of different young adult historical fiction, Going Over by Beth Kephart would be one to try.