Tuesday, June 2, 2009

UNDERCOVER by Beth Kephart

Having recently read NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, I was anxious to crack open another Beth Kephart novel. UNDERCOVER was her first novel, and I'm surprised I missed it. According to the cover, Kephart was a "National Book Award Nominee" and well-deserved, I'd say.

Elisa has always viewed herself as more of her father's daughter. Her sister Jilly and her mother share a passion for make-up and fashion. They are always dressed in perfectly matched colors with every hair in place. Elisa, on the other hand, has perpetually wild hair and could care less about clothes and colors. Her passion lies in words and nature.

The only person who understands Elisa is suddenly missing from her life. Her father shares her interest in words and literature, but his extended business trip is keeping him from home. At least that's the excuse Elisa imagines as she tries to keep him up-to-date with letters sent to distant San Francisco. As the days and weeks pass, it's becoming more obvious that his business travel may be a side-effect of trouble in her parents' marriage.

Elisa has previously accepted her backseat in life. At home she watches her mother and sister parade, and at school she uses her talent for poetry to ghost-write inspirational love poems for her male classmates to use as they court girls that don't even know Elisa exists. All this has been satisfying enough until she met Theo.

Theo gladly accepts Elisa's poem offerings because he's head-over-heels in love with Lila. Without Elisa's words, he knows he wouldn't have a chance. He shows his appreciation by developing a friendship with Elisa, but that friendship sparks something in her she never felt before.

With her father absent and conflicting feelings about Theo filling her thoughts, Elisa seeks peace by grabbing a pair of her mother's old ice skates and escapes to the hidden ice of a secluded pond. The freedom she feels as she imagines beautiful music and teaches herself to skate, helps her cope with the twisting emotions that have suddenly invaded her life.

Readers will be immediately captivated by Kephart's smooth and lyrical prose. Her words and story flow as cleanly and easily as Elisa's skates on the pond. UNDERCOVER portrays Elisa's struggle to deal with insecurities and push herself to achieve what those around her know she is capable of achieving. Teens will easily relate to her desire to fit in both at home and at school, yet not compromise her own personal spirit and view.

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