This Random Friday book review is Going Over, a teen historical romance by Beth Kephart. It’s new this month from Chronicle Books. I won a free copy in a Goodreads giveaway.
It’s 1983. Wild graffiti artist Ada and cautious astronomer Stefan are dating from opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. Ada wants Stefan to escape from East Berlin. But does he dare?
This book is right up my alley (YA, Cold War, etc.) but we got off to a rocky start. At first Ada seemed selfish to me. She threatens to break up with Stefan unless he risks his life trying to escape. As I learned more of Ada’s secrets, I understood why she needed him with her. She’s strong, but even the strongest person can only handle so much alone.
At sixteen, Ada is already working in a daycare to help her damaged mother and grandmother eke out an existence in a squatter’s village. She’s also trying to protect a little Turkish boy and his abused mother. Ada deals with her feelings by spraypainting them onto the Berlin Wall. Her pictures sound so evocative that I wish I could see them. I also wish the book was a little less cagey. Unpleasant events are never explicitly stated – just hinted at. I’ll always wonder if things were really as bad as I thought.
Ada has plenty to do right from the get-go, but Stefan’s story gets off to a slow start. He spends the first half of the book waffling over whether to try and cross the wall. He’s caught between memories of his visits with Ada and his grandfather’s ill-fated escape attempt. However, once he reveals his desire to pursue a career not open to him in the East and starts gearing up to implement his crazy escape plan (which is based on a true story), he becomes a lot more interesting.
While I enjoyed the plot and characters, I wasn’t keen on the writing style. Ada and Stefan’s stories are told from two of my least favourite perspectives: first person present (I do this, I do that) and second person present (you do this, you do that). First person present is popular in YA because it helps create immediacy, but second person present is unusual and irritating. The author also makes some strange grammatical choices. I assume they’re meant be poetic, but I just found them difficult to swallow.
The author obviously did a lot of research into Berlin, the Cold War, the problems faced by Turkish immigrants, and graffiti. However, I don’t think Going Over is a good introduction to any of these topics. Description and explanation are sparse. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about Cold War Berlin, and even I didn’t understand what was happening at times. To avoid confusion, I suggest reading a few Wikipedia articles before picking up this book.
A good effort, but it didn’t blow me away. I rate it:
This review brought to you by: