By Beth Kephart
Available now from Chronicle Books
Read more in my Beth Kephart tag
"You have to wait. You have to be absolutely sure. Love is the biggest thing, of course. But there are other considerations." -p. 78
I have never been to Berlin. I have certainly never been to 1983 Berlin, given that I was yet to be born. But Beth Kephart took me there. She brought to life a city divided. She showed a city where sometimes people never come home, to be buried without a body. She showed a city where a group of immigrants do not fit in, and not just because they don't speak the languages. She showed two teenagers who are in love, who sometimes resent each other and who make art and who look at the stars and who plan. Two teenagers who are stuck on opposite sides of that city divided.
Stefan lives in East Berlin with his grandmother. He is the more timid of the two, but if he's going to be with Ada, he'll be the one who bears the risk of escaping over the wall. Ada lives in West Berlin with her mother and grandmother and works at a daycare center where one of her young charges has gone missing. She was the last person to see him, but she can't convince anyone else to look for him even though she knows he must be in danger. It's another straw that's breaking her back, because Ada isn't sure how long she can keep waiting for Stefan. She loves him, but she's young, and she only sees him twice a year. He isn't there for her, and that's often what you need most from the people you love.
Beth Kephart was already an accomplished, polished author when she started writing YA fiction. But with every new release it feels like she's growing more into herself as a writer. When I read GOING OVER, there was something pure about the experience. I felt like I was reading the book Kephart wanted to write. She has a singular style, one that doesn't always work for me, but it sucked me in completely with GOING OVER. I fell into the imagery and the rhythm of the prose, so often staccato and intense.
I, honestly, don't know much about Berlin during this time period. It goes beyond never having been there myself. Oh, I know the basics, which side is which, that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but I have no familiarity with the specifics. (I'm definitely curious now about some of the suggested reading in the back.) GOING OVER really did make me feel like I was peering in, through the characters of Stefan and Ada. And I got different glimpses, because they not only live in very different areas, but have very different outlooks.
I will say that I enjoyed the Ada chapters more than the Stefan chapters. Part of that is the nature of their characters. She's more proactive and more reactive than Stefan. Both of them think a lot, and Ada is the one more likely to go out and do something rather than think some more. At the same time, Stefan isn't less developed than Ada. He has just as much background, personality, and his own interests. I'll also say that some of the ending is a bit convenient, but it fits the style of the story and there's still plenty of danger.
GOING OVER is a terrific bit of historical fiction. I would recommend it for teens and up, because there's some death that younger readers might find upsetting. There's another event that some readers might find upsetting, but it's written obliquely enough that younger readers shouldn't tune in to the details of the incident. If the kid is a fan of WWII and post-WWII fiction it probably wouldn't bother them, however.