by Beth Kephart
April 1, 2014
A copy was provided for blog tour purposes.
Thank you Beth and Chronicle books:)
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. (Goodreads Summary.)
Guys, if you follow this blog you know that I am a serious fan of Beth Kephart. She writes some of the most beautiful books– you know, those books you have encountered that read almost like poetry. I LOVE those type of books. Books like Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. And Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. And Beth Kephart’s Small Damages. Of course characters, setting, and plot are all important–but when I find a book that excels not only in those areas but is also just a JOY to read–well friends that takes the reading experience to a whole other level.
So I had plans to read Beth’s next book even before I found out what it was about.
But when I did find out…I was STOKED. Why? Because I am a child of the 80s. I grew up during the days of Reagan and Gorbachev–the last days of the Cold War. I remember the Berlin Wall. I remember hearing stories about the daring attempts by East Berliner’s to cross that wall and make their way to freedom. And I remember clearly that day in 1989 when it came down.
I was thrilled to have the chance to read this book early.
It did not disappoint.
And because Beth’s writing is perhaps my favorite thing, I’m going to give a TON of examples in this post:)
Ten Things I Loved about Going Over.
1. Dual Pov
Going Over is told in the alternating POV’s of Ada and Stefan. Their grandmothers survived WWII together but Stefan’s family stayed in East Berlin while Ada’s went west. Here, Ada and Stefan’s descriptions of the other.
I’ve known Stefan since I was two years old, loved him since the day I turned twelve.
That’s three long years of loving Stefan in a city that keeps us apart. Two cities.
If you could see him, you would understand. Stefan is sunflower tall with deep blue eyes and thick, curling hair. He’s the strongest apprentice at the Eisfabrik on Köpenicker Strass, which makes the shoulders of his shirts too small.
He knows all the words to Depeche Mode songs and his hands are broad, his fingers thin and truthy.
She brings you basil leaves in summer and electric pop all year round. She hides chocolate in her pockets. She tears pages out of the books she likes and leaves them on your table. Once she showed up at the door in a spackled leather jacket, worn and beaten, she was boasting, by some surfboard-sanding punker. “It’s yours,” she said, and when she took it off, her arms were freckled color. She’s a graffiti genius, if you believe what she says. Cocky looks good on Ada.
Can’t say who I loved more of the two– I loved Ada’s fierceness and her bold courage.
But I loved Stefan’s intensity and quiet, yet no less daring, courage.
I guess it’s a draw 🙂
2. The 1980’s Cold War/ Berlin Wall setting
Probably my favorite thing about this book–other than Beth’s writing–is the setting of both East and West Berlin. Beth brought Spain to life in Small Damages and she does the same in Going Over. I felt the merging of nationalities, the crowding poverty and cut throat sensibility of the people in Ada’s West Berlin. And I felt the repressed, depressed grayness of Stefan’s East Berlin. I felt the suffocating claustrophobia Stefan lived with knowing that freedom and Ada were
just beyond his reach on the far side of a concrete wall.
And, as I said earlier–I am just in LOVE with this time in history–because it’s my time in history too. I was roughly the same age as Ada and Stefan during the 1980s. I know that this setting of Russia/ Soviet Union/ Cold War Era is gaining popularity in young adult fiction. How do I know? This year alone I have read three books set in one of these periods/ places: Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick; Sekret by Lindsay Smith and Going Over. It’s just as a recent comment on my review ofTsarina noted: the rise of communism is truly one of the most important factors in 20th century world history. It’s good to see more focus being placed on it in YA books.
3. Forbidden Romance
Who doesn’t love the forbidden romance storyline? From the ancient Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (another tale of two lovers separated by a wall) to Romeo and Juliet, it’s a timeless storyline that never fails to pull at my heartstrings again and again.
It’s crazy, how much you miss Ada. How steel-gray dead the days are, how slow the clock ticks when she’s not standing right here beside you. How easy she fits under your arm. How large-minded and unsour her hands are. How when she talks about the kids she loves, the streets she walks, the köfte, the bike with the wool parts that fly, you want everything she is, even if there is no one word for it, no vocabulary for her where you live, and hardly any chance.
Going Over is interesting in that the two lovers are separated in this book–it’s only when Ada and Stefan recollect their past visits with each other that you witness them together. And this of course lends to the overall feeling of longing, the feeling of desperation and living only for stolen moments.
So many wonderful secondaries in Going Over. There are the grandmother’s: Ada’s Omi and Stefan’s Grossmutter, who share a past. There are Ada and Stefan’s mothers, one present and one gone but not forgotten. There are Ada and Stefan’s friends, Arabelle and Lukas. And there are the children at Ada’s daycare job, sweet Savas and Meryem.
All are fleshed out and made whole. All are wonderful accompaniments to the main characters.
5. Art themes
Oh, you know I love them! Here, it’s Ada who is a graffitti artist–who sneaks out of her squatter residence to paint pictures of those German’s who wanted freedom and daringly made the jump. Ada paints these stories for Stefan, who sits in his East Berlin apartment with his telescope pointed to the West, to inspire him to find the courage and the way to make that jump himself.
6. The subplots
It’s Bunker housing here–long parallels of concrete, steel plates of satellite dishes, a mess of underground rails and overground rails and empty bus stops and tearooms, kebob restaurants, kurdan cups. It’s everything that’s happened since the wall went up and the Turks came in to do the jobs that the East Berliners couldn’t get to. They call them Gastarbeiter–guest workers–but they mean the farmers who came from Anatolia to clean our streets and build our buildings and sit with our old and eat their own bulgur wheat. They mean prayer rugs and headscarves and chickpeas. They mean women who hide themselves behind their burqas and girls who marry their cousins and little boys like Savas who were born here but don’t belong here because with the Turks in Kreuzberg it’s always temporary status–has always been temporary status since October 30, 1961 when the two countries signed the Recruitment and Procurement of Foreign Workers Treaty.
There are a number of subplots in Going Over. I think the one that stood out most to me was that of the Turkish immigrants that live in Ada’s city helping to build a better Germany. Ada works at a daycare and most of the children she watches are the children of those Turkish immigrants. I felt for Savas and for Meryem and those other sweet faces and was just as wrapped up in their side story as I was in Ada and Stefan’s story.
7. Tone- danger and desperation
If there is an overall tone to this book it’s got to be desperation. Desperation on the part of Ada and Stefan for each other and for a better life, a life of their own choosing. Desperation and danger–the danger that is foremost in the reader’s mind as Ada and Stefan relay the stories of escape and attempted escape that dozens (perhaps hundreds) of East Germans chanced to taste freedom on the other side of the wall.
You know as a reader that Stefan is going to take that chance before the story concludes. You read about his careful planning, his trial runs, but you don’t know what his ultimate fate will be. I can tell you that the final pages in this story kept me on edge the entire time I was reading–my heart pounding, my breath short– wondering if he would make it or not. It’s terrifying and it’s compelling–
and it’s so, so good.
Whenever she comes she has to go, and then the bubble pops. And then nothing’s pink, everything is brown. Brown and that burgundy that clings to the walls and the color of those chairs, which is nothing. When she’s gone it’s your life as it is. Your Introduction to Socialist Production. Your Technical Drawing. Your training and the certificate that’s coming. The Eisfabrik where you apprentice for the life your comrades have picked out for you. Augers. Wrenches. Washers. Cutters. Grinders. Ice. Get the hang of it. You’ll be a fitter. You’ll cut and thread and hammer to spec, assemble and secure. You’ll lubricate abd heat and steam. Pneumatic and hydraulic. You were a champion swimmer once, a Spartacus athlete. Then they decided what your Future is. They chose a track and a career, and now you’re it.
“Think about it,” Ada will say. “You’re good at this.”
“Good at what?”
“At pulling through.”
8. The shared histories and lost loved ones
Ada and Stefan know loss–knew it before they ever met and experienced the loss of each other.
Ada never knew her father and though she worries, she doesn’t understand her mother. Her grandmother is her rock.
Stefan’s mother disappeared when he was a child. But Stefan feels she is still alive–possibly, probably, living on the other side of the wall. His grandfather, however, is gone–almost certainly dead–and his disappearance tears at Stefan even more. His mother left on her own, and his grandfather disappeared trying to cross over and find her. Stefan feels a great deal of remorse and guilt about his grandfather’s disappearance.
But just as important and touching as these shared losses are the shared histories in Going Over. Ada and Stefan’s grandmothers were just girls when WWII took place and ripping their world apart. It’s their relationship–and yes we do get some tidbits about their past in the story– that initially brought Stefan and Ada together.
As she did in Small Damages, Kephart deftly weaves these connections and losses into the fabric of Going Over.
“When you’re free, will you go to find her?” She asked. It was a dumb question, two impossibles.
“Don’t you want to? Aren’t you curious?”
“She should be curious about me.”
“Maybe she can’t be.”
“Can’t be curious?”
“Maybe she can’t, Stefan. You don’t know until you know.” She was sliding and you caught her. You shifted over in the bed.
“She shouldn’t have run in the first place.”
“Maybe she couldn’t help it.”
“Maybe doesn’t count, Ada. Not when she’s your mother.”
“Forgiveness is better than no forgiveness,” Ada said after a long time, and then she dropped her head back down to your stomach and stayed like that, not talking, and you didn’t want her to be mad because there’s no time to be mad, there’s no time for anything when you’re in love with a West Berliner.
9. The writing
Well, obviously I’m a fan:) But I’ll let Beth’s writing speak for itself:
We live with ghosts. We live with thugs, dodgers, pokers, needle ladies, pork knuckle. We live where there’s no place else to go. We live with birds–. Magpies in the old hospital turrets, a fat yellow-beaked grebe in the thick sticks of the plane trees, a man named Sebastian has moved into the Kiez from France. My mother’s got an eye on him.
We live in a forest of box gardens and a city of tile. We live with brick and bullet holes. We live where Marlene Dietrich left, and the Kaiser and the Reich. We live here and here is where I have learned what I know, all that I can tell you, including: You can scrub the smell of graffiti out of the air with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, lavender, sometimes oil of roses.
But you can never scrub the paint off the wall.
10. Hope and overcoming the odds
This book may have a desperate, dangerous tone–but ultimately it’s a book about hope. Hope that Ada and Stefan will be able to be together. Hope that Stefan will possibly find his mother or discover what happened to his grandfather. Hope that the Turkish immigrants will find a better life in West Berlin. The hope that Ada and her mother will grow closer. And I think that is SO important, that this book which chronicles such a turbulent time in history is shot through with threads of joy and hope. Also aiding in that optimistic feeling is the knowledge that we readers are privy to. Ada and Stefan, and their friends and families, may not know it but WE know that that wall does come down eventually. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel that only we can see and that helps this from becoming too dark of a story.
So my final verdict? I”m once again blown away by Beth’s storytelling. The more I think about Going Over and all the little parts that come together to form the whole, the more impressed I am. I’m a forever fan of this author and her writing
and cannot wait to see what she has store for readers next.
Want to read an excerpt of Going Over?