I thought I was sitting down to read a historical novel, something to do with the Philadelphia Centennial. I thought I knew what to expect. But I didn’t foresee such beauty in the language, such mastery over the written word. I didn’t know I’d want to reread paragraphs to more fully appreciate their poetry. I didn’t realize that Beth Kephart would make me shed tears over hope lost and found again.
Could any two sisters be more tightly bound together than the twins, Katherine and Anna? Yet love and fate intervene to tear them apart. Katherine's guilt and sense of betrayal leaves her longing for death, until a surprise encounter and another near catastrophe rescue her from a tragic end.
Set against the magical kaleidoscope of the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876, National Book Award nominee Beth Kephart's book conjures the sweep and scope of a moment in history in which the glowing future of a nation is on display to the disillusioned gaze of a girl who has determined that she no longer has a future. The tale is a pulse-by-pulse portrait of a young heroine's crisis of faith and salvation in the face of unbearable loss.
I’d heard about Beth Kephart. When I started blogging and then following other book blogs, I noticed people talking about her and her books. Still, I didn’t pick one up. I didn’t feel a sense of urgency. That has definitely changed – Ms. Kephart is going to go straight into the category of ‘read the entire backlist!’ And mind that exclamation point while you’re at it!
True confession: I’d rather avoid grief and sadness. I know that’s pretty human of me, but I take it farther. If I know ahead of time that a book or a film is going to be melancholy, I avoid it. I’m a bit of a coward. And so, although Dangerous Neighbors sat on my nightstand for over a month, I was hesitant to pick it up. After all, it says right there in the blurb that fate and unbearable loss (hello, tragedy!) are in the picture. But the cover artwork kept calling to me, and then I actually read the first couple of pages. That’s all it took – I was hooked.
There’s a dangerous sort of beauty in Kephart’s prose. It’s complex, it’s beautiful, and it will suck you into its emotion and obsession. Dangerous Neighbors is a story of twin sisters growing up in Philadelphia. It’s the story of a city dressed up in celebration. At the same time, it is a tale of loss and grief and change. It’s tragedy on one side, and redemption (of sorts) on another. I really can’t do justice to it – only to say that it is heartbreaking and also breathtaking.
Another confession: It turns out that I'm not going to write about the plot, or even very deeply about the characters in this review. It’s not that I don’t want to, you understand. It’s just that whenever I start a paragraph, I somehow end up with sentences crowded with words like ‘literary’ and ‘atmospheric.’ I was deeply impressed by the description and the emotion in this little volume. And so I’ll leave it at that, and let you to discover the ‘doings’ on your own. I strongly suggest that you go out and get a copy NOW. If, you know, it seems like your thing. Or even if it’s not.
Recommended for: fans of literary fiction, spectacular young adult literature, history, tragedy, deliverance, and descriptions so well rendered that they seem tinged with the magical.
I received an ARC of Dangerous Neighbors for review from Winsome Media Communications.