Undercover by Beth Kephart

undercover.jpgThis was one of those quiet, gentle stories. I liked it, but unfortunately it took me a long time to read (Christmas and another book got in the way) and it did suffer a little from being broken up like that. Elisa is an introspective observer of people and nature, and also a poet. She writes wonderful romantic metaphors for the boys at school to impress girls with. She is mostly content to be a Cyrano, but finds herself falling for Theo. Also going on at the same time are troubles at home (her father has been away for an unstated amount of time-months?-doing work in another state). Elisa finds solace by teaching herself to ice skate at a pond near her home. This is what attracted me to this book–a few years ago my husband and I taught ourselves to ice skate. I had never done it as a child and learning how to was one of the most fun things I’ve done in my adult life. The feeling of whooshing across the ice is incredible. This winter we are going to get our 2 1/2 year old out on the ice and see what he thinks of it. I’m envious of Elisa that she is able to teach herself to jump when I can barely go backwards, but it’s fun no matter how accomplished you are, I think.

I really liked Elisa’s observations of nature-beautiful and thoughtful. I also liked it that Elisa is a thoughtful quiet girl, but not portrayed as some kind of outcast or nerd. It’s true that she doesn’t really have girlfriends and the popular girls don’t like her, but she didn’t come across as a freak to me. I suppose maybe she was a bit of an outcast in retrospect, but as I read it I related to her and don’t consider myself an outcast, so therefore I didn’t think she was! Elisa’s confidence in her skating is incredible–though she is self taught the reader gets the impression that she is quite good.The story culminates with Elisa participating in a competition. She’s never competed before nor even in front of anyone except Theo. I wondered if she is as good a skater as she believes and I’m happy that at the end of the story we can continue to believe that even though the reader does not know what sort of response her skating brings from the audience or judges.

I didn’t like Lila, Theo’s girlfriend. Are there really girls out there so nasty and insecure as to tell someone who talks to her boyfriend that she’s going to get her? As I read this I thought not, but I just read What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, in which there are equally mean spirited characters, so I guess maybe there really are people like that.

Elisa has a good relationship with her English teacher, who is a bit of kindred spirit. I was so intrigued by the teacher that I wanted to know more about her. It seemed there were hints of troubles in her life, too, but we didn’t get to find out what they were.

It makes sense that in a novel in which poetry plays a big part (both Elisa’s poems and the discussion of poetry in her classes, in addition to the things Elisa wrote for the boys) the writing is very poetic and rich. A good change of pace from vampire-sex angst-perky chick lit-gossip girly-type fare.

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