I was very excited to read Beth Kephart's Going Over because, you see, Berlin is my absolute favorite city on earth. History resides on every corner and yet it possesses a vibrant, youthful energy. It is like no other city in the history of the world. A wall divided it for decades: on one side, the free west, on the other, the oppressed east. The duality was striking and it still is to this day. When you go up to the top TV tower on Alexanderplatz in what is former East Berlin, you can clearly see where East and West once resided. When the wall came down in 1989, it was by the will of the people rather than weapons that
|West and East: still obvious when I visited in 2004|
"When I traveled to Berlin in the summer of 2011 I discovered a city palpably alive, brilliant with color. I stood before memorials. I cried inside museums. I touched pieces of the old graffiti wall and imagine the ache of being separated from people I loved, from landscapes I yearned to see."
That was my experience with Berlin when I traveled there in 2004. I loved everything about it. Its storied past. Its hopeful and frenetic future. I own a t-shirt that says "Ich bin ein Berliner" because I love this city so much (Side note: saying "Ich bin ein Berliner" is a totally legit thing to say. It doesn't mean "I'm a jelly doughnut.")
It is fitting that I chose to post this review on Feburary 27th because it was ten years ago today that I first set foot in this amazing city. So given my clearly emotional investment in the city of Berlin, I think it has skewed my impression of Going Over somewhat. It was difficult to find MY Berlin in this book and that's precisely why I had a hard time with it. I was looking for the Berlin I experienced in 2004, but how could that be when the story takes place in 1980s Berlin? And despite the fact that I drink up every piece of Berlin history I can get my hands on, I didn't feel the spirit of my beloved city in this story. Again, why would I? It was a different time and place.
But also, I just wanted to feel the city more in this story. When you have such a strong setting like Berlin, the city should almost be another character, much like I felt Prague was in Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It should be so vivid that you feel like you are there, and I didn't feel that sense of place I was longing for. And that's precisely why it's difficult for me to review this book objectively.
But despite my difficult experience with this book, I want to thank Beth Kephart for writing it. I think the Cold War is just now starting to become an era of history authors are beginning to explore and I think Berlin is a goldmine of fictional - and true! - stories just waiting to be told in young adult literature. Even though I didn't connect with the story as much as I would have liked, I will still recommend it to people and hope that they connect with it. Maybe it will even inspire people to visit and fall in love with the city the same way I did.
Read my blog post from 2009 celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
Remember, Remember the 9th of November.
Going Over by Beth Kephart
Expected Publication: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: ARC acquired at NCTE convention