Hardcover, 264 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by 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.
What do I say about this book?
I loved Kephart’s Small Damages because of its writing, the story it told and the way it explored the place it was set in and to an extent, Going Over retains that magic. There is the whiff of a brilliant new setting, one that isn’t North America, the wonderful writing that made me read and reread one sentence multiple times. The characters that are so different and do not exhibit that same “the world is mine” mentality so prevalent in fictional teenagers who are based in North America. When your world is full of empty spaces, you re-learn the meaning of ownership.
I don’t know much about the Berlin wall and the history of it so I appreciated the sensitivity Kephart displayed in the author’s note and I also applaud her including a bibliography in case someone wanted to read more about the Berlin Wall.
That said, I find myself rather perplexed by Going Over. There are some brilliant parts to the novel. Everything we see from Ada in her portions of the story feels vibrant, feels as though it is happening in neon colours, bright, vivid and right in front of you. Stefan’s portions, on the other hand, though lyrical and just as beautiful prose-wise, did not grasp me with the same immediacy because of the second person p.o.v. it’s told in. The pov kept me at a distance especially because I am not Stefan and I was not able to empathize with him and looking through his eyes made Ada seriously annoying and nagging. All she does is tell him to jump the wall, seemingly, without pausing to consider the consequences of a failed jump. All she says and does is jump. Just one incredible nag. Ugh. There’s a whole lot of pretty talk about love and yet, that’s all it is. We do not get to see them interact. We are told it’s love, we don’t get to see it ourselves and this is so different from her last novel where love isn’t even used but it is felt with such intensity that explicitly saying it becomes useless.
I also have trouble with the reason Ada wants Stefan to jump: to protect her. My friend Megan recently talked to me about rescue narratives, the damsel in distress trope, and how she’d save herself if needed and I wanted to see the same kind of actualization occurring there with Ada. I wanted her to grow strong enough to be alone. It is not fair of her to nag Stefan into making that kind of jump because of something she needs. She should want him to cross because she wants a better life for him and not because she wants what he can provide for her. Also, the plotline with Savas is certainly intriguing but for me, it lacked the emotional impact it ought to have had simply because I didn’t see what that plotline had to do with the entire story.
Still, I’m ultimately glad I read this book. It taught me something new and piqued my interest in learning about the Berlin Wall. And also, the writing. It’s superlative.