October 10, 2011
Monday Review: YOU ARE MY ONLY by Beth Kephart
Reader Gut Reaction: I'm just going to come right out and say it: I'm always, always left breathless by Beth Kephart's writing. Regardless of what the book is about, I will start reading and fall in love with it because of her gorgeous prose and subtle but clear and honest portrayal of human emotions—from the more painful times of grief and loss to day-to-day moments of quiet joy. Even when I read the jacket copy and think to myself, well, I don't know if this is a story I would normally gravitate toward, I not only end up reading it and liking it, I end up surprised, enthralled, and impressed that she was able to weave a tale that drew me in despite my uncertainty.
In alternating chapters, You Are My Only tells the parallel stories of Emmy, a very young mother whose baby was stolen while her back was turned, and Sophie, a teenage girl who has spent a rather unconventional life moving from place to place with her mother, being homeschooled and never getting to settle in. It is obvious from the beginning that there is a connection between the two, one that you can probably guess simply from this brief description.
Concerning Character: One of the things I love most about this book are the characters—they are quirky, they are mysterious, they are flawed, and they are all very real. As a result, it is impossible to mistake this for just another book about a teenage mother, or just another suspense novel about a missing child. Emmy's emotions at the abduction of her baby are unflinchingly raw, and so are Sophie's as she discovers more and more about the life she could be living, the life that her mother has been keeping from her. Sophie begins to venture outside of the house, spending time with her neighbors: the boy her age, Joey, and his dog, Harvey; his guardians, Aunt Cloris and Aunt Helen, who are a couple but whose relationship is never harped upon or spotlighted, simply shown for its warmth and honesty and love. These are the things that are missing in Sophie's life: true friendship, unconditional love, and stability, and it's up to Sophie to find out why.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Novels about family secrets and finding out that all is not what it seems, like Mary Pearson's The Miles Between (reviewed here), Nancy Springer's Somebody (reviewed here) and pretty much anything by Caroline Cooney. Its literary feel and storytelling subtlety would also make this a great crossover title for adult readers. It might be a more difficult sell for readers looking only for a tale of suspense.
Themes & Things: Friendship and family, honesty and love—these are the themes that weave through both Emmy's and Sophie's stories. But I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that desperation is a part of this, too—the desperation that drove Sophie's mother, that wouldn't leave Emmy alone, and that eventually spurred Sophie herself to action. This book raises the question of whether there are things that we, as humans, instinctively need and cannot be whole without...and makes us consider the right ways and wrong ways to satisfy those needs.
Authorial Asides: Beth Kephart keeps a wonderful, thoughtful and always-interesting blog over at Beth Kephart Books, with ruminations on writing, literature, and the writing life. And she's a lovely person, and one of our longest-running author blog buds. Read more thoughts about You Are My Only on Chasing Ray, here and here.
You can find You Are My Only at an independent bookstore near you!