Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: You Are My Only (and an appreciation of the author, Beth Kephart)

You Are My Only
by Beth Kephart 
Laura Geringer Books, Egmont USA 
252 pages 
Advance copy received on my Kindle courtesy of NetGalley 

It's kind of bizarre when you feel you're the absolute last person to read a particular book ...and the book hasn't even been officially published yet.

Chalk this phenomenon up to being a book blogger, many of whom (yours truly included) get our kicks out of peeking at books before they hit the streets (or the e-readers). And in this particular case, you can also attribute this "everyone's read it but me" feeling to the wide appeal and popularity of beloved (and immensely talented) author Beth Kephart.

Beth Kephart (left) and me in May 2010, two Philly girls in
New York City, at the Book Blogger Convention 
A brief sidebar and disclaimer: Beth has been someone (thanks to our shared Philadelphia connection) who has been on my literary radar for nearly a decade, beginning with her first book, A Slant of Sun. That's a book that has become incredibly special to me, for many reasons.  Quietly sitting on my bookshelf, it serves as a beacon of light, of hope. And over the past few years, that role has been transformed to Beth herself (through her books, her blog, her photographs, the snippets of conversation we've had online and in person), as she has become that ray of light, someone whom I have been so fortunate to get to know and to call a friend, someone who has inspired me as a writer, as a mother, as a person in the world.

With all this in mind, I celebrate my friend Beth today as her 13th book, You Are My Only, officially makes its way into this bright world. It is a world that is ready to receive it, judging from the acclaim You Are My Only has already garnered from bloggers and reviewers alike. Advance praise has been enough to push this novel into a second printing, even before publication day.

That's a true accomplishment, a hallmark of a brilliant writer, and - make no mistake - You Are My Only is a novel deserving of all the praise it has received.

You Are My Only is the story of Emmy Rane, a devoted young mother who does what every mother has innocently done: leaves her baby unattended for the briefest of moments. On a still, bright day, outside in the yard while tucked snug in the branches of a tree swing, four month old Baby goes missing.  The only trace of her is one single yellow sock.

You can see this unfold because we have all experienced this - a simple act that results in the shifting and forever changing of lives - and you can see this in the opening pages of You Are My Only because Beth Kephart takes you right there.  You're with Emmy in her moments of desperate terror (anyone who has ever had a child wander off, gone missing even for mere moments, knows this piercing anguish). You're right there when Emmy's emotionally and physically abusive husband is in her face, accusing her of being a bad mother by causing Baby's disappearance through her carelessness.

From there, You Are My Only alternates between two timeframes and two points of view: Emmy Rane's, as she endures the days and months after Baby's disappearance, and Sophie Marks' (formerly Baby) who is now 14 and living an always-on-the-run-from-the-No-Good life with Cheryl, the only mother she has ever known.  Cheryl is protective, a waitress, a possessor of secrets and of knowledge about obscure topics (Archimedean solids, truncated icosahedrons - yeah, I had to look that up too; it's a type of triangle, which is also an apropos symbol for this story) that she is determined to pass along to Sophie by way of homeschooling.

Yet there are other lessons that Sophie and Emmy learn throughout the course of this novel, which gets a infusion through the literary use of color (a Kephart distinction). Yellow is featured predominantly, through the dropped yellow sock left behind from Baby's kidnapping. There's a goldfinch, a yellow flip flop, references to Rapunzel's golden hair, the bright rays of the sun itself.

It is no coincidence that Emmy's last name is Rane; with the novel's rain-streaked cover art and the appearance of yellow and sun throughout the pages of a story of a mother's nightmare, Kephart shows her reader that there are always beacons of light who are with us in the darkest moments and corners of our lives. When we are physically and emotionally broken, a characteristic shared by many of the characters in this novel.

In You Are My Only, these rays of light come to Sophie in the form of her neighbors - sensitive, caring Joey and his delightful Willa Cather-loving, Toll-House cookie-baking, compassionate aunts. (The world would be a much better place - and I mean that in the most emphatic way - if everyone, particularly certain politicians, had an Aunt Cloris and Aunt Helen in their lives.  Those of you who have read the novel know what I mean.) For Emmy, these beacons of hope come in the form of Arlen, a watcher of trains and greeter of the day.

"'The first train is the express train,' Arlen declares.  'I like its speed.' 

The train screams and pitches. It thunders - such an awful trembling that I do not know how the houses on the banks along the tracks don't shatter up and crumble. My ankle swells in the raging roar. The jacket kicks up in a riffle from my knees until I press it flat with my hands. 

'Watch it now,' he says, and he lifts his arm from my shoulder and rises up onto his haunches and balances here beside me in a way I wouldn't have thought he could. He's got something he knows about the miracle of the day's first train, and beside him I bear witness. 

'Watch the ridgeline,' he tells me, his voice drowning in the bellows of the train shooting past. When I look up to where he's pointing, I see a streak of tangerine touched down upon the silver-bodied train. Right there, like a horizon line, just as he has promised. 

'Daybreak!' he hollers, and now he stands and pumps his fist to the sky, and the long strands of his graying hair get pulled about in the air suck. Finally the wind roars down, and the night has become a veil of shadows. The night isn't night after all; it is first dawn." 

The way in which this story unfolds for its reader is beautifully written, with Kephart's signature lyrical prose infusing each page.  But when one examines You Are My Only alongside of Kephart's other young adult novels (House of Dance, Nothing But Ghosts, The Heart is Not a Size), all of which I loved for various reasons, there's a quality about this one that makes it stronger than its peers.

Perhaps that is because You Are My Only is a story that reflects the times in which we live.  While there have always been hearts-held-captive baby-gone-missing stories in our nation's history (think Lindbergh, think Elizabeth Smart, think Jaycee Dugard) having this fictional one appear now brings a powerful message in these dark days of personal despair and economic uncertainty for so many.  With You Are My Only, Kephart is saying that we have the strength within us to endure the darkness and break through into the light. It is a message that she personally knows well, and it shows - beautifully, triumphantly - in this novel.

Highly recommended.

P.S. This is Beth Kephart's 13th book, and I own almost all of them.  When I have several books by the same author, I usually shelve them in chronological order.  However, with this, I'm breaking my own rule.  This one will be taking up residence next to A Slant of Sun.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Jennifer from 5 Minutes for Books
Caribou's Mom
Kay's Bookshelf
Linus's Blanket
There's a Book

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Beth Kephart said...

Melissa. It is 4:16 AM. I did not sleep tonight in anticipation of today and just came downstairs and found this. Thank you — enormously — for this beautiful book, so capably, indeed so masterfully, assembled (for I know it takes work to write something like this) by you.

You have quoted from one of my favorite scenes.

With love,


bermudaonion said...

Wow, your love for this book shines in your wonderful review!

Serena said...

Melissa, this is a gorgeous review for a gorgeous writer and a (dare I say it) gorgeous book (no, I have not read it yet, but I know it will be).

I have to tweet this review and Facebook share it. Wonderful.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Thirteenth? Gaaah! I've only read 4! Must get the rest!

Anonymous said...

The only Kephart I have read so far is Dangerous Neighbors, and I thought it was so so. I expect to be blown away by this one though!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Nope - it is me who holds the crown for the only one who hasn't read it yet! :) I'm amazed by how many wonderful reviews are out there and clearly I'm going to have to get off my you-know-what and go get a copy today!!

Laura @ I'm Booking It said...

I was still reading You Are My Only when your post went up (so you weren't the last one to read it!), and my review went up today. I came back to read your review, which is much more thorough than mine. I agree that this was a truly beautiful book.