REVIEW: “Undercover” by Beth Kephart


Beth Kephart
HarperTeen 2005

CHALLENGE(S): Beth Kephart Challenge

Finished 8 Jan 2010

After Nothing But Ghosts, I have to say I wasn’t expecting miracles from this one. I’ve found that an author’s earlier books tend to be overshadowed by the later, and since I’d only given Ghosts three stars, it seemed unlikely that this would merit a higher rating.

Boy, was I wrong.

Elisa ghost-writes love notes and poetry for the boys in her school, not unlike a modern Cyrano de Bergerac. Amongst those boys is Theo Moses, whom Elisa thinks is kind of cute, if you look close enough. In the course of helping him woo Lila, a beautiful, popular girl he has his eye on, Elisa and Theo become friends, and maybe a little more than friends – but Lila is the jealous type, and is soon bent on destroying their relationship.

Meanwhile, things at home are becoming difficult for Elisa. The only member of her family she feels truly understands her – her father – has left on an extended business trip which is causing friction between him and her mother. Retreating into her own world like the undercover agent she believes she has become, Elisa discovers herself through poetry – and secret ice skating sessions on the frozen pond out in the woods, which will later become the vehicle through which her different realities will collide.

Kephart has a beautiful, lyrical writing style which is unusual in a Young Adult author. In Undercover, the vivid imagery and striking characters were grounded by the past-tense narrative in a way that Ghosts was not, which to me added a strength to this novel that the later one lacks.

From the get-go I was enthralled by the tapestry of colours and plots, the delicacy of the language and the engaging complexity of the storyline. Kephart takes what can only be called cliches – the shy, un-pretty girl with a talent for words, the boy caught up by the popular girl, the transformation from invisible ghost writer to ice-skating princess – and makes them her own, breathing new life into what (on the surface, at least) appears to be a tired old story. My only complaint was that the ending seemed a little too abrupt, but that could just be because I never wanted it to end.

A thoroughly enjoyable book. Highly recommended.


  1. January 31st, 2010
  2. June 26th, 2010

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