cover image Undercover


Beth Kephart, . . HarperCollins/Geringer, $16.99 (278pp) ISBN 978-0-06-123893-2

Kephart (A Slant of Sun ) makes a smooth transition from adult nonfiction to YA fiction with this intelligent, multilayered love story. Instead of inheriting her mother's beauty like her older sister, highschool sophomore Elisa shares her father's wild hair and talent for observation (“Dad likes to say, about both of us, that we're undercover operatives who see the world better than the world sees us,” says Elisa). At school, she ghostwrites poems and romantic metaphors for smitten boys to give to girls (“Dear Lori, Last night I left my window open and a firefly flew through. So much light and all I could think of was you. Love Matt”). Although she's lonely, all goes well enough until Elisa becomes attracted to Theo, who has drafted her to write love notes for a pretty but manipulative girl with a pronounced cruel streak. Elisa's poetic, unself-conscious descriptions of nature (especially what occurs at a pond, her favorite place for reflection) gracefully evoke her loneliness for her father, away on business (or is his absence prolonged by marital distress?); her frustrations with herself for always staying in the shadows; and her anger at Theo for going along with his girlfriend's mistreatment of her. Neatly balancing action and contemplation, Kephart offers a plethora of images, ideas about literature and even some well-known poems along with a plot that will speak to many teens. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)