Dangerous Neighbors, by Beth Kephart.
Nothing in this world is safe. Clouds form. Trees split. Horses rear. Ice breaks. Fire rages. - from the ARC of Dangerous Neighbors, page 32 -
The year is 1876 and the Philadelphia Centennial fair displays a dazzling array of inventions and exhibitions from around the world. This is the backdrop for Beth Kephart's poignant new novel Dangerous Neighbors. Anna and Katherine are twins, nearly identical physically, but very different in personality. Anna is the adventurer, the rule-breaker ... and Katherine the protector.
They were born twenty minutes apart and had the same ginger hair and green-gray eyes, though Anna's were greener. Anna's hair fell in natural curls, Katherine's in the sort of waves that had to be improved by the J.D. Oppenheimer curling tube. Still, as they got older, Katherine put herself on guard, made herself responsible for interrupting Anna's drift toward the perilous, for fixing the fences and defining the borders, the edges, the ends. Anna listened to Katherine when it was important, because Katherine's talent had never been beauty; it was saving, rescue. - from the ARC of Dangerous Neighbors, page 17 -
When Anna dies in a tragic accident, Katherine believes she has failed to protect her twin. Overcome with grief, she decides to end her life by jumping from the roof of one of the fair's exhibition halls -- to allow gravity its way rather than soar like a bird.
Dangerous Neighbors is Katherine's story, beginning on a hot, September day a few months after Anna's death. Through her eyes the reader comes to know Anna and her forbidden lover Bennett who steals Anna's attentions away from Katherine; the mother who busies herself with the future and the suffrage movement at the expense of her children; and the boy who saves animals. As Katherine moves through the magical sights and sounds of the Centennial Fair, she is forced to examine her life with Anna, and imagine her life without her. This is a story about loss and grief, about the unbreakable bonds of siblings, about growing up, and finally, about forgiving oneself.
Kephart is a writer who writes from the heart. Her prose is poetic and finely wrought; her eye for detail lovingly observed. She effortlessly brings to life a time in history when the future held great promise and mystery which blends perfectly with the central theme of the novel ... that we live in a dangerous, yet exciting world, and the future (no matter how unpredictable) is before us.
This is the first book I've read by Beth Kephart -- and I wonder now why I have waited so long to slip into her fictional world. Traditionally, Kephart's work has been classified as Young Adult, but her writing in Dangerous Neighbors will appeal to adult readers too.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".