Monday, January 3, 2011

Dangerous Neighbors

Welcome to the first post of the New Year of 2011! How exciting to face a brand new year with brand new books to tickle the fancy of all of us slightly crazy, totally passionate bibliophiles!

Dangerous Neighbors is a YA historical novel, written by National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart.

It is the time of the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876 and Katherine has decided that she is no longer willing to live. Her twin sister Anna has died - and Katherine's entire life has always been about protecting her reckless and emotional other half. But she failed her. She is gone. And Katherine is ready to rid herself of her future at the fair.

This is the story of the day she decides to do it and what happens.

First off, I have to say how strange it was to go from Wish by Alexandra Bullen, directly to Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart. Why, you ask? Well, if you read my review of Wish you'd remember that it was about a girl dealing with the death of her twin sister! I couldn't believe the coincidence! However, the two novels are very different.

The dramatic starter (which announces pretty much what I wrote above as a synopsis) pushes things off determinedly. Beth Kephart's poetic imagery juxtaposes the startling events of the day of Katherine's planned suicide in a uniquely written, jarringly present-tense way.

There is a quality about Dangerous Neighbors, a slim but pretty little book by appearances, that makes it difficult to read. At least, in terms of my own reading experience. Katherine's sheer and complete depression is suffocating. And the (as the backcover description calls it) kaleidoscope of colors, visuals, sights, and smells of the Philadelphia Centennial fair causes an almost sensory overload.

Through flashbacks and memories of Katherine's past with Anna, Anna is revealed to be a spoiled, selfish, unkind, and unlikable girl. This made Katherine's devotion and catering to her hard for me to take. I kept wanting to reach through the pages into the story and shake Katherine silly until she realized that Anna wasn't worth her unconditional love.

But this strong reaction did serve a purpose, I believe, in the overall novel. Dangerous Neighbors has a near-constant edgy feel about it, breathless and suspenseful. It is not an easy book, but there is an undeniable beauty about it. There are elegant nuances and a stunning grittiness that lead me to feel that I would like to reread Dangerous Neighbors someday to understand the complexity of it better, and be more ready to withstand the uncomfortable character of the inevitably poignant, but perhaps still overdramatic, novel.

Dangerous Neighbors is not a breezy, fun, or even necessarily entertaining book... it is just different. Whether it is different in a good way or a bad way is still up in the air.

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