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Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart
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Dangerous Neighbors

by Beth Kephart

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Wow! Even though I’m not a fan of historical fiction, the cover (isn’t it gorgeous?) and synopsis of this book grabbed my attention. I went back and forth trying to decide whether to give it a try or not. I really thought it sounded good, but it was a historical fiction. Finally I said go for it, and am so glad I did.

The book started out interesting, and just kept getting better. The writing made me feel like I was there with Katherine and Anna. I could see the way Philadelphia looked during that time period, and everything became real to me. I felt sad when they did, and happy when they did.

I loved all the descriptions of the everyday items that are so different than what we have now. All the characters had different relationships with each other, which I loved.

One of the things that happened between Katherine and a girl she just met would never happen today, and I loved reading how life was back then, when those things could, and did, happen.

This is a quick read at only 192 pages, but it is packed with everything it needs to keep you glued to the pages. This was my first Kephart book, but it won’t be my last. ( )
  VickiLN | Jan 28, 2014 |
This was a National Book Award Finalist and I'm left shaking my head regarding the rules set forth for this accolade.

Two sisters are very close. When one dies in a tragic ice skating accident, the other is left with severe guilt, grief and angst.

The pace is boringly slow. The chapters switch from present to past tense. The backdrop of the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876 seemed uninteresting.

The good news is I only paid .20 for this book yesterday and it will quickly be given back to the library wherein another unsuspecting reader will be lured by the price and a description on the back cover that sounds like a promising read.
  Whisper1 | Aug 5, 2012 |
At times, when I'm reading one of Beth Kephart's novels, I find myself distracted by the gorgeous phrasing and richly described settings and characters. It's easy to find oneself swept away by the beautiful writing, but I always remind myself to go beyond that aspect Kephart's novels because the writing isn't meant to distract readers from a mediocre tale: Kephart is a thought-provoking storyteller as well.

DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS is a slim volume, but the I felt Katherine and Anna's story fit well within its covers. This novel is not for readers who favor action and a quickly paced story. At all. The story begins slowly and continues at a leisurely pace, meandering between past and present.

I found Katherine's relationship with her sister, Anna, and her father interesting. There isn't very much dialogue in the novel, but each interaction holds weight and meaning and I found myself analyzing the words exchanged and considering how Katherine would have reacted and felt. The flashbacks, to me, held the most meaning, as they were the only time readers are able to observe Katherine and Anna's interaction. I couldn't help imagining Katherine collecting these memories like a crow collects shiny baubles, though many of the memories lacked the luster of happiness.

Kephart tells her characters' stories with a delicate hand and deposits them carefully into the reader's heart. DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, with it's beautiful language and acute heartache, is no exception. ( )
  thehidingspot | Mar 31, 2012 |
Beth Kephart is perhaps best known for the poetical uses to which she puts the prose in her stories for young adults. This has bothered me a bit in the past, because I never thought teens spoke in that way. (Although I have to admit, I follow the author’s blog, and she definitely “speaks” in a poetic way, and I have no doubt imagining that she always has!) In this book, the story is told in the third person, and thus the poetical nature of her writing does not seem inappropriate, although, for me, it does serve a distancing function. I am too often taken out of the story to admire the pretty prose.

Dangerous Neighbors takes place in1876, during the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. [The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.] The main protagonist, Katherine, age 17, has decided to end her life by leaping from one of the Centennial buildings. She has never adjusted to the fact that her twin sister Anna died in a skating accident the previous winter. Katherine thought she should have been looking out for Anna, just like she had done her whole life. She cannot forgive herself and no longer wants to live with the guilt and pain.

The twins’ relationship had been defined by Anna’s recklessness and Katherine’s caretaking. But when Anna took up with Bennett, a baker’s son (not even a good match for a banker’s daughter!) Katherine felt no longer needed, and withdrew from Anna. She was jealous and resentful: "She imagined Anna confiding in Bennett, tracing out a future. She saw now how Anna’s dreams were filled with marzipan and apricot kernels, how they were pierced by a boy whose eyes were sky – changeable and cloud-swept.”

And it’s not only that. Since Katherine has been defined by her role as responsible for Anna, if she cannot be that, who can she be? Who is she now and what can she give?

Evaluation: The pictures evoked of the Centennial are vivid treats for the senses. She describes Operti’s Tropical Garden for example as "...an aromatic cove of high skies and blooms. Gas lanterns float like kites overhead. Potted trees shadow the paths. There are the bright flags of celosia and astilbe, the yellow sleeves of forsythia forced well past their season, begonias the color of dandelions and fire, and in the midst of it all, the orchestra stage. On every wall, frescoes, and in the very back someone has painted a rock cliff of schist and granite, then turned some sort of spigot on, so that water, real water, cascades down.”

The book is full of such descriptions. When Katherine stands at the top of the Main Exhibition Hall, she looks out below her:

"There’s a jam of horses, hackneys, four-in-hands, gigs, streetcars at the corner near the Trans-Continental. There’s a passel of balloons, the coming and going and stopping of seersucker and serge, of uniforms and skullcaps, of licorice-colored satchels and mahogany canes, of a pale wooden crate of bright yellow flowers, an island unto itself.”

These are beautiful passages, but they pack no emotional heft. Instead, they pull me away from the story. Compare, for example, how another very lyrical writer, Michael Chabon, in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, evokes the sights and sounds of a world’s fair but uses it to convey the emotional state of the protagonist. In this scene, Sammy is walking on the grounds of the old 1939 fair in New York:

"It made his heart ache to look around the vast expanse of the fairground that, not very long ago, had swarmed with flags and women’s hats and people being whizzed around in jitneys, and see only a vista of mud and tarpaulins and blowing newspaper, broken up here and there by the spindly stump of a capped stanchion, a fire hydrant, or the bare trees that flanked the empty avenues and promenades. The candy-colored pavilions and exhibit halls, fitted out with Saturn rings, lightning bolts, shark’s fins, golden grilles, and honeycombs, the Italian pavilion with its entire façade dissolving in a perpetual cascade of water, the gigantic cash register, the austere and sinuous temples of the Detroit gods, the fountains, the pylons and sundials, the statues of George Washington and Freedom of Speech and Truth Showing the Way to Freedom had been peeled, stripped, prized apart, knocked down, bulldozed into piles, loaded onto truck beds, dumped into barges, towed out past the mouth of the harbor, and sent to the bottom of the sea. It made him sad… because he had so loved the Fair, and seeing it this way, he felt in his heart what he had known all along, that, like childhood, the Fair was over, and he would never be able to visit again.” (Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay)

Other reviewers have written that they wished the book were longer, because we don’t get enough of the plot. I think this is because the author too infrequently blends the poetry into the story.

Nevertheless, her books are always a treat; I wouldn’t think of passing one up. ( )
  nbmars | Jan 8, 2011 |
Reviewed by Melanie Foust for TeensReadToo.com

Anna died in a horrible accident. Katherine, her twin, is convinced there is nothing left to live for. She reaches a high level in a tall building, but her sister's former lover reaches her just in time, begging her to allow him to say something incredibly important.

But Katherine does not stay to listen; neither does her resolve waver. Without Anna, life has lost its meaning. Katherine is on a journey to destruction, but if she takes a closer look at herself and the world around her, she may be able to reverse her path before it's too late.

I loved how specific the setting was for this novel. Rather than just a general time and place, the setting was very clear: the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876. It's very evident that the author has done a large amount of research; all that work has not gone to waste. Details of the exhibition leap off the page.

National book award finalist Beth Kephart has written another gorgeous novel full of characters that are slowly brought to life. By the time the end of the novel came around, I found myself fully invested in the life of Katherine and those closest to her. This book held my attention from beginning to end, first because of its suspenseful opening and then its enlightening flashbacks, showing what has brought Katherine to such a dark time in her life.

At less than two-hundred pages, Beth Kephart makes every word count. DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS is the kind of book to keep and reread again and again. ( )
  GeniusJen | Jan 6, 2011 |
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It is 1876, the height of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Katherine has lost her twin sister, Anna, and though it was an accident, Katherine remains convinced that Anna's death was her fault. One wickedly hot September day, Katherine sets out for the exhibition grounds to cut short the life she is no longer willing to live.
This is the story of what happens.
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For Laura Geringer, because.
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From up high, everything seems to spill from itself.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Set against the backdrop of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Katherine cannot forgive herself when her beloved twin sister dies, and she feels that her only course of action is to follow suit.
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Set against the backdrop of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Katherine cannot forgive herself when her beloved twin sister dies, and she feels that her only course of action is to follow suit.

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