It’s really rather difficult not to like the books by Beth Kephart for young adults. This is my third, and each time I had first read a synopsis and thought I probably wouldn’t like it, and of course, each time, I end up being even more of a Kephart devotee.
Georgia and Riley, two seventeen-year-olds who are best friends, decide to take a two-week “community building” and “character building” trip to Juarez, in Mexico across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas over spring break. [Kephart has been on one of these trips herself, and many of the episodes in the story are drawn from her own experiences.]
They discover they are to help build a community bathroom for the church in Anapra, the squatters’ village at the edge of Juarez. There will be no luxuries where they are staying, but only unrelenting heat, hard work, and the comraderie born of sharing tough conditions and inspired convictions.
Right before leaving, Georgia’s dad gives her a camera, and she records everything she can so she can keep it with her always. Her descriptions of the pictures she takes evoke the setting in Juarez in all of its changing hues and nuances:
“Sometimes color is all there is; and as the sun now fell fast, I photographed its dying pink until the moon was higher than the sun and it was shadows I saw through my camera’s eye – blues leaning into blacks and blacks spattered through with the violet. The shapes of men on the roof. The bulge of a mountain range beyond. The old cross that rose from the chapel’s roof, which was a rusty color.”
What the girls learns on their journey turns out to be more than how to clear a foundation and mix cement. They learn the importance of honesty and perspective, and there is even a “first love.” They also learn that “the heart is not a size” – that what you look like on the outside has nothing to do with the love you feel on the inside – and it is only then that their real journey – to self-healing – begins.
Evaluation: Beth Kephart writes beautiful prose and compelling stories. Similar to Joan Bauer, she tackles issues that aren’t always pleasant in a way that still manages to be uplifting. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend highly any of her books.
Published by HarperTeen, 2010