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.
Still unwilling to drag myself back to the present, I’ve indulged in another novel set in the past. Dangerous Neighbors, Beth Kephart’s latest novel, drew me into late 19th century, and placed me at the Philadelphia Centennial Fair of 1876, where I was immediately caught up in the story of 17 year old twin sisters Anna and Katherine. While the main action swirls around Katherine’s “last day” at the Centennial Fair, Katherine’s thoughts wend back and forth, allowing the reader to learn about her relationship with her sister while rushing toward the inexorable conclusion of Anna’s death.
Beth’s Kephart’s writing is so exquisitely beautiful that I always find myself lingering over passages and descriptions, even reading them aloud occasionally to feel them roll off my tongue and set them free into the air. This novel is no exception, but with Dangerous Neighbors, I felt the need to read quickly, to find out exactly what happened to Anna and whether Katherine would make good on her plans to end her own life. The detailed descriptions of the Centennial Fairgrounds on that fateful day created a kaliedoscopic effect, the sights and sounds whirling around in my head, while Katherine’s memories filled in the background of the family story.
A multitude of themes are packed into this short novel – grief, sibling rivalry and responsibility, parent/child relationships, young love, and teen suicide – themes we’re accustomed to reading about in modern literature settings, but not quite as often in historical novels. Kephart creates the perfect emotional portrait of her characters, and invites her readers to study it to discover all their delicate nuances. Dangerous Neighbors speaks to readers of all ages in its look at some very universal human emotions and situations.