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Like a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, Elisa ghostwrites love notes for the boys in her school. But when Elisa falls for Theo Moses, things change fast. Theo asks for verses to court the lovely Lila—a girl known for her beauty, her popularity, and a cutting ability to remind Elisa that she has none of these. At home, Elisa's father, the one person she feels understands her, has left on an extended business trip. As the days grow shorter, Elisa worries that the increasingly urgent letters she sends her father won't bring him home. Like the undercover agent she feels she has become, Elisa retreats to a pond in the woods, where her talent for ice-skating gives her the confidence to come out from under cover and take center stage. But when Lila becomes jealous of Theo's friendship with Elisa, her revenge nearly destroys Elisa's ice-skating dreams and her plan to reunite her family.

National Book Award nominee Beth Kephart's first young adult novel is a stunning debut.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781436114738
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 04/23/2008
Series: Nsa Series
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Beth Kephart was nominated for a National Book Award for her memoir A Slant of Sun. Her first novel for teens, Undercover, received four starred reviews and was named a Best Book by Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and In 2005 Beth was awarded the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She has also written Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter; Still Love in Strange Places: A Memoir; Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self; Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River; Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business; and House of Dance. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

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Undercover - EPB

Chapter One

Once I saw a vixen and a dog fox dancing. It was on the other side of the cul-de-sac, past the Gunns' place, through the trees, where the stream draws a wet line in spring. There was old snow on the ground that day, soft and slushy, and the trees were naked; I had my woolen mittens on. I was following the stream, and above and between the sound of the stream was the sound of birds, and also nested baby squirrels. The foxes, when I found them, were down by the catacombs, doing a slow-dance shuffle. Standing upright, I swear, palm to palm, with black socks on, red coats.

At school I didn't tell Margie about the fox dance, or David, or Karl. I didn't even tell Mr. Sheepals, in science, because it was what he'd call a non sequitur. My fox-dance story was an animal-kingdom story, and this was two years ago, second semester, eighth grade, when we were stuck on photosynthesis.

I have a sister, but she reads fashion magazines all day. My mother doesn't care for the woods. I kept my fox-dance story to myself, and I won't share it with others even now. It is my secret.

It's the other stuff I give away—the way I read the sky, the way I watch the sun, the forty-two flavors of breeze. It's everything people don't look for until it's too late, until they need a metaphor or simile to help promote their love. They don't have to come to me, but they almost always do. They know I've got it covered.

Dear Sandy, I'll write, pretending I'm Jon. I came to the track meet to see you run, and it was like watching the lead bird in a migrating V. You were something else. Again. Then I fold the paper and Islip in a feather from my Stash O' Nature box. The next day Jon will rewrite it all in his own way and sail the thing through the vents of Sandy's locker, and a week later, I'll see them—Sandy and Jon, so all-in-love together—going down the hall. He'll keep his eyes down, as conspirators do. "Hey," I'll say. "Hey," he'll mumble.

It's interesting to me, what others cannot see. For example: The precursors of leaves on trees, which can be seen only just in front of dusk, in March, when the setting sun turns the branches pink or some primary shade of green. Then there's the neon glow of the eyes on bees, and also the way a gerbera daisy starts out thinking it's yellow before it turns pink. Nature, you see, has a mind of her own. She's mysterious, and mystery is romantic.

Dear Lori, I write. Last night I left my window open and a firefly flew through. So much light and all I could think of was you. Love Matt.

Undercover - EPB. Copyright © by Beth Kephart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Undercover 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Having recently read NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, I was anxious to crack open another Beth Kephart novel. UNDERCOVER was her first novel, and I'm surprised I missed it. According to the cover, Kephart was a "National Book Award Nominee" and a well-deserved one, I'd say. Elisa has always viewed herself as more of her father's daughter. Her sister, Jilly, and her mother share a passion for make-up and fashion. They are always dressed in perfectly matched colors with every hair in place. Elisa, on the other hand, has perpetually wild hair and could care less about clothes and colors. Her passion lies in words and nature. The only person who understands Elisa is suddenly missing from her life. Her father shares her interest in words and literature, but his extended business trip is keeping him from home. At least that's the excuse Elisa imagines as she tries to keep him up-to-date with letters sent to distant San Francisco. As the days and weeks pass, it's becoming more obvious that his business travel may be a side-effect of trouble in her parents' marriage. Elisa has previously accepted her backseat in life. At home she watches her mother and sister parade, and at school she uses her talent for poetry to ghost-write inspirational love poems for her male classmates to use as they court girls that don't even know Elisa exists. All this has been satisfying enough until she met Theo. Theo gladly accepts Elisa's poem offerings because he's head-over-heels in love with Lila. Without Elisa's words, he knows he wouldn't have a chance. He shows his appreciation by developing a friendship with Elisa, but that friendship sparks something in her she never felt before. With her father absent and conflicting feelings about Theo filling her thoughts, Elisa seeks peace by grabbing a pair of her mother's old ice skates and escapes to the hidden ice of a secluded pond. The freedom she feels as she imagines beautiful music and teaches herself to skate helps her cope with the twisting emotions that have suddenly invaded her life. Readers will be immediately captivated by Kephart's smooth and lyrical prose. Her words and story flow as cleanly and easily as Elisa's skates on the pond. UNDERCOVER portrays Elisa's struggle to deal with insecurities and push herself to achieve what those around her know she is capable of achieving. Teens will easily relate to her desire to fit in both at home and at school, yet not compromise her own personal spirit and view.
Apolline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
How lovely it is to read a book for teens that dare escape the tiring plot about handsom, god like strangers and supposedly troubled, adolescent girls as deep as the snow in Sahara. How nice it is to read a book for teens with beautiful language and references to poetry. In this book we meet Elisa, a young girl, who is misunderstood at home, and not really popular at school. She keeps to herself most of the time and her older sistee will not even acknowledge her at school. But Elisa has a secret, a secret she shares with almost every boy in school. Or every boy in love that is. She is a ghost writer. She write love notes for boys who wants to impress a girl. The girls are never told who the real poet is, and so Elisa can keep up the charade. But then Elisa falls in love with Theo, a boy she just wrote a love note for, a boy who is in love with someone else. I really liked this book. It is gentle, moving and in a way, tender. Elisa is a very likeable character, and in many ways she reminds me of Paloma in [The Elegance of the Hedgehog], one of my favourite reads this year. Paloma has her profound thoughts and observation of movements, Elisa is preoccupied with explaining the changes in the nature surrounding her to her absent father. Dear Dad, I can¿t keep track of the changes alone, I can¿t do this without you. Dear Dad, it snows, then the snow is gone, then it snows again harder, and I can¿t find where I was going to inside all the weather. Dear Dad, Is this what it takes to be so good at poems, that you hurt all the time and you don¿t have real friends and you have no one to talk to, so you write?I needed the scorch of the moon and the cold on my face. I needed the stream beneath the moon and the sky full of stars. I needed ravens if there were still ravens clumped up in those trees, and if there were an owl hiding out somewhere, just one white owl, I¿d climb his back and I would say, Please. Fly me anywhere.Here¿s another change I¿ve noticed: The dark is more than the sun dropping off, more than the moon and the stars. It¿s what you can¿t see that you hope you will see, what hasn¿t been that might be.I would heartily recommend this book to any of you. Just looking at the quotes, made me want to read it again.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This modern teenage retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac is excellent, in spite of the predictability of the centuries-old but still beloved plot line.Elisa Cantor is a high school sophomore, known more for brains than for beauty, unlike both her sister Jilly and her mother. Nevertheless she is in great demand with the guys, but only for her talent in penning poetic tributes to other girls with whom they are infatuated. But when Theo Moses wants help winning the hand of the beautiful but nasty Lila, everything changes for Elisa. She begins to fall for Theo herself.In school, she is studying Cyrano and recognizes the parallels. She laments:"Why can¿t she [Roxanne] see that it is Cyrano¿s heart and head inside those letters? Whey can¿t she tell how much he loves her? And what does this say about people in general, that they can¿t see what is standing before them? Beauty rules, every single time. Beauty is the password.¿She has no one to turn to for guidance or sympathy. Her mother is fighting with her father because he is constantly away on business. Their separations threaten to become permanent. Her older sister has other interests, revolving around her good looks and popularity. Elisa teaches herself to ice skate, and this becomes both her release and the source of redemption, not just for her, but for her whole family.Evaluation: This lovely book was a National Book Award Nominee, and the author¿s subsequent work has likewise received high praise. She has a wonderful talent for seeing both the pain and the poetry of teenaged angst. I know I want to read the rest of this author¿s work.
Florinda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While most high schools seem to stratify into various subgroups - jocks, brains, leaders, followers, trendies, what have you - there's a larger breakdown that overlays them, and within the subgroups the same breakdown occurs: those that are in the thick of it, and those on the sidelines. The ones on the edges are the watchers, the less sure of themselves - like Elisa Cantor, they're the 'undercover operatives.' Beth Kephart's novel Undercover explores the year when Elisa slowly began to come out from undercover.Elisa prefers staying in the background, not standing out. Her emerging talent for poetry is expressed in the brief written lines she provides to her male classmates to give to their girlfriends, passed off as their own. She's distant from her beautiful mother and older sister, who seem to be so many things that the world values more (and that she isn't), and with her father away on a seemingly endless business trip, she's spending a lot of her time on her own; her new favorite place is a pond in the nearby woods where, as winter comes, she teaches herself to ice skate. At school, her Honors English class is working on plays and poetry, and Elisa is shaken to realize the similarity between her providing 'metaphors' to the boys for their girlfriends and the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac. She is even more shaken to realize her growing feelings for one of those boys, Theo.I was a bit of an undercover operative in high school myself, and Elisa came across as very real to me. The novel is narrated in Elisa's first-person voice, and she is the most fully-developed character in the novel; we see the others characters primarily through her eyes. This struck me as particularly appropriate, though, as it did in Goldengrove by Francine Prose, another story told though the voice of a teenage protagonist at a particularly self-referential stage of life. But that limited perspective doesn't detract from Elisa's appeal; she's more eloquent and expressive than the average teen, but her voice sounds true and the connection the reader makes with her is real.I've been reading the blog of Elisa's creator for nearly a year now, and Elisa's voice sounds like it was written by Beth Kephart. This is a good thing, and so is Undercover.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elisa, not pretty and with no real friends, writes love notes for boys to give their girlfriends. This is okay - until she develops a crush on Theo, who asks her to write notes for a vapid, cruel girl. When her honors english class reads Cyrano, Elisa wonders about similarities between his life and hers.
bermudaonion on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elisa Cantor is a plain girl ¿ rather like a tomboy. She¿s not into dresses or make-up or fashion at all. She does love the outdoors and writing metaphors, though. The boys at her school get her to write little notes for their girlfriends, much like a modern day Cyrano de Bergerac.This suits Elisa just fine until Theo starts asking her for notes. Theo makes Elisa¿s heart skip a beat, but he just thinks of her as a friend, since he¿s dating the oh, so popular Lila.Elisa¿s father is her kindred spirit, but it seems like he¿s out of town on business all the time. This puts a strain on his marriage, so Elisa¿s mother isn¿t always there for her either. It seems like Elisa¿s on her own ¿ she needs to figure out what to do about Theo and how to save her family. Elisa says, "When you¿re undercover, you have to keep things to yourself. You have to go around with a who-cares? slouch even when there are fists of anger, fists of wanting, all inside you, pounding."I was lucky enough to win a copy of Undercover by Beth Kephart when My Friend Amy and Presenting Lenore conducted a book drive for her latest title, Nothing But Ghosts. Boy, am I glad I did. I loved this wonderful book! Elisa reminded me so much of myself when I was her age ¿ I was a tomboyish daddy¿s girl who was good in school. That¿s great from an adult¿s perspective, but it doesn¿t always make you popular with your peers when you¿re in high school. I loved the way Elisa expressed her confidence at some things and her pain at others. It was wonderful seeing her discover her inner strength.I also loved Elisa¿s English teacher, Dr. Charmin. She should serve as a reminder to all adults to reach out to children who they perceive might be struggling with something in their lives.This is only the second one of Beth Kephart¿s books that I¿ve read but I¿m anxious to read more and I¿m really looking forward to the adult novel she has coming out. She just has a way with words that captivates the reader and transports you into the world of the book. Her writing is lyrical and magical and I highly recommend it.
GaylDasherSmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Cyrano take-off. Quick read and quickly forgetable
stephxsu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elisa Cantor has a way with words and a connection with nature. However, she uses her talent for creating metaphors to ghost-write love notes for the boys in her grade. Ordinary and plain-looking herself, Elisa knows that she will never get the attention of a boy like Theo, who asks Elisa to write metaphors for his love interest, the hellish but beautiful Lila. Meanwhile, Elisa¿s father¿s work prevents him from being home, causing the rest of the family to begin to fall apart.Elisa spends most of her time skating on her frozen pond in the woods while trying to figure out her growing friendship with Theo. However, Lila is jealous of their friendship and threatens to make Elisa regret talking to Theo. Will Elisa find the courage within herself to stand up and believe in herself, her talents, and the strength of all kinds of love?UNDERCOVER is simply stunning. There are some books you read for the sake of the story, and there are some you read just to see the words fall perfectly together, to hear the way they sound in your mind. Beth Kephart¿s words do not conjure up vivid scenes involving the characters and their predicaments; instead, they push the boundaries of language and remind us of the multidimensionality of words¿that language is not simply a means to a message, but rather a form of art itself.Elisa¿s way of thinking puts us readers easily into her mind, understanding where she is coming from and why she is feeling what she feels. We see the world through her descriptions, which perhaps does not give us as clear a picture of the other characters as we would like¿but they are understandably incomplete character sketches. Elisa¿s mother, sister, and father are all compelling and possessing unique characteristics, while Theo is an appealing romantic interest. Lila, Theo¿s evil girlfriend, seems a little underdeveloped to me, but I¿m willing to overlook that in light of the numerous other positive qualities that this book has.All in all, UNDERCOVER is a fantastic work of art that just might change the way you look at the world. I am now thoroughly a fan of Beth Kephart and look forward to reading more of her books in the future.
Liviania on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If UNDERCOVER were a movie, I would say it's a slice of life story. You both start and end in the middle of things, but it's still satisfying. Intelligent Elisa may not be conventionally pretty, but she walks in a world of beauty. She appreciates the outdoors and uses the nature around her to inspire poetry. In turn she gives this poetry to male classmates to aid them in attracting the girls they like. The person who taught her to pay such attention to nature, her father, is away in San Francisco. Her parents' marriage might be falling apart.Elisa's at a crucial point in discovering who she is, but she's floundering. She's closer to her father and her sister is closer to their mother, but now her father isn't readily available. Her crush Theo is dating the possessive Lila, whom Elisa helped Theo woo. Luckily, she discovers those close to her are allies even when their relationships are strained. She's also encouraged by her English teacher, Dr. Charmin, who recognizes the potential in Elisa's poems.As with any good slice of life story, UNDERCOVER works because reader's can see elements of their own life in Elisa's, even when the two diverge. I used to skate, although never outdoors and never over a permanently drowning girl. (I do live in Texas. Outdoor ice skating just doesn't work.) During my parents' divorce, my mother used skating to deal with her emotions. The scenes of Elisa skating on the pond, which are numerous, resonate with my own experience.Likewise, I never had a teacher quite like Dr. Charmin. But I did have wonderful English teachers. I remember reading poetry and plays aloud in class. Of course, the only emotions I was ever overcome by were embarrasment and humor. (Deimyts and I read the two main characters of WAITING FOR GODOT. My character started asking his whether he ever hung himself, because it would give him a boner. Very startling. We also read two characters in a shorter Polish play titled THE UNVEILING. His character began to show another character how to properly seduce a woman - my character. This is the sort of stuff you need to be prepared for! These lines creep up on you!)One of my biggest quibbles with most books set in high schools is the fact they never seem like any high school I ever attended. But Beth Kephart writes characters I could see myself knowing, in situations I could see happening. And she does it with beautiful language. Elisa's voice has a steady flow and Kephart uses elegant imagery. I hope UNDERCOVER not only pulls readers into Elisa's world, but pushes her world out into theirs and encourages them to read some of the prose and poetry mentioned within the story. (Believe me, it's worth reading.)
libsue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have been told by a friend that Beth Kephart is one of the unsung hero's of YA literature. That her books are beautiful and yet underappreciated by her target audience. I just finished this book and understand compltetly. The book was slow to start, but oh so beautiful to read. I fell in love with Elisa, and empathized with her. I was her in high school-minus the talent at poetry. Kephart doesn't pander to her audience. There are no hollywood happy endings-neatly tied up, but when is life tidy? There are also none of the theatrical nonsense that sometimes finds it way into literature. While we all aware of the cataclysmic events that occur in the world, there are daily struggles that teens deal with that ,while not earth shatttering, affect them in the moment and possibly for life: the break up of their parents marriage, the bully in school, not feeling loved or wanted, not fitting in, being a geek, feeling alone, etc. Kephart writes the quiet struggles of the average teen with empathy and affection. If you haven't read her-do so. If you know a teen-recommend her. If you are a teen-give her a try-you'll know her characters from school,or see yourself in them. If you're Beth Kephart-keep writing, the world will catch on.
bkladyatl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book, a bit more literary than I am used to. Elisa, is an excellent writer who provides love poems for boys at her high school. The odd girl out both at home and at school, Elisa loves nature like her father. Her father is away on a long term assignment which throws her mom into a tizzy. Good coming of age story.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
"What I knew wasn't mine. That's the thing about being undercover: You know what you know, and you cannot act on it." Elisa Cantor is used to blending into the background. At home she is always in the shadow of her glamorous mother and sister, watching and wandering like her father. At school she is self-conscious and keen to stay invisible. After all, it's so much easier to observe things when no one is looking at you. In the woods Elisa is able to observe nature, like her father, as an undercover operative. At school, she can use everything she sees and finds to secretly write love notes for the boys in her school like a modern day Cyrano De Bergerac. Elisa thinks she is fine with all of that; with being undercover. But when Theo Moses starts asking for notes to win over Lila--a pretty, popular girl who is always ready to remind Elisa that she is neither--Elisa isn't sure she wants to stay in the shadows anymore. As she hones her voice writing poems for herself--not pretending to be anyone else--and learns more about Theo, Elisa begins to wonder if there could be more to her life. With her father away on an extended trip and her family crumbling under the weight of his absence, Elisa really needs for there to be something more. When Elisa discovers a hidden pond and a talent for ice skating, she realizes it might be time for her to stop hiding in Undercover (2007) by Beth Kephart. Undercover is a marvelous novel, partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique. Elisa is a narrator who sees the world not just as it is but also through her own lens, always with a sense of whimsy and wonder. Readers are easily drawn into Elisa's appreciation for poetry when she discovers new writers and forms and begins to write poems of her own (included throughout the narrative and also in bonus material at the end of the paperback edition). Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words. Elisa's journey as she learns to love and respect herself is also beautifully told. Undercover is a slim book that has a lot to say about honesty, family and learning who you want to be. Highly recommended. Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
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SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
Elisa secretly writes love poems for her classmates who give the poems to the girl they like. Then she meets Theo who likes a girl name Lila and later on Elisa realizes that she likes Theo. But Elisa has more to worry about where her dad's work has him travel a lot. What helps her deal with all of this is skating at a pond. Most of the story seemed more about Elisa trying to reunite her family and less on Theo. I mean there are moments with Theo and all but still. Liked the book and it got me interested in reading more about Cyrano. And if you haven't read Cyrano then well, there's spoilers in this book.
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Angelflowers More than 1 year ago
Although "Undercover" started out promising, its ending completely overshadows the beautiful language and unique points of view. All I will say is that the main character's life is full of many injustices, and only one is solved by the end of the book. The rest are left open-ended, and various supporting characters are never really punished for their cruel actions. The end just didn't bring about any feelings of closure and really ruined what could have been a very satisfying read.
Lorenzyanatti55 More than 1 year ago
Kephart writes like a poet. Very beautiful book, plus all the skating stuff is an added bonus. Some truly unforgettable scenes out on the ice. A nice love story. One of the best new YA books around for sure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
focusedBB More than 1 year ago
I am an adult yet I loved this book! Yes, it's written from a 10th grader's perspective but she's so smart and so not clingy to the boys! She is a good role model for our teen girls out there because she's smart but not perfect and is able to endure through difficulties. This book is clean, no cursing, no inappropriate sexual content. The writer is talented. The reading is smooth but challenging because poems are written throughout. I recommend it for teens and adults.