a starred Kirkus review for Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent (and Beth drops to the floor in gratitude)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Years ago (it seems now) I wrote a book about Centennial Philadelphia—a novel about twin sisters of substantial means set against the Exposition that drew 10 million visitors to Philadelphia during 1876 and was endangered, on one incredibly hot day, by a greedy fire. Among my characters was a boy named William, making his way on the poor side of town. William rescued lost animals for a living. He rescued, in many ways, my grieving character, Katherine.

Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA/Laura Geringer Books) was originally told in three first-person voices—Katherine's, William's, and the fire's. Published, it was a single third-person telling, focused primarily on Katherine. I never lost sight of William, however. He was vital and alive to me and (I would read in review after review) to many Dangerous Neighbors readers as well.

I lost a major corporate account two years ago and found myself with the time (and desire) to return to William. I dialed back the clock by five years to 1871. I studied the sounds and the stresses of Baldwin Locomotive Works, Eastern State Penitentiary, Schuylkill River races, the odd medicines of the time (such as that sarsaparilla resolvent), and the neighborhood then known as Bush Hill. I gave William a best friend named Career, who worked for my idol, the Public Ledger editor George Childs, and I set the tale in motion. I rewrote this book dozens of times. I struggled with self-doubt, and that loneliness that sets in during the heat of making things.

Finally I asked my husband if he might illustrate the book and give me a cover. I wrote some jacket copy. I talked to Micah Kleit at Temple University Press. Micah and the Temple team had made Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River happen, and that book—odd, uncategorizable, a risk—has meant the world to me. William's story was also a risk, also a love song to my city. Micah, teaming me with Stephen Parks at New City Community Press, said (thankfully) yes. I asked Quinn Colter, a University of Chicago student with an eye on a copy editing career, if she might read the book looking for type errors. New City Community Press brought in a book designer named Elizabeth Parks, who was very kind (and talented).

And then the book was done and, for a very long time, I held my breath.

I exhaled last week, when Temple University Press's Gary Kramer, a publicist for whom I have enormous respect, sent me this starred review from Kirkus.

Dear Kirkus reviewer, whomever you are: I have no words. I am floored, and I am grateful.

Dr. Radway is due out on April 30th.
Kephart has crafted a deeply satisfying tale that’s richly evocative of its time and place.
Playing masterfully with words, knitting them into new and deliciously expressive forms, Kephart’s story is one of loss and then redemption. William Quinn is only 14. With his father in the Cherry Hill prison and his genially wayward older brother, Francis, recently beaten to death by a brutal policeman, his mother has ground herself into unbearable, paralyzing grief, and the boy has to find a way to save them both. He has help from many: Career, his cheerfully ambitious best friend; Pearl, a good-hearted prostitute; Molly, a neighbor child who’s deeply smitten with Career; a wayward goat named Daisy; and the abiding memory of Francis. Gradually, William finds a way to make right some terrible wrongs that are only revealed at a perfectly measured pace. Stark, spare illustrations provide an effective counterpoint to the flowing, poetic language. Against the 1871 Philadelphia setting (five years before the related Dangerous Neighbors, 2010), a faultlessly depicted world of sound, energy and ample filth, the fully developed characters of William and Career are trapped in a bleakly hopeless situation. But they never fully give up hoping. Like the very best of historical fiction, this effort combines a timeless tale with a vividly recreated, fascinating world.
An outstanding and ultimately life-affirming tale. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)


Elizabeth Mosier said...

I especially like the phrase, "Like the best historical fiction..." Yahoo!

Melissa Sarno said...

Oh I'm so thrilled for you, Beth! I'm really looking forward to this story. I hear it is outstanding and life-affirming!! : )

kelly said...

This is definitely life affirming news. Huge congrats and may the book be discovered by many.

Katrina said...

Beth, I loved Dangerous Neighbors, and yet didn't know about the connection between these books til now. Hooray for you, for this glorious review -- and for us, who get to accompany you back in time. CONGRATS!

Beth Kephart said...

Great thanks to all of you!! I am so surprised, and so delighted.

Liviania said...

Dangerous Neighbors is one of my favorite books and I can't wait to read this one. It's always a treat when authors take risks.

Amy said...

aw yay this is wonderful news!

Serena said...

What a great and satisfying review....as if I were not already looking forward to this story.

Lilian Nattel said...

Congratulations! I'm so happy for you.

Sarah Laurence said...

Congratulations, Beth! So much news, both good and sad, during my week abroad. It was nice to catch up with you.

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