You Are My Only by Beth Kephart – Book Review

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart
Published by EgmontUSA

Baby is the only bright spot in Emmy Rane’s life, until the day she vanishes. Emmy runs into the house for but a moment, and when she comes back, Baby is nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found. Mad with grief and suspected in the disappearance of her child, Emmy soon finds herself institutionalized. Fourteen years later, Sophie is in yet another new house in yet another new town; not that moving makes things so difficult, since her mother homeschools her and rarely lets her leave the house or talk to anyone else. This time is different, though, because this time Sophie surreptitiously makes friends with the next door neighbor and the aunts who are raising him. As she begins to break out of the shell her mother has concocted, Sophie begins to learn things about her life that will change it for good.

I generally adore Beth Kephart’s poetic writing style, but her lovely prose does also have a tendency to put the reader at a remove from her story and characters, as I discovered in Dangerous Neighbors. This problem is exacerbated in You Are My Only by the fact that there are two main characters, who each have their share of narration and who are split by place and time. Emmy is a particularly difficult character to get a handle on. Is she supposed to be of below average intelligence or mentally ill even before Baby disappeared? If not, why is she so odd even from the beginning? Why is it so easy to paint her as crazy and have her institutionalized? What is with the fact her child didn’t seem to have a name, other than Baby? Sophie is a more robust character, and one who is easier to identify with, as she begins to break out of the constraints her mother has put on her life, and begins uncovering the secret of her past.

I think my biggest issue with You Are My Only is that it is written as a young adult book at all. There’s nothing I would particularly worry about in giving it to any teenager, but with half of the story told from Emmy’s point of view, it seems it might have worked better as an adult novel. Perhaps had it been written as an adult novel, the mother’s pain of losing her precious child could have been written in a way that was more immediate and less removed. I assume it is because this is a young adult novel that Sophie is the better developed character, but that seriously weakens the story as a whole. I would have liked to see them developed equally well, tapping more fully into both the woman and the teenager. That could have been an immensely powerful book, whereas this is somewhat disappointing – especially because the connection between the two stories is painfully obvious. If this story had to be young adult, Emmy should have been given an even smaller role, or none at all; as it is she simply detracts from the emotional charge of the novel.

I really like Kephart’s young adult writing when the story she is telling makes sense as a young adult book, and I think I would enjoy her writing for adults as well, but You Are My Only is neither fish nor fowl and simply doesn’t work for me. Try Nothing But Ghosts or Undercover instead.

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Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
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10 comments to You Are My Only by Beth Kephart – Book Review

  • Sorry to hear that this didn’t work for you. I disagree, however, that this story needs to be purely Sophie’s story here. There is a wider purpose to the dual voices, a theme of loss that expands beyond the immediate loss of a child or the immediate loss of a mother. There is an impact on all who touch these characters.

    Emmy is odd and below average in intelligence given her lack or advanced education, but does that necessarily mean she is dumb? Does that necessarily mean that she had a name for her baby? Perhaps she is unable to say her real name because it is too painful? I don’t think that she did not name the child, but that she cannot bring herself to use her name.

    • I actually prefer the dual narrative in this case too, but not the way it was done. The strongest story would have been more fully developing Emmy, but in my opinion just Sophie would have been preferable to what we had.

      • Ah well, to each his/her own. I enjoyed both stories equally and liked their voices. I think there could have been more explanation about the institutionalization, but since it is told from Emmy’s pov, it may have been her state of mind at the time that made it difficult to discern what happened.

  • I am a little nervous to read this one, especially after reading your review. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Dangerous Neighbors–it was just mediocre in my mind, and since then I haven’t had the chance to read anything else from Kephart. I have this one on my kindle, so I do plan to read it sooner rather than later.

  • julie

    Books about kids being kidnapped freak me out these days, so I would probably avoid this one all together. It’s always hard to write a not so positive review about an author you genuinely like. Nicely done.

    • When the kidnapper’s motivation came to light it was very interesting, I think that person ended up better developed even than Emmy, which says great things about her development of secondary characters, but not about her development of one of her primary characters.

  • I couldn’t read this book, simply due to the subject matter. While I love Beth Kephart’s writing, I’m finding too many novels using the split narrative lately. It’s not easy for me, as I prefer a 3rd person POV.

  • I am curious about this book, but also nervous. I have only read Kephart once before, and while I liked the overall story, I was not entirely fond of the writing style. That is nothing against the author, but just a personal preference. I never would have read her if people were not talking about her all the time. (The power of the internet, after all.)

  • The characterization didn’t bother me, but I can see how you would find that a weakness. The layered themes, the exquisite language, and the depth of feeling and humanity mattered more to me in this read.