This post briefly reviews Beth Kephart’s young adult novel You Are My Only.
Kephart is an award-winning author of 13 young adult titles as well as lots of poetry, essays, and reviews. This, her latest book, is up for review here because of its use of homeschooling as a plot point. Unlike other fiction works I’ve reviewed on this blog, in You Are My Only homeschooling itself never takes center stage. It’s just there in the background as a necessary aspect of the larger plot. As the story itself is easily given away I won’t go into why the protagonist Sophie is being homeschooled. I’ll instead comment only briefly on how her homeschooling is done.
Sophie’s mother has to work, so she leaves Sophie at home by herself to work on projects and to read. We meet Sophie as a teenager, and it is clear that her education has been robust if unsystematic. She has read a lot of great books and is currently, as the story opens, working on math and science topics. Over the course of the story she builds a model icosahedron and composes an essay on the astronomer Johannes Kepler.
All of this is being done on the sly. For reasons I won’t reveal here, Sophie’s mother is on the run from the law, so Sophie’s homeschooling is being done off the record. The book is set in Pennsylvania, which has a comparatively strict homeschool law, so Sophie’s mother is understandably worried about getting caught and has moved very frequently during the course of Sophie’s life, staying one step ahead of the force she calls the “no good.”
Later in the book Sophie befriends some older ladies and is introduced to authors she had not previously known–Willa Cather being an outstanding example. Still later she has a tutor come to visit her every afternoon to teach her the survival skills she’ll need to succeed in an institutional high school–things like keeping organized, managing money, and navigating things like classes, lockers, and extracurriculars.
And that’s it as far as the actual homeschooling. The book itself is very well written, possessing an abiding sense of sorrow and loss, with a fascinating cast of deeply flawed, tragic characters. My one complaint is that all of the characters seem to speak in the same voice. It’s like they all have the exact same vocal tick, which is in this case the tendency to drop the subjects of sentences. This peculiarity perhaps helps perpetuate the dream-like sensibility that pervades the novel, but I personally was wishing that the two narrators would have had more distinctive styles and that the dialogue had reflected a wider range of personalities.
And that’s all I’m going to say about this book. I don’t want to talk about the story at all, for doing so would be impossible without divulging spoilers. For the purposes of this blog, count it as another example of the common tendency for authors to use homeschooling as a device to get kids out of school so that more interesting things can happen to them. In previous stories I’ve reviewed along these lines the homeschooling is often there to facilitate the protagonist’s growth. Here it’s not. It’s just sort of along for the ride. Regardless, many teens and up would find You Are My Only to be a ride worth taking.