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'd been reading the blog of Elisa's creator for nearly before I read this novel, and Elisa's voice sounds like it was written by Beth Kephart. This is a good thing, and so is Undercover.