Author: Beth RevisSeries: Standalone
Released: July 19th 2016
Publisher: RazorbillLength: 384 pages
Source: Publisher for reviewBuy: Amazon
Seventeen-year-old Bo has always had delusions that he can travel through time. When he was ten, Bo claimed to have witnessed the Titanic hit an iceberg, and at fifteen, he found himself on a Civil War battlefield, horrified by the bodies surrounding him. So when his concerned parents send him to a school for troubled youth, Bo assumes he knows the truth: that he’s actually attending Berkshire Academy, a school for kids who, like Bo, have "superpowers."At Berkshire, Bo falls in love with Sofia, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Sofia helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofia, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age.But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia escape her deep depression. After she commits suicide, Bo is convinced that she's not actually dead. He believes that she's stuck somewhere in time — that he somehow left her in the past, and now it's his job to save her.
A World Without You is one of those books that invades your every thought, controls your every breath and breaks your heart, only to rebuild it as the better, stronger version of itself. In this genre-bending gem of a book, Revis explores mental illness, loss and guilt that lead to never before seen depths of self-delusion and fear. For a more careful reader, reading it can be an eye-opening experience, as each new page peels away one more bit of prejudice of which we were completely unaware.
Revis succeeds in making us question our own minds as we slowly discover the depths of Bo’s psychosis. We know that he doesn’t actually travel through time – even the book blurb doesn’t attempt to hide that fact – but Bo is so deeply convinced by his own delusions that at times his conviction influences us, too. The sobering moments in which well meaning people try to make Bo see the truth serve as an awakening for us too, and they fill us with sadness and sympathy for this deeply delusional boy.
As we witness the life of Bo’s family through his sister Phoebe’s eyes (several chapters are from her point of view), we see that mental illness still carries the stigma it once did. The deep shame felt by Bo’s father, the complete denial from his mother and the jealous anger coming from his sister would have surely hurt Bo even more deeply had he been fully aware of their actions. None of them ever told anyone that there was something very wrong with Bo, that he was mentally ill and essentially hospitalized. Phoebe lied to her friends, their father buried himself in piles of work and their mother closed herself off from life. Revis showed quite clearly how illness affects more than one person, how it spreads and how the family rots from within. It is very hard not to assign blame, not to despise those who are not supportive enough, and very difficult to understand that people’s defense mechanisms often fail when they need them the most.
Every aspect of Bo’s journey in this book is incredibly painful. He is drowning in guilt for failing to notice the full extent of Sofía’s depression, he’s running from all the hard truths and becoming increasingly paranoid with each new collision with reality. Revis’s powerful writing carries us through all his moods and hallucinations, and through her immense skill, we drown in Bo’s mind, we feel his heart and we understand his pain all too well. Reality abandons us as it abandons him, and oftentimes we get carried away, believing him in our hearts instead of trusting our own minds.
We see the important secondary characters only through Bo’s eyes and we can merely guess at the nature of their illnesses. Bo’s perspective is terribly skewed, his narration the very definition of unreliable, and most people aren’t strong or important enough to penetrate the fog of his mind. His tunnel vision focus on saving Sofía prevents him from seeing anything else, and as he slides down into hallucinations and paranoia, his views of other people become even more unreliable. Nevertheless, one can conclude just enough from things written between the lines, enough to see that each of Bo’s classmates is a tragedy unfolding before our very eyes.
After The Body Electric, which happens to be one of my all-time favorites, I had no doubts left about Revis’ ability to captivate and enchant. In A World Without You, her approach is somewhat different from her previous works, her prose is quieter and more subdued, but it’s all the more powerful for it. Her incredible insightfulness and feather-light touch make this a novel people will talk about for years to come.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.