Beth Revis tackles the tangled world of time travel and/or mental illness in her latest novel A World Without You. Here’s our First Reads Friday review:
From the book flap:
| 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.
Overall: 17 year old Bo attends a boarding school called Berkshire Academy. If you ask Bo, this is a school for gifted kids. Kids with special powers like invisibility, time travel and mind control. Kinda like Doctor Xavier’s school in X-men. But if you ask Bo’s family, the Academy is for kids who can’t attend mainstream schools, and not because of their superhuman abilities.
As the story begins we learn that a student at the Academy has recently committed suicide. The student is Bo’s girlfriend Sofia. As the rest of the student body attends her funeral and mourns her death, Bo is unmoved. Because Sofia isn’t really dead, she trapped in time and it’s Bo’s fault. He used his time travel ability to transport them back in time and they got separated. Well, at least this is what Bo believes. As we learn more about Bo, the Academy and Sofia, we begin to question Bo’s grip on reality.
A World Without You is told in two POVs- Bo at boarding school and his sister Phoebe at home. The story is mainly Bo’s but Phoebe’s POV is important. Her POV gets us out of Bo’s head so that as readers we can see the world looking at Bo, not through him. The world through Bo’s eyes is a magical place. In his world, he is special as are the other students in his small unit at the Academy. His world shrinks and becomes a dull grayer place when you see it without the possibility of special abilities and time travel. But as Bo struggles with his quest to get Phoebe back, he is forced to see things as they are, not as he wants them to be. And this reality check may be Bo’s breaking point.
A World Without You is book about mental illness, how we cope with tragedy and how we try to survive. Sometimes we try and fail, sometimes all we can do is just try for one more day. And one more day. And one more day…
Judge a Book by its Cover: This cover is striking. Bo sees time as a weave of multi-colored strings that represent different timelines, so the silhouette of Bo overlaid with the colored strings is perfect.
The Chosen One: Bo isn’t the Chosen One in the typical hero quest sense. He believes that he alone is responsible for what happened to Sofia and that he alone has the ability to save her. But what Bo believes and reality aren’t always the same thing.
He Said/She Said: Beth Revis knows dialogue. She created Bo and Phoebe with voices that feel real. Mostly melancholy, but real.
“He’s not training us to superheros or anything like that. We’re not going out into the world to wear capes and masks. The Doctor just wants us to go out into the world without breaking it.”
“I should have told her about a book that meant something to me the way that book meant something to her. because I can think of no better way to meet a girl than to see through the eyes of the story she loves best.”
“Only for special occasions.” “Yeah, well, life is a special occasion.”
Don’t Believe the Hype: There’s great buzz about this book and it’s treatment of mental illness and that buzz is certainly deserved. Not only do we get Bo’s story through his eyes and in his head, but we see how his mental state effects his sister, family and those around him. It’s breaks your heart as you see the world around Bo unravel.
Open tab/Last call: Beth Revis, you’ve crafted a story that feels personal and rings true and for that you deserve a drink. How about a shot of Fireball ? Cheers!
A World Without You by Beth Revis, publication date July 19, 2016, Razorbill, 384 pages, hardcover. Pre-order here.