Book Talk: A World Without You

“Time won’t let me change it. I am, at best, an observer. I cannot rewrite history.”

Beth Revis, this was my first book of yours. The writing and premise of this novel were both excellent; the execution, fell short. Overall, I had a positive experience with this book, but it didn’t blow me away.

It is important to understand that this book is a contemporary YA novel about mental illness. It is creatively accurate: an in-depth picture of what mental illness could be like from the inside looking out. This book confronts the stigma of mental illness and prejudice, leading the reader on a slow (almost painfully) journey to the depths of psychosis and the confusing nature of it.

I was stuck halfway through for a good week and a half before I picked up this book again. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting or that I didn’t care about what happened to Bo, it is just that it didn’t measure up to the book blurb. The first half of the book was so slow moving that I found myself yawning more than I was paying attention to what was happening to Bo. Maybe this was because you knew from the beginning that he had a mental illness and not superpowers. Maybe it was because there was so much focus on the strings of time. Maybe it was because I was left with nothing to figure out by the time I got to the last page.

There were times that I wanted to like this novel more than I did. It was disappointing knowing the truth about Bo from the start. If it was a gradual build-up to finding out what was going on with him, that his delusion of having a superpower was just that, a delusion and not knowing from page one. However, where this book did not lack was the portrayal of confusion and fear that would accompany a mental illness like Bo has.

It doesn’t take much to reading to find that Bo, himself, is struggling with his mental illness and it becomes clear that the cracks are starting to show. He is not at the boarding school to find out how to control his superpowers but to learn how to cope with his mental illness. That Sofia did not go missing due to Bo bringing her back in time; missing was just another term Bo needed to dissociate what was her suicide. Everything that Bo thought he knew or understood comes into question in the second half of the book and I am grateful for that. Bo tells his part of the story so convincingly that it almost makes you wonder if his version of reality is actually true.

“We’re not ignoring the problem, not really. We’re all aware it’s there, even Bo. We see the edges of this new Bo, this Bo who’s special, different. We’re not ignoring it. We’re just carefully, carefully avoiding it.”

Another theme that was within this novel was that of family dysfunction that is brought on by the struggle of having to deal with mental illness. Having a second point-of-view helped push the dynamic of the book away from Bo and on to his sister, Phoebe. It allows you to understand that she is actually parenting herself while her parents are not sure how to deal with Bo properly. Reading from her view hurt. Even when her parents were doing the best that they could, she was left outside of it all, they were all hurting.

“Because if I break, they’ll break too. It’s a responsibility I’d never really felt before, or at least I never thought about enough to name. But Bo’s actions just cement my place in my family. He can walk away from the dinner table. I can’t”

Even with the nature of the book, you soon realize after you finish the last page that hope prevails from the struggle. The ending was exactly what this novel needed. It was brilliant, realistic and honest. Beth Revis wasn’t dismissive about the long road to recovery and didn’t leave readers in despair. There is a quiet strength and resilience to the story and the characters.

“Everyone has a jar of darkness inside of them. Everyone. When we’re born, the lid is tight on the jar. That’s why babies are happy. But as time goes on, sometimes the jar opens up a little, and darkness gets inside us. We can close the jar sometimes and sometimes we can’t.”

For me, I definitely will re-read this one day. I treasure the story that Beth Revis was trying to write and maybe if I wasn’t stepping off from a brilliant series, this book would have left me where other readers were when they finished. I know that I will pass this book along to others because it is insightful and her prose is quietly captivating.

“And it is everything I have longed for, and everything that breaks my heart.”

“There’s a meaning behind blank pages, too.”

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