Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Mental Health
What if finding her means losing himself?
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 worried 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 Sofía, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Sofía helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofía, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age.
But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofía 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 that now it’s his job to save her. And as Bo becomes more and more determined to save Sofía, he must decide whether to face his demons head-on or succumb to a psychosis that will let him be with the girl he loves.
A World Without You is X-Men meets The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. However, boiling this novel down to a quick tag line is a disservice to what it’s really about.
Mental illness is at the forefront of this novel. Bo has delusions that he can control time, so he believes he was sent to a special school to control his abilities with other teens that also have supernatural abilities. When Bo’s girlfriend, Sofia, dies by suicide, he creates an elaborate narrative to explain her missing presence. Bo slowly deteriorates as he unsuccessfully tries to rescue her from the time period he think he left her in.
What sets Revis’ novel apart from similar novels, like Shutter Island, is the inclusion of Phoebe’s chapters. Her chapters illustrate the very real effects of having a loved one with mental illness. Despite the infrequency of her chapters, they do a fantastic job of developing Phoebe as a character while including important insights about Bo. Revis drew inspiration for this novel from her own experiences of having a brother with mental illness who died, so every emotion, thought, and action from Phoebe and her parents resonates as authentic. After about half way through the novel, I wanted more of Phoebe chapters because how well written and articulated the emotions were.
What I truly loved about my experience reading this novel was Revis’ annotations sprinkled throughout. I ordered the Quarterly Subscription Box that was curated by Beth Revis because I wanted A World Without You with the added notes. Despite my very negative experience purchasing the box (review here), I’m very happy I got to experience A World Without You with the annotations. I think they altered my reading experience in a positive way. I didn’t realize how personal this novel was for Revis.
The annotation that affected me the most was during an icebreaker scene where the students were asked to make certain movements depending on their answer to specific questions. For example: jump up and down if you have siblings.
I’m an only child, so this made me reflect on sibling relationships and how much they influence personality. I appreciate and respect Beth Revis all the more for being able to elicit those feelings from me, especially since I don’t have any siblings.
Overall, A World Without You is a fantastic novel that depicts mental illness and its effects in a very real way that will resonate with readers with personal experience.
**Here is the Q&A where Beth Revis speaks about her brother.