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Book Review – A World Without You

This was a particularly riveting read. 

It had a couple lulls, some moments where you sort of set the book down on your thigh exhausted and wondering where Beth Revis could possibly take you from there, but it was well worth it by the time you got to the end of the book. 

A World Without You tells the story of Bo, a mentally handicapped teenager who thinks he can time travel, and more specifically, travel into the past to save his recently deceased girlfriend, who committed suicide. 

This book will play with your head just as Bo’s brain plays with his. It is an eye-opening experience to be inside the brain of somebody so incredibly off-kilter, and while I don’t normally love books told from multiple perspectives, I must applaud Beth for giving us Bo’s younger sister, Phoebe’s, perspective, too, because to see Bo’s insanity with such brutal clarity after pages of being stuck in Bo’s head gave you that understanding of it, of how unstable Bo truly was.

Because Bo will have you believing his delusions, and that’s why this read was so thought-provoking, because you get why it’s so debilitating for somebody who is hallucinating to see those hallucinations for what they really are, because they whole-heartedly believe that they are their reality. And you can’t imagine what that’s like until you’re in their shoes. 

Like, I’ve had tiny moments here or there where I’ve questioned my reality, when one parent tells me the other parent is brain-washing me, all because of their insane divorce. But never like this. And I can’t believe how truly well done this book was. 

Even though Bo is quite clearly a bit of a crazy person, he had such glaring moments of clarity that gave you the hope you need to persevere through this book, because it can, at times, be a little hard to stomach. 

Time won’t let me change it. I am, at best, an observer.

I wish I understood more about my powers. I wish I could say, “I want to be this place, in this time,” and go right back to that specific moment. Instead, I’m always sort of guessing and everything is a little random, a little uncontrollable. It’s like swimming in the ocean. You can point to a spot out in the distance where the waves aren’t cresting yet, and then you can swim and swim, but you’re probably not going to end up at the exact spot you were pointing to. The ocean’s just too big, and the current is always moving.

Another strong point: the way Beth Revis made his delusions and his visions SO disgustingly clear. She wrote them with great style and grace, and they read so beautifully.

There’s a roaring ocean in my ears, but I push it down, so my head’s above the water and I can hear. My heart can drown, but I need my mind.

The timestream rises up, surround me, reminding me it’s always there, whether I control it or not. The strings of time flow gently, extending out like a net floating on the surface of the ocean, and I am trapped in the center.

LOVED this imagery. I could see it in my brain and had this thoughtful little smile on my face as I marked it with a sticky note so I could get back to it later on. 

Phoebe and Bo had such an interesting sibling rivalry going on that wasn’t really a rivalry but just like this deep tension that was so real and shocking, totally overloaded with the guilty pleasure of spite, the human flaw that is envying someone just because you choose to think they have it easier when you know there is great struggle in their path too. 

The siblings were so deeply aware of the other, but they didn’t really realize it until the end. Which just gave you that amazing pacing and justified the lulls in the middle of the book and three-quarters of the way through. 

Here are some of their analysis of each other.

He can’t be punished into normalcy.

Sometimes minds are just broken–they see the world in a fractured way. Does it really matter what we call the problem with Bo’s brain if there’s no way to fix it?

Phoebe’s emotions are measured out carefully, like Mom when she’s measuring flour for a recipe, scraping off the top of the fluffy white powder to have exactly the right amount in the cup.

The family-with-Bo is like the spikes of a heart monitor–a loud burst, followed by nothing, following by another loud burst.

The above lines are two of my FAVORITE lines ever written. Bravo, Beth Revis, what an incredible way to sum up the collected pieces of someone and the scattered pieces of another. 

This book reminded me a bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It had that finesse and that eerie calm about it. Sort of like a jar with the lid screwed on tight, but as each page turns the lid sort of screws off and suddenly it’s flying off and everything is just exploding and you’re sort of exploding too because the book is so real and you can’t believe it’s not actually unfolding around you. It feels that way. 

For that reason I would definitely recommend this book to readers of Ransom Riggs. 

Beth did an amazing job describing mental illness from all sides of it. From the doctor’s standpoint, the family’s, the friends’, the person himself, the other patients dealing with the same types of unwavering and unkept mental impairments. 

There was this one scene between Bo and Phoebe where Bo was going nuts and you could just see it in your head, you could feel Phoebe’s desperation to control him and her defeat when she realized she couldn’t. You could feel how badly she wanted to be honest with him but you could also feel her terror at hurting him further. And he was screaming at her and trying to get her to see the world from his point of view, and you could feel that too. You could feel the frustration and the anger. You could feel him giving up on her and you could feel his abandonment as he realized that no one would ever understand him. 

I loved Phoebe’s honesty and how you saw her open up more as the book continued. I couldn’t believe how much she was becoming aware of herself through witnessing Bo’s unawareness. I don’t know if that was Beth’s intention, but if it was, or if it was simply the fates aligning just right, it was absolutely genius. 

I mean two character arcs is ALWAYS better than just one.

By the end you start to feel for Phoebe, too, and you want to reach out to her and you get that other side of the mental illness when it plagues a family. And I can’t believe how glad I was to have that other side. I didn’t think we needed it at first, but we definitely did. It was incredible. She has so much finesse.

Loved the other characters too, the small, ephemeral looks into the other patients’ conditions at the end. You fit everything together with just the small sentences that summed them up, especially Ryan, who is perhaps the antagonist of the story. 

And the last thing, while Bo flew completely into the exosphere of deliriousness, he had these actual genius, Rain-man-esque moments when he predicted Phoebe’s future, and it made everything come together really nicely. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and the ending left you with that overwhelming thought that everything was perfect and the world was spinning on and all the Bos in the world still have hope yet for a full recovery, or at least stabilization. 



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