The latest YA novel from Beth Revis, author of the bestselling Across the Universe series, stars a troubled 17-year-old boy named Bo who believes he has the ability to travel through time. When the girl he loves dies, he's convinced that she's actually trapped in the past, and he is the only one who can save her. Revis shares her personal connection to Bo and his heartbreaking story in A World Without You.
My brother was always He-Man. He was the oldest, he had the most action figures, and so he got to be He-Man. He’d stand over the castle with his plastic sword (a red lightsaber that apparently worked just as well in this universe as when we’d play Star Wars) and shout,“I have the power!”
Growing up, I rarely doubted that my brother had the power over my family. From the outside, we were pretty typical: mother, father, brother, sister. And on the inside, three-quarters of that equation was still decently on the normal spectrum.
It was the remaining 25 percent—my brother—that wasn’t normal. And that anomaly had the power to change everything.
My brother had the power to dictate my family’s finances. Money couldn’t be spared for field trips for me; they had to go to his therapist or latest round of medication. My brother controlled time—he needed so much more of it from my parents than I got. He controlled everything, by the end. Every decision seemed to be made to accommodate him.
When he died, a result of self-medicating the demons in his head with illegal drugs, it still felt like an unbalance. Even in the end, I was dropping my life to say goodbye to his. And he was still the one in control of the emptiness in my heart.
So when I started writing a novel about a boy with a mental illness, it seemed natural to give him power. In A World Without You, Bo attends a school for kids with burgeoning superhero powers, and he himself can control time. Except the school isn’t actually for superheroes. It’s for mentally disturbed youth. And Bo can’t control time . . . or the delusions that plague his mind.
It was in Bo’s character that I found understanding for the brother who is now gone from my life. The more I saw the world through Bo’s eyes, the more I felt like I was seeing through my brother’s eyes one last time. And it wasn’t in the scenes with power that made me feel connected to my brother, the person who I had always felt had the most power over my family. It was in the scenes when Bo broke, when he was scared and paranoid and alone. That was when I felt closest to my brother, closer than I’d felt since his death.
Eventually, I added another character to A World Without You, a sister, Phoebe. She could do nothing but watch as her brother sank into the world of his own mind, as her family struggled to hold onto each other in this time of crisis. She felt as powerless as I had growing up.
But it was in Phoebe that I found the power that I hadn’t realized I’d always had. Phoebe felt trapped—and so had I—but while she had felt as if she wasn’t important, wasn’t even seen, her presence in the story was what had made it whole.
My brother and I were both powerless growing up, trapped by different things, by each other, by the world around us. But we weren’t passive. It wasn’t until I wrote A World Without You that I realized this about myself, about him. We didn’t have power, neither of us, but we didn’t let that define us. We still held our plastic swords up, and we still proclaimed our power over the things that we could control.
Maybe that’s what we learn from stories: That we’re all equally powerless and powerful at the same time. And what matters is that we don’t put down our swords, even if they’re made of plastic.