“It’s dangerous to dwell in the past. You don’t have to be a time traveler to know that,” says Bo, the protagonist of Beth Revis’s lastest YA novel, A World Without You. As it happens, Bo is a time traveler, so he would know. During the week Bo lives at the Berkshire Academy for Children with Exceptional Needs, located on the lonely, windswept southern tip of Pear Island in Massachusetts. On weekends he goes home to his parents and his younger sister, Phoebe. At Berkshire he attends high-school classes with his unit and counseling sessions with the unit leader, Dr. Franklin. The other members of his unit are Gwen, who can make and control fire; Harold, who talks to the dead; Ryan, who can move objects with his mind; and Bo’s girlfriend, Sofia, who has the gift of invisibility.
“Even though we all have different powers, the Doctor guides us in the basics of controlling them,” Bo explains. “This has always been the point of Berkshire: to give students the control they need to blend with society. He’s not training us to be superheroes 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.”
Of his own power, Bo says, “I can feel rather than see all of time stretching out around me. The timestream is made of strings extending out, swirling around as if they’re resting on top of water. There are hard knots at certain points—the points where I am not allowed to go. Woven through the strings is one bright red thread—Sofia’s life.” The connection between them is visible: “Her string twirls around mine like an embrace.” But something has gone terribly wrong. Sofia has become lost in time—1692, to be specific. She’s stranded in Massachusetts during the witch trials, and Bo fears that her tendency toward sudden invisibility during times of stress makes her especially vulnerable to charges of witchcraft.
No matter how hard he tries, though, Bo can’t make his way back to Sofia. Time just isn’t cooperating: “Time has a way of keeping itself safe and balanced,” he says. “Whenever I try to alter something that has to be, whether it’s punching Hitler in the face or changing my own timeline, time has kept me out. It snaps me back. It reminds me that it’s in charge.” But Sofia is depending on him to rescue her, and he will fight time itself, if need be, to do that.
The other narrator of A World Without You is Bo’s sister, Phoebe. She sees Berkshire as a school for “uncontrollable, borderline-crazy kids.” Wherever the truth may lie, Phoebe is caught between her father’s anger, her mother’s denial, and her brother’s strangeness. She compensates by trying to be the perfect child, but the strain is taking a toll. “The silence filling the house now is different,” she says. “It’s a silence born from the fact that we know—we all know—something is really wrong with Bo. It’s not angry teenage rebellion that can be fixed by grounding him or taking his bedroom door down or whatever else Dad has tried. He can’t be punished into normalcy.”
Revis is in complete control of her narrative and keeps the suspense taut and the reader guessing until the very end. Does Bo have superpowers, or is he mentally ill? Is Sofia dead, or is she lost in time? Is Phoebe the more reliable narrator, or is she merely jealous of her brother’s incredible abilities? Clues scattered along the way point to both outcomes, and red herrings abound. The reader is drawn into Bo’s tortured and mysterious world and his passionate quest to save Sofia. That much, at least, is real and will make sense to anyone who has ever wanted to protect a loved one by making time stand still.
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.