collabs · features · shanti · Shar

Tis the season of rereading–plot summaries or plot forgeteries?

Hi Virtually Readers! Have you been following our wildly popular (lol) blog series ‘tis the Season of Rereading? It is Christmas eve here and the air is slightly smoky from the fire and my cheeks are warm from mulled wine. Shar and I have created a fun feature where we summarise the books that the other person has reread to see what we remember. (Ingo technically was not part of the series but Shar had read it and not the Madeliene L’Engle books). Just know that there are spoilers for Ingo, the Wouldbegoods, Strange the Dreamer, and City of the Beasts; if you don’t want to know what happens or hear possibly incorrect versions of such, then click through to the normal posts! (For more thoughts, see Is it worth reading something if we won’t remember it? or Books Shanti Remembers) Continue reading “Tis the season of rereading–plot summaries or plot forgeteries?”

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book review · books · shanti

Returning to Ingo

Hi Virtually Readers! I really enjoyed writing a post about Emily St. John Mandel’s books the week before last and it made me think that I should do a bit of a series or group reviews, which are more fun and interesting to write in some ways than single reviews. So it’ll be Ingo this week and Naomi Novik next time and maybe Madeliene L’Engle and Zadie Smith after that—a blend of new-to-me authors and rereads. Anyway, the Ingo books are ones which I treasure deeply, so much that I hauled them back to New Zealand from India. I appreciate their whimsy and wisdom just as much now as when I was 8 and 11.

Continue reading “Returning to Ingo”

blogging · books · shanti

8 reasons to read Lucy Parker

Hi Virtually Readers! I have been a really slack blogger lately, and I’m very sorry. But I’m on almost-holiday now and hopefully I will be able to write lots of posts and pull my life together. There are many many ideas in my head…I just need to write the posts! Anyway, today the post is Eight Reasons to Read Lucy Parker, in case you didn’t guess from the title….or the picture…haha. Lucy Parker is my new favourite (and only favourite so far) romance novelist. I’d heard vaguely of Lucy parker, who writes romantic contemporary fiction, but Ella (from Novelly Ella) was raving about ‘Act Like It’ and it was at the library and I was in a bit of a book slump and her books were just what I needed and I had Ella (and now Lara) to fangirl with which was great. Lucy is from New Zealand which earns her SO MANY bonus points.

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Continue reading “8 reasons to read Lucy Parker”

book review · books · shanti

The Forgetting: ceaseless, surprising

What does it mean to be made of your memories? That’s the question Sharon Cameron tackles in The Forgetting. I had no idea what I was in for when I started the audiobook, and that was a big contributing factor to my enjoyment. Basically The Forgetting is set in a city where every 12 years, everyone’s memories are erased. And there are a whole lot of dodgy things going on, so the (remembering) protagonist, Nadia, has to figure that out. I really loved the structure of the story and Nadia’s characterisation. 

28691932What isn’t written, isn’t remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.
I did struggle a little with the writing style–it’s a very ‘tell not show’ kind of writing, which was okay, but I think it could have been a little more subtle. The other thing was that there were a few holes in the explanations–e.g., wouldn’t parents describe their children in their books so that they could access it after The Forgetting.
The best thing about this book is that it is a surprise. I listened to the first few chapters, and thought I had a pretty clear idea of what shape the book was taking. A few revelations late, I had changed my mind completely, and I only had an idea of the ‘real’ shape of the story in the last few hours. This makes a novel so interesting to read–the perpetual surprises are intriguing. The pace of the story is weird–it’s not quite your triangle rising action climax stuff; it’s a gentle unearthing of the secrets of Canaan and it’s residents. The structure of the story is incredibly compelling, and I loved how particular scenes morphed into what you didn’t expect–the anguish of Nadia’s mother, the secrets of the mountain, the structure of the council, the agony of a lost father, the mystery of both remembering and forgetting. The world Cameron creates is vivid and her story works organically with it.
I also loved Nadia as a character. The inclusion of her silence was an interesting additional element, and I really loved that this made all the words she did say so much more powerful. She doesn’t feel like she is part of her family, because she remembers, and they don’t. She’s exceptionally vulnerable, and exceptionally curious, and the power of her curiousity is what pushed her over the wall, more than the need for rations. I loved that she was curious, but also uncertain. She’s definitely a flawed character–impulsive and rude, and just bad at making decisions, but that’s part of what makes her interesting. She was a really appealing character.
This story offers opportunity for all sorts of thoughts on the nature of forgetting and memory, and what it means for identity. But Cameron doesn’t worry too much about drawing conclusions from that. She just presents the characters, their response and fears and longings, and the a-bit-too-obvious sections from Nadia’s various books. I really appreciated that–it’s done in a subtle, nuanced way that is simply enjoyable.

What’s your favourite amnesia book (there are a lot of them out there?) and have you read this one? tell me in the comments!

book review · discussions · shanti · Shar

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Sooooooo good morning Virtually Readers. Today we review one of the most hyped titles of the week, month, year, whatever timescale you’re into. Anyway, the book is (if you haven’t looked at the title of this post) When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. So Shar and I are reviewing this together, and we’re going to separate this post into Plot, Character, and Themes. Onwards!

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Characters:

Shar: As you might know, Shanti and I are both Indian (among other things), and we live in India, etc. So needless to say, we were both excited to hear about a book with Indian main characters, which is still pretty rare in YA considering how many Indian people there are in the world. We were even more excited to get an e arc of the book (provided by the author, doesn’t affect our opinion, yada yada). Plus there was A LOT of hype so I was even more excited to read it. I looked forward to an Indian-American female MC who enjoyed tech (I’ve recently become interested in coding although I really suck at it), which I thought would be relatable.

Shanti: I did really like that there was more than one Indian character in this story. This is the second time I’ve seen that (not counting books set in India). Like, ¾ main characters and several side characters are Indian, and they’re not all friends and they don’t all agree on what it means to be an Indian in America. That tension was really interesting.

Shar: I totally agree! I liked how Rishi was pretty traditional, his brother Aashish was not, and Dimple was sort of in-between. The book also showed how the characters deal with the expectations of their parents and their more modern sensibilities in different ways.

That was one of my favourite things….but it was resolved in a weird way, if you ask me, because Rishi decides to be ‘rebellious’, Dimple more or less sticks to the plan, and then Ashish is the wild child. How did you feel about the various connections between Dimple and Rishi (e.g. their back story?)

Shar: I liked it, but at the same time I thought that the way they connected because of their past wasn’t that important, and almost like an excuse for insta-love? It wasn’t exactly insta-love (because Dimple starts determined to hate Rishi), but their attraction is obvious from the start.

Exactly! It felt a little unnecessary to have that bonus connection. Overall, I liked the characters, but felt a little too much like Menon was really focused on dealing with stereotypes, that the characters weren’t quite unique–but they were lots of fun to read about. Shar, what’s your verdict?

Shar: I liked the characters, and I think they were well developed, but also slightly stereotypical. One last thought: There was dual narration in third person, (chapters titled ‘Dimple’ or ‘Rishi’ , only showing their thoughts) but to be honest because it was third person and switched quite quickly, it kind of distracted me.

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Plot

So I think that the plot was not really the point of WDMR. It was just a loose structure to make the characters do things. That’s fine though–a lot of ‘cute’ contemporaries do that. And the format of having to develop an app was enjoyable, with little tensions and summer camp dramas. Overall I liked how the romance paralleled what was happening in the app. I did have two qualms, though: One was a relationship that just felt excessively contrived (I won’t say who it was) and I also didn’t quite get the justification for the plot point that make the ending all dramatic–again that felt a bit contrived.  

Shar: Shanti basically said it all, but a few things: I almost enjoyed the predictable-ness because it was not the point. Also, I wished there was more actual coding in the plot: I don’t think the author knew much about app development because it was basically like ‘and then Dimple coded some things and Rishi drew some stuff and the app was super duper great’, and I wanted to know details. Lastly, the beginning of the book was mostly focused on the relationship, but the ending became a bit crazy because it started to focus on the love lives of Rishi’s brother Aashish and Dimple’s roommate Celia. I still enjoyed it though!

 

Themes:

Shar: Probably the most important part of this book was its themes and (in my opinion) how well written they were. Shanti, what do you think some of the themes were and what was your opinion?

Shanti: I really liked the ideas around the complexity of identity especially as an Indian in the US. Obviously, I’ve never been to the US–I’m a sort of Indian in India, but how different characters figured out their Indian-ness AND their American-ness was really effective and that made me happy–or at the very least contemplative. Basically, Menon is saying that the best way to be an Indian in America is to be sure of yourself and willing to compromise, with other Americans and with other Indians. If you know when you want to wear kurta’s and kajal, if you want to have an arranged marriage, when you want to Bollywood dance and when you need to throw coffee at someone, then you can come to a cultural in-between space.

How Menon wrote about that was what made the whole story worthwhile for me, despite other qualms I had. The characters were in the process of figuring out how to be Indian in America, and it was a constant, evolving thing, that meant different things to them at different. That was honest and relatable, and what made the story really enjoyable.

 

Lastly, I’ll mention a few of my favourite scenes: The coffee-throwing scene, Aashish being an arrogant younger brother and them arguing, and Dimple being coached to do a bollywood dance by Aashish. (I just loved Aashish, okay). Oh yeah ALSO Dimple and Rishi go on a book-reading date and AHHHHH ship so hard.

 

Shar’s star rating: 4/5

Shanti’s star rating:3.5/5

 

Have you read this? Do you want to now? (yes, you do?) How do you feel about super hyped books? What about ones you think you’ll find relatable? What tropes do you enjoy?

 

 

 

book review · shanti

The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Hi Virtually Readers! A long time ago (when I was about 13), I read this book. Shar gave me a copy for my birthday, and I reread it, and noticed a lot more. There’s a lot going on in this story, and it’s clever, raw, and sophisticated, as well as having lots of interesting social commentary. But it’s also just a good story. It has all the essential ingredients, like a distinctive writing style, symbolism, thematic elements, and a complex plot.

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Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?There’s lots of stuff going on with the style and formatting of Knife, which I could analyse a lot if I was in my literature class. But I’m not, so here is what I noticed: there is a lot of repetition, a lot of sentences ending in em dashes and a lot of run on sentences and in the action scenes these are particularly noticeable and they just describe everything that’s happening and this made it really easy to follow and I liked that. Ness also plays with font and formatting elements to show the ‘Noise’, the thoughts that can be heard. This is not elegant writing. This is not graceful writing. This is not beautiful writing it’s—
but it worked so well to show the characters state of mind, and opened up the world for us. The writing skill, that it seemed so not polished, and yet worked so well left me in awe. Even Todd’s spelling and word choice ‘explaynashun’ and ‘we don’t say no more’ told us stuff about his education. And yet the writing is never overwhelming or confusing—unless it’s meant to be, as in Noisy parts.
Then there’s the knife. this book could just as easily have been called ‘The Choice of Never Letting Go’ or ‘Growing Up and Never Letting Go’, because the knife is that obvious of a symbol. It’s not supposed to to be subtle (though there are a bunch of other symbols that you could try to figure out). The knife is easy, obvious. The knife is a choice, the choice to kill. The knife is given as you leave home, and it shows that you’ve grown up. The knife reminds you that you’re a coward, or maybe brave, that you’re a man now. It symbolises a lot of different things, especially the choices that Todd must make, and so is a symbol that evolves through the novel. Close to the start, we’re told that “a knife ain’t just a thing, is it? It’s a choice, it’s something you do A knife says yes or no, cut or not, die or don’t. A knife takes the decision out of your hands and puts it in the world and it never goes back again”. By the end of the story, Todd’s relationship to the knife has evolved, though it has not. He lets go of the knife in some symbolic ways, but the character development that it has given him remains.
Then there are the ideas this book plays with. I write this review assuming you know the basic premise: New world. Religious settlers. Men hear thoughts. Secrets abound. Adorable talking dog. Violence and war. Aliens. Promises broken and kept. The ‘Noise’ of thoughts is a commentary on interconnectedness and lack of privacy. It’s extreme, though, and the idea that there are things we can’t control and can, depending on the situation—thoughts, of course, being exemplary of this—is key to the story. With the fact that women have privacy, at least in thoughts, Todds realisation that there’s more than Noise and secrets is more profound—particularly so, perhaps, considering the advent of social media. Of course, there’s you average YA narrative of growing up. But the context of discovering that “The world keeps getting bigger” makes it so much more powerful.
To finish, here are two of my favourite quotes from this story.
“‘History ain’t so important when yer just trying to survive'[…]
‘That’s actually when it’s most important'”
“Doing what’s right should be easy. It shouldn’t be just another big mess like everything else.”
It’s safe to say that this book is amazing, and it gets better as the series goes along. I thoroughly recommend.

So have you read this book? And what is one of your favourite books with a very distinctive writing style? tell me in the comments.

book review · books

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: Divergent

I read Divergent a long time ago, when I was just getting into using our ereaders, and starting to read book blogs, in December 2013. I reread it once after that, I can’t remember when, but I have since changed a lot. Since I had a paperback, I thought it would be perfect for this feature. The previous owner had marked it up and left notes in the margins, which was pretty cool, and I decided to do the same. My previous rating on goodreads was 5 stars, but I was trying to read critically, and I have to say that my opinion has changed significantly. Divergent is a fairly effective allegory/social commentary, but it doesn’t hold up as a world, and I found some issues with the plot. Obviously, you want to know all about them.

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(ps. This is ‘tis the Season of Rereading, an annual feature where Shar and I reread books and reflect on how our opinions have changed. To read previous posts, just search, or follow the tag.

So what is Divergent about? If you somehow haven’t heard of it (there’s a movie and millions of copies and so on) There is a city which is Chicago (like, the Bean and something called the Hancock building are mentioned, it’s not disguised) and it has for some unknown reason, decided to divide itself by values, so there is a group of people who are honest, a group who are peaceful, a group who are brave, a group who are selfless and a group who are intelligent. A girl discovers that (shocker) she doesn’t fit into the any of the groups, joins a group anyway, makes friends, discovers herself, falls in love, and has to make hard choices to save other people’s lives. You know, pretty standard YA.

This story is clearly a critique of the social divisions in society (race, religion, sexuality, education level, profession, ethnic background etc.) and the way that young people are almost forced to choose between different groups which will define them forever. It also plays with ideas of violence, compassion, family, and loyalty. That’s great, and it’s good that authors layer that sort of thing into their stories, because of course YA readers are smart enough to deal with that and so on (I’m sorry, but somebody I talked to last week said ‘most YA is escapist trash’ and I CAN’T EVEN) I read somewhere that Roth developed this story after taking a psychology course, and I can totally see that. With the simulations and the family aspect, there is a lot about personality, attribution theory, social psychology (e.g. groupthink) and of course nature vs. nurture here. The allegory is not that subtle. I feel like Veronica Roth had a message to tell and constructed a story to tell it, instead of letting the ideas and message develop naturally.

This rereading made me notice a lot of things that I missed earlier. One of the things, sadly, was how weak the worldbuilding of this story with. We get allusions to history classes, a school, cars, trains, computers, oceans, hamburgers, lots of different crops, fresh food, electricity and so on without any indication of where these things come from, and why the people don’t wonder about them. In fact, at one point Tris wonders what is beyond her city—but how does she know that there’s a beyond. It doesn’t feel like a new world, it feels like a thin veneer over our own world that is ultimately quite meaningless. There are a lot of holes in the worldbuilding too. For example, currently Chicago has about 3 million people. In Divergent, there are 21 (if you count one who was left behind and one who was killed) Dauntless initiates. Assuming that each faction has about the same number, there are 100 kids who turned 16 this year. If the population is fairly constant, then there are 8000 people in the city (up to age 80). This means that a lot of people have gone missing, and nobody wonders about it. Of course, some of this is made clear in Insurgent and Allegiant, but a good story (and this one was written originally as a standalone) should be logical within itself. The whole culture just doesn’t make sense, and on this reread that really bothered me.

Also, I don’t want to spoil, but the plot is also very weak. The story is focused on Tris’s initiation into the faction of Dauntless, the brave. That seems to be the main buildup into the story. But the final conflict is not what you expect. Part of this is that the antagonistic force in the story is diluted between three very different villains—Peter, another teenage initiate; Eric, a Dauntless leader; and Janine, an Erudite leader. The foreshadowing is crude and poorly developed, which makes the eventual conflict (which is violent and horrible) feel manufactured, rather than a natural conclusion of Tris’s self-discovery story. Again, some of this is addressed in Insurgent, but it doesn’t stand on it’s own.

I have a lot more to say about Divergent, but this reread made me realise that it is badly disguised social commentary with a world and plot which do not withstand scrutiny. I’ve read a lot more YA since my first experience of Divergent, and become, I think, a much more critical reader. That context makes this rereading different, and perhaps more academic. There is a lot to say about this story, and it’s not all bad (Divergent does, after all, have a healthy appreciation for baked goods). But the narritave ultimately fell short for me this time.

Have you read Divergent? How has reading YA changed how you see YA ‘classics’ like this one? What do you want to reread? Let me know in the comments!

book review · Uncategorized

Review: The Body Electric

Hi virtually Readers! I’m busy getting myself into trouble (read: being stressed about all my work) but I’m still going to give you a book review.(because I’m so magnanimous, I guess)

Title: The Body Electricthe-body-electric

Author: Beth Revis

Genre: YA Dystopia

Themes: Nanobots, not-rebellions, cloning, ethics, occupying multiple bodies

Similar to: Skinned, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Lunar Chronicles

This book was cool.

Summary: Ella Shepherd is busy looking after her sick mother and working at Reverie, a mental spa that allows clients to relieve their best memories in New Venice, a few decades after a debilitating world war. But one day a boy makes her rethink everything she’s always known about her parent’s research, her father’s death and the strange way she can enter other people’s reveries. She decides to search for the truth—but it’s starting to looks more important and more scary than she thought.

I liked Across the Universe. But can I say that this was better? As a standalone sci fi/dystopia, it’s certainly a rare beast, but ohhhhh was it interesting.

One of the main questions it explored was What does it mean to be human? As Ella discovers government secrets and the power of the reveries her mother invented, she begins to question who she is and where the line between a human and robot lies. This mad for plenty of moral grey area, especially as Ella realises that what’s in her mind isn’t the whole truth.

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We (as in Shanti) got signed Beth Revis bookmarks!

Another theme was identity. How can Ella know whoo she is when she’s realising that what she’s always defined herself by—her family, her friends, her home—isn’t entirely true. And as Ella starts to understand that her friend Jack may have answers, she realises these answers involve who she really is. I loved the way all these questions characterized Ella and her disillusionment felt rapid and gradual simultaneously.

The plot was also on point. I felt like there was always action enough to keep me intrigued, but not so much as to lose out on characterization and world building. While the plot (and the world) contained some dystopian tropes (fewer countries than currently, a debilitation war, character meets rebels who explain that government is evil) there was also uniqueness (New Venice is bridged between two islands in Malta, of all places, nanobots do all these things, rebellion is not the centre of the plot). The plot had direction without being predictable, although the ending felt quite rushed. I couldn’t quite *get* how or why the villain was the villain. Altogether though, the Body Electric transported me into a powerful story with rich characters which never failed to intrigue me.

Plot: 4/5

Premise: 4/5

Characters: 4/5

Themes:5/5

Setting: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

How do you feel about sci-fi? Ever read a book set in Malta? What do you think about nanobots? Are you going to read this? 

 

book review · books · shanti

A World Without You (ridiculously amazing)

So it has come to my attention that I never post negative reviews. This is mostly because all the books I read get at least three stars. (and PS, you can totally follow my goodreads account to read alll my reviews–my profile is private but I’ll accept your request) I had a hard time choosing which book to review this week because I had two five star reviews ready, but I ended up choosing A World Without You because it was so well written and had amazing characters and you never knew who to trust. I’ve read all of Revis’s other books, but this one just blows them out of the water.

27917964Seventeen-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 concerned 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 Sofia, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Sofia helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofia, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age.

But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia 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 now it’s his job to save her.

 

So it’s not really a secret that the way Bo experiences the world is differently to how everyone around him does. He thinks that he has powers, and is learning how to use them at a superhero school; everyone else knows they’re at a school for mentally troubled youth. It would be very easy to dismiss Bo, to remember that it’s just delusions or whatever–but those delusions are at the heart of the novel. And they’re un-dismissable. I had total–if sad–faith in Bo, for his story was utterly compelling. I was drawn into his world. The thing is that Revis never says that what Bo is experiencing isn’t real. It’s real for him, and that makes him such a amazing character. The way that Revis’s writing wove around the story, the different versions of reality, was perfect. With the sporadic perspectives from Phoebe, I could see the different sides, and the way that the narrative functioned within the different understandings of reality was a) amazing b)very skilful and c) totally immersive for the readers. This is the most unique aspect of A World Without You, and I loved it.
Then there are the characters. I really liked them all. Phoebe was my favourite– perhaps because she reminds me of myself. Her reactions to her brother felt really honest–especially because I understand that this is partially based on Revis’s own life. I loved how her viewpoint filled out some of the holes in the story. Bo, of course, is our central character. I liked that he didn’t quite have a clear diagnosis. He’s so easy to root for–he’s alone, in love, confused, and suffering from flips in reality. His understanding of the world was shown so well, and as it gradually changed, as he became more aware of the holes in his existence, I rooted for him so hard. I loved the visualisation of the time stream that he saw, and the justification he gave himself for–well, for all sorts of things. His character development was perfect right up until the heart-hurting-somewhat-happy ending. I also liked Sofia, and how we got to know who she was. Her actions really shape the narrative, and they were written really well. JUST EVERYTHING IN THIS STORY FROM THE CHARACTERS TO THE REALITY WAS WRITTEN REALLY WELL OKAY?
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This fanart is very symbolic if you’ve read the book. L-R: Harold, Gwen, Bo, Ryan, Sofia

Revis, like I said, writes in layers. She’s found the balance between profound and meaningless, and profound and cheesy quite impressively. This story has plenty of quotable moments, but it’s also just a really good story. It’s about lots of things: heartbreak and friendship, trust and healing, new beginnings, and reality. I loved these thematic ideas, and I found that they really enriched the novel, without being too blatant. As the story goes on, you can’t quite be sure what’s happening, and Revis keeps you guessing to the very end, and beyond. I love that. Maybe, as Bo realises, there is magic, but it’s the magic of friendship, it’s the magic of trusting someone, of sacrificing yourself, of finding what is true (even if it’s not real). I loved how these ideas wend through the story, making it richer.
There aren’t really words for how amazing A World Without You is. I could identify with Phoebe in so many ways. In Bo’s struggle to save the one he loved, I found some truth about the nature of reality, and how we find peace. Please read this novel.

So are you going to read it? What’s the best book featuring mental disease that you’ve read lately?