Mental Illness & Human Emotion: Beth Revis talks A WORLD WITHOUT YOU

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a world without you beth revisIt isn’t every day that a purely-adventurous story turns into a powerful novel about mental illness and human reaction. But then again, Beth Revis isn’t just any writer.

A World Without You follows Bo, a teen in disbelief over his girlfriend’s death. Instead of believing she’s gone, he thinks she is stuck in the past because his time-traveling powers brought her there. Through the perspective of Bo, and Bo’s sister Phoebe, Bo’s mental illness begins to unravel.

Bo believes Berkshire Academy, a school for troubled kids, is an institution for people like him to learn to control their powers. Bo can travel through time; Harold hears ghosts; Gwen can control fire and Ryan is telekinetic and telepathic. Sophia, Bo’s girlfriend, could turn invisible.

“I knew the characters’ names and their powers before I knew anything else about them. Each power corresponds with their past and their personalities,” says Revis. “Bo can travel through time, because he wants his reality to be different so much that he believes he can help shape it. His diagnosis of delusions is reflected in that.”

All of the students’ ‘super powers’ are a reflection of their illnesses, which Revis spent many hours researching. Harold has a rare diagnoses of schizophrenia and has auditory hallucinations. Ryan’s diagnosis is extreme narcissism and sociopathy. Gwen suffers from pyromania.

“I discovered that most pyromaniacs are fascinated with fire as a way to experience control; in much the same way that some people will self-harm or develop eating disorders,” explains Revis. “I feel the most sympathy for Gwen, and have been working on a short story for her.”

But with all of this research into mental illness, Revis set out to write a story about people. “It would be impossible to write a character that perfectly encapsulate a clinical diagnosis of a mental disorder. Instead, the truth of the story is in the way people feel and react.”

A World Without You originally focused on Bo. But what makes this story so powerful is that it’s as much as Phoebe’s story as much as Bo’s story. As Bo deals with his loss of Sophia, Phoebe’s also there, struggling to live her own life while trying to comprehend her brother’s emotions and reactions.

“In my original draft, the story was an adventure story, strictly that. But through edits, I added the character of Phoebe, Bo’s sister. And suddenly I was tapping into my own life, my own experiences,” explained Revis, whose own brother suffered from mental illness his entire life.

“I didn’t need to research what it felt like to be afraid of your own brother, because I lived that. I didn’t need to research the awkward moments where everyone knows something’s wrong, but we all just keep trying to pretend like loving someone will save him. I didn’t need to research the helpless, hopeless feelings of watching someone slip away from the world as you know it. I lived that. I didn’t want to relive it, but the book demanded it, and that is the story that grew, and that’s what makes it real.”

Author Beth Revis. Courtesy of © Visio Photography.

Author Beth Revis. Courtesy of © Visio Photography.

And while a lot of readers may not be able to distinguish the difference between reality and fiction in the novel, the real events and human emotions are there on every page.

“The truth of these characters is in the details. When Phoebe tells Bo how he taught her how to drive and it meant something to her, that’s real. When Phoebe is bitter that she can’t go on a class trip because the spare money her family has goes to her brother’s medical expenses, that was real. When Phoebe picks up a big glass marble from Bo’s desk…that was real. In those moments, I am Phoebe and my brother is Bo.”

A World Without You releases July 18th. For more about Beth Revis, visit her website or Twitter.

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Alison Ng

Alison Ng is your average 21-year-old in love with trying new things (especially if that new thing happens to be food). She attends college in NYC and works in the book publishing industry.

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