Last fall, a book about mental illness made me realize I — even I — held stigmas against mentally ill people. That book was A World Without You, by Beth Revis, and her unflinching and real portrayal of a boy with delusions that had far-reaching consequences captivated me. I still think about it sometimes, the way that book snagged my heart and made me feel all the feels. Beth is also the author of the fantasy series Across the Universe, which involves space travel and being woken up out of time and all sorts of fun stuff like that. She's an accomplished writer, and you'll definitely want to look out for her next book — Rebel Rising, aka a young adult novel about Jyn Erso, the star of Rogue One — which comes out May 2 and is for sure on the top of my TBR list.
She grew up in rural North Carolina, daughter to a New Jersey Yankee who tried to keep the Southern accent away...but Beth says, "I still pronounce my 'i's long and cannot say 'can't' correctly." Nature vs. nurture, I guess.
As a kid, Beth was more Hermione Granger than anything else — she recalls taking money from her savings pile to buy books and hiding under the bed in order to fit in more reading time.
Her long, long hair is a tribute to Princess Leia because Beth has always been a Star Wars fangirl, so the fact that she's writing and publishing a YA novel that's part of the franchise's canon is huge. She said, "Every moment of working on that book was surreal and amazing."
And why is she drawn to young adult as a genre? you may ask.
"YA has everything," she answers. "You have books about space beside books about Queen Victoria. Tragedy beside comedy, and many with both tragedy and comedy. It's infinite possibilities."
She adds that the most important thing to show in these novels for younger readers is reality; "Even in books with magic or spaceships," she says. "There's a heart that's real."
And one aspect of reality is that there is darkness. Beth referenced the famous G.K. Chesterton quote about fairy tales existing not to teach children that dragons are real, but to show them they can be vanquished, and added, "The books aren't about darkness. They're about the light in the darkness. They're about hope."
Hope in books is important because "it reminds us that there is still hope in real life."
She adds that recommendations for these sorts of hopeful books vary depending on who's doing the reading and in what situation they're looking for hope.
"The Handmaid's Tale, for example, is not that hopeful of a book," she said, "but if you happen to be a society where--and this is a totally random example--but if you're in a society where a fascist, ill-informed, orange-toned misogynist is in control of your dwindling democracy, reading Margaret Atwood's book and thinking of the phrase 'Illegitimi non carborundum' may be just the hope you need to keep fighting." [I love it when authors are politically aware and funny, in addition to being great writers, you know?]
Beth's books chronicle hope; A World Without You, for example, gives hope that reality can be OK, even if it's not as great as the fantasy.
An interesting factoid about that book is that it wasn't originally meant to be a contemporary novel; Beth said she began writing it as a straight-up time-travel story.
"It wasn't until I'd almost finished that the reality started leaking through the pages--not unlike in my own main character's life," she said. "[That] reality was more along the lines of my real life peeking into the story, not the other way around. When I described the emotions, for example, that Phoebe has, they were the same emotions that I had when I was her age."
And the hardest thing about writing?
A World Without You, Beth says.
"All of it. It was simultaneously a complicated work involving time travel and mental illness, but also a personal work that drained me emotionally as its inspiration was rooted in my own past and my brother's struggle with mental illness."
Personally, I'm grateful to Beth for doing the hard work of writing this book; it taught me a lot. It's one you should definitely read if you can.
And make sure to follow Beth. Rebel Rising is bound not to be the last exciting work she produces, and you'll want to see what comes out next. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook, check out her website and sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date on everything!
AND, if you'd like the chance to win a SIGNED hardcover of "A World Without You," aka the book that moved me and stung my conscience, enter the giveaway below (just follow the link)! Trust me — you want this book! (US only, though).