Published by Riverhead Books on April 3, 2014
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.
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A gripping, morally complex novel that asks: How much do grown siblings owe one another?
At the edge of a woods, on the grounds of a defunct "free school," Ava and her brother, Fred, shared a dreamy and seemingly idyllic childhood—a world defined largely by their imaginations and the presence of each other.
Decades later, then, when Ava learns that her brother is being held in a county jail for a shocking crime, she is frantic to piece together what actually happened. Fred has always been different, certainly impaired, never evaluated. Their parents frowned upon labels and diagnoses as much as they did formal instruction and societal constraints. Now, however, the parents are gone, the siblings grown apart, a boy is dead and Fred in jail, and Ava is forced to wonder: is it her job to save her brother? What is our obligation to those we love—and to those we find difficult to love? Convinced that she alone will be able to reach him and explain his innocence to the world, Ava endeavors to tell their enthralling story.
Leah Hager Cohen brings her trademark intelligence and grace to a rich, morally ambiguous story that suggests we may ultimately fathom one another best not with facts alone, but through our imaginations.
Ava and her brother, Fred, grew up in a peaceful, idealistic environment; free to roam and explore the world around them, free to make all of their own decisions. Fred showed signs of mental impairment, but his parents chose to give him the space to develop naturally into his own person, without labels or stigmas. When Fred is later accused of a horrific crime, Ava is forced to reflect upon their childhood and their parents’ choices.
The narrative often moves in and out through time, between childhood memories and the crisis of present day. These are not presented in well-defined sections; rather, they weave in and out as Ava (and others) muddle through the attempt to make sense of what has happened. And the ending… wow. It was gut-wrenching. Like I’d been punched in the stomach.
No Book but the World brings up tough questions for its characters and its readers: At what point is the gift of autonomy not in the best interest of the child? Where is the line drawn between permissive parenting and neglect? How does one know when idealism needs to take a back seat to reality?
Leah Hager Cohen treats these questions and her characters with the utmost respect, compassion, and thoughtfulness. This is a compelling novel well worth reading.