No Book but the World by Leah Hager Cohen

 

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.