Title: No Book But the World
Author: Leah Hager Cohen
No. of Pages: 320
Origins: Riverhead Books
Release Date: 3 April 2014
Bottom Line: Brilliant writing, mediocre story
“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 each other’s presence. Everyone is aware of Fred’s oddness or vague impairment, but his parents’ fierce disapproval of labels keeps him free of evaluation or intervention, and constantly at Ava’s side.
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. A boy is dead. But could Fred really have done what he is accused of? As she is drawn deeper into the details of the crime, Ava becomes obsessed with learning the truth, convinced that she and she alone will be able to reach her brother and explain him—and his innocence—to the world.
Leah Hager Cohen brings her trademark intelligence to a psychologically gripping, richly ambiguous story that suggests we may ultimately understand one another best not with facts alone, but through our imaginations.”
Thoughts: Ms. Cohen knows how to write. There were many times this reader was struck by her turn of phrase and her sentence structure. They are almost poetic in their conciseness, but more importantly, there are no awkward dangling clauses or sentences ending with prepositions. While there is a time and a place for such grammatical inaccuracies, such as in dialogue, Ms. Cohen thankfully limits their usage. This in no way stilts her narrative but rather adds a crisp professionalism to it that is appealing.
Unfortunately, the story itself is less inspiring. Other than the air of tragedy throughout the entire narrative, which keeps the tone tragic and unsettling, the story is rather bland. Much of the story is remembrances, with each narrator adding more depth to Fred’s character. One never gets true insight into the rest of the characters, creating a rather lopsided story-telling effect that does little but alienate the reader from Ava and her grief.
While the story revolves around Ava’s firm belief that he is not guilty of the crime of which he is a suspect and her reasons for believing so, this answer is secondary to the real tragedy – that in avoiding any traditional methods of education and socialization, Ava and Fred’s parents did this poor man a disservice. Not only that but they made it impossible for him to survive as an independent man in the world outside their little commune.
No Book But the World is about a crime against a boy but just not the boy one thinks it is. The story-telling itself is fairly uneven, switching as it does between focal points and narrators. The writing is brilliant though. Ms. Cohen exudes confidence in her writing that does much to offset any issues one might have with the story itself. This may not be the strongest novel in her repertoire, but it still has her distinct imprint on it that makes it more than passable.