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No Book but the World

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  765 ratings  ·  201 reviews
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 hel
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 3rd 2014 by Riverhead Books (first published March 27th 2014)
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3.35  · 
Rating details
 ·  765 ratings  ·  201 reviews

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Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
Strangely disappointing. I say "strangely", because it's difficult for Me to pinpoint exactly how, why, and when this became something other than a book I wanted to read..., something other than the book I thought I was reading.
The writing started out quite strong, and I believed I was going to really enjoy the writing style. After a few chapters however, I got the distinct feeling that the writing was pretentious. It was unnecessarily wordy. The author seemed to be trying to impress with her v
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
A moving account of a brother and sister’s seemingly idyllic childhood ceding to tragedy in adult life. Ava Manseau has come to visit her brother, Fred, at the correctional facility where he is being held on suspicion of murder. Ava is determined to clear Fred’s name, but at the same time she is wary of her desire to turn this unexpected incident into some tidy memoir, “molding the fluid stuff of life into form.” Although I preferred the contemporary storyline and rather wearied of constant flas ...more
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was another unexpected surprise. If you read the synopsis, you could think this was going to be a who-dunit or a crime novel - it is not. This book is truly what literary fiction should be. Expertly written and deeply felt. Cohen's placement of words on the page is akin to a master artist's application of paint on a canvas. Oftentimes her turn of phrase would make me stop in my tracks and say "wow". It took me a bit longer to get through this book, but in retrospect this is not a novel ...more
Apr 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
This isn't the book I thought it would be, which may be why I was so disappointed with it. About 1/3 the way through I started to skim, then skip whole chapters. Everything went so slowly. Details were rehashed over and over again (we get it, they had a floral couch!). It had so much potential but really went no where.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Because I’d loved The Grief of Others by this author, I decided to take a chance here, despite the fact that the plot description seemed to lack appeal. While it didn’t grab me at the outset, little time elapsed before I was thoroughly on board. This author writes compellingly, and with great skill. She captures scenes as well as uncomfortable moments and humorous situations with precision.
For instance, there are ‘….snowy fields bathed in a thin broth of winter sun’. And ‘ Outside the kitchen wi
Nov 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: coming-of-age
I really liked this book. Cohen did a good job addressing, without completely resolving, some challenging emotional issues. As Ava says in her conclusion: "For why are we here if not to try to fathom one another? Not through facts alone, but with the full extent of our imaginations." Cohen weaves a story (and discusses Ava's storytelling throughout) that seeks to understand the other while reconciling the self within the greater picture.

In Ava, Cohen creates a very likeable, yet odd, main charac
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ava and Fred Robbins grew up surrounded by woods and lovely places to explore. They had the freedom to wander, as their parents schooled them at home in an experimental fashion. Their parents believed that the best learning comes through experience. "No Book but the World: A Novel" is set somewhere in upstate New York, in a place called Batter Hollow. Clustered around the compound that is now a defunct school were buildings with names like The Annex and Art Barn. After the school shut down, fami ...more
William Koon
Jul 11, 2014 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Terri Lynn
I am afraid I didn't like it. Ava and her autistic brother Fred were raised by odd parents who let the kids run wild and not really be educated- "no book but the world". The parents refused to have him checked and really didn't provide guidance, leadership, or training. As a result, the two kids grew up as oddities. The parents are gone now and it is on Ava's shoulders to help the brother she tries to protect. Fred is locked up in the county jail, accused of murdering a boy. The autistic Fred is ...more
Mar 30, 2014 rated it liked it
If there is one thing I can take from this book, it is this; no one is truly free. We are all connected to each other, and our each and every action affects everything else. It is something I think about often. In this book, Cohen writes about a non-traditional family who doesn’t believe in rules, and who raises their two children to learn from the world around them. Ava is the daughter who is telling the story and Fred is her brother. This is really Fred’s story. He is autistic, however he has ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
I don't know why I read this.
Apr 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Siblings Ava and Fred had a father, Neel, who believed in Rousseau’s saying “Let there be no book but the world”; he did not believe in conventional schooling but felt that children should be encouraged but not taught, allowing them to explore and learn on their own. He did not like books; learning from books was secondary rather than primary learning. Thus they were allowed to run free in the woods on the property of his former school, where they lived, with no instruction. When a new family mo ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have loved the novels of Leah Hager C0hen, she writes so compellingly of emotional issues, and her characters are so real and endearing. This one is a little harder to love so intensely, for me.
Ava and Fred are the children of free-thinking parents. In today's vernacular, they would be called "home schooled". The children learn by running free through the woods that surround their home, experimenting and exploring, hence the title--No Book But the World. The parents are of course well-meaning
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I am not officially reviewing this but got my hands on an arc through a friend. I would give it 3 1/2 stars. I don't normally like going between past and present in novels, it is fitting in this story. Ava examines her free schooling past to try and understand how her troubled brother ended up at the heart of a crime involving the death of a young boy. It shows how having a carefree, unstructured upbringing may not always be the best for every child. It is an exposure of how denying problems can ...more
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book is taken from Rousseau’s philosophy of education that children should learn by free exploration of the world rather than sitting at desks learning from books. And the main characters, siblings, Ava & Fred experience just such an unconventional childhood as a result of their parents’ belief in this ideal. It is a beautifully written & thoughtful story told by a grown-up Ava through her own eyes & the experiences of others close to her. Because of their wild & ...more
May 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
I wish this book had gone somewhere else. And I failed to see the point of Ava's "confession" although I sense it was the point the book couldn't make without it. In other words, I wish the author had been talented enough to make the point without gratuitously telling us that the story was made up. The book was fiction. The whole story was made up. Ava's "confession" that she was the "voice" behind the sections about Kitty and Fred seems like cheating. I also felt that the incidents in Midgetrop ...more
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
The idea of this book sounded so good. It sounded like a good mystery story with family stuff. But I just couldn't get into it. The plot was taking a while to get going, and there were so many flashbacks, it was hard to keep track of what was present and past. Just when I thought we were getting somewhere, the story would jump and go back in time. I wanted to like this book, but I really didn't. I couldn't finish it, and I usually finish books I have for review. Sadly, this one will go to the pi ...more
May 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
Hated it.

The plot just seems to tread water and I felt nothing for the lead character/s at all.

It is as if Ms Cohen was determined to make it a cerebral writing exercise and sealed all the characters in a bubble and watch them go round and round.
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Reflective narrator tries to figure out what happened to her mentally disabled brother in a maze of flashbacks. Well told.
Anne Slater
Apr 20, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: won-t-finish
This bibliophage omnivore, who has really enjoyed Cohen's other work, could not get into this. I quite after 40 pages.
Penny Van Horn
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
LOVED this one. Plenty of surprises.
Rob Forteath
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ava and Fred are raised outside of 'the system', in accordance with their parents' theory that children should discover the world instead of having it explained to them. Their father also dislikes conformity of all sorts, and discourages them from being part of any group of citizens.

Autistic Fred would have been an outsider regardless of how he was raised, but Ava has mainstream desires for friendship and belonging. Ava soon takes a stand for these things and receives a mainstream education, ye
Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is very wordy and took a while to get into. It’s so wordy that the flow is a bit awkward. I did feel sympathy for the characters, though, so aspects of the story are certainly crafted well. I got less of a feel of “what do siblings owe each other?” as “how should parents prepare their children for the world” and how that probably isn’t a one-size fits all kind of proposition. The story is vastly more about how these children were raised than about their (almost non-existent) adult rela ...more
Hana Pauls
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I found myself dreading to read this book, unfortunately. Her writing style seemed very good at first, but then began to get very wordy. I was also excited for the plot line; however, if you are not a fan of books that jump back and forth between time and between characters, this is not the book for you. I agree with others, who believe that when the author uses characters’ past experiences that it does not add that much to the book. This book ended up being more fluff and more for the “word cou ...more
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roman
Het begon veelbelovend.... vlot geschreven... Aangename sfeerschepping van een "vrije" opvoeding... met een vleugje "mysterie"....
Stilaan, door de herinneringen; en het terugspringen naar het verleden...krijg ik als lezer een beter beeld van de huidige realiteit, maar het mysterie laat zich niet zo makkelijk kennen.
Zo spijtig, dat na de helft van het boek , het verhaal te traag en langdradig wordt. Tegen het einde aan heb ik slechts "diagonaal" voortgelezen om tenminste het einde te kennen.
Cathy Maxwell
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read. Liked her character development lots.
Laura Sinnott
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A phenomenal read. It took me about 100 pages before I was enjoying this book, but it's well and truly worth it. It would make for a great book club read.
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Mrs. Danvers
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: woman-writer, fiction
Many good things about this book, but ultimately it was a bit thin.
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Give me some dialogue, people!
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Leah Hager Cohen has written four non-fiction books, including Train Go Sorry and Glass, Paper, Beans, and four novels, including House Lights and The Grief of Others.

She serves as the Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Tim
“I have been too fond of stories.” 3 likes
“No less romantically than Rapunzel in her tower pined for rescue did I pine for this idealized being, a kind of alternate me, a me outside of me. A shining one who would somehow at once be my familiar, my deepest intimate, and at the same time exist thrillingly apart.” 3 likes
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