Ben has a secret and keeping it sends him into a depressive spiral. He’d had almost everything going for him. With his high IQ, he was sailing through school on his way to a top-tier college. He was also an athlete of local renown on the swim team. The only source of consternation in his life was a deadbeat drunk of a father, and the fact that said father recently passed away. Ben was in the car accident with his father, and was the last one to see him alive. Fortunately, Ben has an older brother who’s a cop, Gavin, who looks out for him and tries to keep an overbearing mother at bay.
After an attempted suicide via wrist slashing, Ben is institutionalized. It’s during this time that he drops into a coma. While he’s not conscious of the real world, his consciousness takes up residence in a place he calls “Gray World.” Besides being monochrome, Gray World exhibits the characteristics of a dream. The laws of physics, cause & effect, and consistency of space and time are all freely violated. Ben soon meets a girl named Alice who is initially cautious about him. Over time, the two develop an increasingly close relationship. Then Ben comes out of his coma.
In the real world, Ben is obsessed with getting back to the Gray World to rescue Alice. It seems that all the residents of Gray World are individuals suffering severe depression. The problem is that Ben only has a first name and a probable city of residency. Of course, to his mother, brother, friends, and doctors, this obsession is a sign that Ben’s depression has migrated into a full-blown delusional psychosis. His mother, terrified of losing him, treats Ben as a prisoner. Gavin, while well-meaning, feels the need to prove that Alice was just a dream.
I enjoyed the story and also found it to be thought-provoking. The characters are well-developed enough to care about, and the reader can see how each of the key players is trapped in his or her behavior—behaviors that are sub-optimal. At one point, I thought that it strained credulity that Ben took so long to realize he needed to play along to get some space for his search. He kept being forthright about his intentions to find Alice, and this just made his mother more nervous and smothering–and made Gavin more insistent. But it occurred to me that Ben’s ego as a genius kept him in that state. He wasn’t used to being challenged in his understanding of the world, and reacted to it poorly. He had a need to be right that overrode his capacity to recognize what those around him wanted to hear. His mother was trapped by fear into an increasingly suffocating form of love. Gavin, the most emotionally stable of the trio, thinks he can force Ben to accept an understanding of reality through the brute force of reason—missing that being right might not be as important as being compassionate.
I’d recommend this book for fiction readers. It’s written for the YA (young adult) market, but is intriguing for adults as well.